Oakland, Calif. • The Golden State Warriors officially introduced the latest reason to hate them here Thursday morning, and there were smiles all around.
As Warriors general manager Bob Myers and DeMarcus Cousins sat next to each other on a stage in the team’s practice facility, with kids from the team’s annual summer camp sitting in silence, there were plenty of pledges about how great this partnership will be and how it will benefit all parties.
“Our job, our one job, is to win a championship,” Myers said. “That’s it. That’s why he came, that’s why he’s here, that’s why everyone is here, to win a championship this year.”
“My main goal is to win a championship,” Cousins added. “That’s what I signed up for. I bring a toughness. I bring a skill set they say they’ve never had before.”
The truth is this is a partnership neither side anticipated, and both are attempting to make the best of what transpired. When Cousins began free agency, he didn’t see himself signing a one-year deal for the taxpayer’s mid-level exception, worth a little more than $5.3 million. Myers, on the other hand, wasn’t anticipating receiving a phone call from Cousins’ agent on the morning of July 2, asking him if he’d be interested in signing the four-time All-Star center for such a relatively paltry amount.
This was a marriage born out of convenience and the never-ending pursuit of stars for Golden State, and one born out of necessity for Cousins, who had little to no interest on the free agent market before the Warriors swooped in. But those disparate goals set things up for some rather interesting interpersonal dynamics as the season goes along. Namely: How will Cousins, playing to get a new contract elsewhere, handle the times when he is a bit player on this Warriors team?
“It’ll be nights where I score two or four points, whatever the case may be . . . then there will be nights I go crazy,” Cousins said. “That’s the pleasure of being a part of this team. We have plenty of options.”
It’s easy to say that today, when everyone is in the honeymoon phase. It will be different when, in March, April, May or June, Cousins is playing 15 minutes and scoring five points.
Some of these inevitable bumps in the road will be managed by the nature of the injury from which Cousins is returning. Tearing an Achilles’ is the most devastating injury a player can suffer. While virtually any other injury has been recovered from with almost no drop-off from before it occurred, player after player has failed to return to form after an Achilles’ tear. Cousins, predictably, said things will be different for him.
“I plan on coming back as the same dominant player that I was. Even better, actually,” said the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins, who turns 28 in August. “Nothing will change.”
Perhaps he will be right. He looked the part Thursday, appearing to be in game shape despite suffering the injury six months ago.
The Warriors will certainly be happy with that. They won’t have the cap space to re-sign Cousins next summer unless things go spectacularly strangely (namely, both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson leaving in free agency), and a healthy Cousins would turn a team that already is extremely difficult to stop into one that is nearly impossible to defend.
But this is a team that has been at its best with Draymond Green playing center in small lineups, and it is unlikely that will change even with Cousins on the roster. He will probably sit out key situations late in games in both the regular season and the playoffs while also spending far more time than he is used to on the bench.
How will Cousins, already not exactly a mild-mannered guy, handle that?
While Cousins tried to downplay the idea that he was using the lack of interest in him this summer as motivation, he didn’t mind firing a shot at Pelicans general manager Dell Demps when asked about the differing narratives over whether New Orleans offered him a new contract.
“I’m going to put it like this,” Cousins said. “Only me and Dell Demps know what was said on the phone that night. We both know the truth. And I’ll leave it at that.”
The Warriors have multiple things working in their favor on this front. First, Cousins is on a one-year deal, so if things get bad enough they could just cut him, though it’s hard to see that happening.
Second, Cousins needs to repair his image. This is a guy who, despite his immense physical gifts, was going to have a limited market in free agency this summer before his injury, as many teams thought dealing with him wasn’t worth his substantial talent. In a league in which talent trumps so many things, that says a lot.
And, finally, the Warriors have Steve Kerr. There are few people in the league better at getting through to players than the Golden State coach, who will get to spend a few months talking with Cousins about his role before he makes his return to the court, probably sometime after New Year’s.
But it’s one thing to talk about a reduced role, be it in July or while recovering from an injury in November and December. It’s another to experience it and to remain off the court at key times in April, May and June.
The Warriors and Cousins say it won’t be a problem. Only time will tell if they are right.