First off, let’s be clear about one thing: DeMarcus Cousins is damaged goods. He tore his left Achilles in late January, and his convalescence may well keep him off the court until close to Christmas. His return is a matter of when, not if, but it bears noting that the number of players who have come back from such an injury is extremely small. More importantly, the number of big men who have come back from such an injury is even smaller — as in zero.
Of course, Cousins was already far from perfect even before he went under the knife. True, he’s a four-time All-Star capable of filling stat lines and anchoring any given team. Since his arrival as the fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft, he has justified his status as a marquee name. On the other hand, he has also been error prone, with a questionable work ethic that extends to the locker room. Which is to say he checks boxes on both sides of the argument; he’s a unique talent, but he comes with considerable risk.
Certainly, Cousins’ Jekyll-and-Hyde persona did not help his cause any as he entered free agency. He was expecting a bonanza coming from any one of a bunch of suitors; in fact, it’s why he turned down a two-year, $40-million extension offer from the Pelicans before his 2017-18 season abruptly ended. Instead, he was met with the sound of crickets chirping, signifying an utter lack of interest around the league; those in the “Under No Circumstance” and “Only At The Point Of A Barrel” categories weren’t candidates for employment from the outset, but even noted gamblers were turned off by his myriad handicaps.
Parenthetically, Cousins was left with no choice but to get Andrew Rogers, his agent, to press digits. With players being signed to deals left and right, he felt his window closing, and he sought to affix his Hancock on a contract — any contract — fast. And, in this regard, he lucked out on the Warriors, who: 1) lost erstwhile starting center JaVale McGee to the Lakers and needed a replacement on the cheap; 2) possess the wherewithal to weather his protracted return to action; and 3) boast of the championship pedigree to put him and his pouting in place.
And so Cousins finds himself in an interesting dance with the Warriors. He’s a one-year rental at best; they can’t afford to keep him next year. That being so, he’d want to strut his best stuff early and often in an attempt to prove to the rest of the National Basketball Association that he’s a hundred percent recovered from his Achilles tear. Unfortunately, he won’t get nearly enough exposure on a roster already filled with talent, and in a system that isn’t a fit for his plodding predilections.
Which is to say the chess move Cousins is bandying about won’t get him closer to his objective. Checkmate may yet come, but on himself. To prevent an implosion, he would do well to buck history and become the first-ever post-tear big-man success story by making the most of his minutes on the floor and being a model teammate off it. A tall order? Perhaps. Then again, he has no alternative. His career depends on it.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.