OAKLAND — Steve Kerr has a temper. He even acknowledged this fact on Thursday afternoon when reminiscing about being ejected from a game on Feb. 4, 2017, against the Sacramento Kings.
What Kerr remembers most about that moment, however, was “locking eyes” with then-Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, who waved goodbye to the Warriors head coach as he walked to the visiting locker room to watch the remaining 21 minutes of the eventual 109-106 overtime loss.
The passion, and even recklessness, that Kerr unveiled while being restrained by assistant coach Mike Brown is something that he and Cousins share while on a basketball court. It’s something that the pair expect to channel when Cousins makes his debut as a Golden State Warrior on January 18.
“It just shows that he’s out there battling for his players,” Cousins said at the Rakuten Performance Center after practice on Thursday, his first media session since media day, and second since his introductory press conference in July. “His emotions are in the game, which is great. In the past, I’ve played for coaches that … you know, I won’t even speak on that.”
Since signing with the Warriors for $5.3 million under the mid-level exception in what Cousins referred to as his “last resort,” the 6-foot-11 center has been relegated to rehabilitation work coming off of a torn Achilles tendon suffered Jan. 26, 2018.
Before then, Cousins was at the peak of his game with the New Orleans Pelicans, averaging 25.2 points per game on 47 percent shooting from the floor while only taking 18 shots per game — his lowest shot average since the 2014 season.
“When you think about when the injury happened, he’s getting ready to sign a max or near-max contract,” Kerr said. “A life-changing amount of money. Not to mention, the gratification that comes with being one of the best players in the world, an All-Star in his prime.
“That all went down the drain for him. So think about that. As he’s going through his rehab, he’s only human. He had to be thinking ‘Man, what happened?’”
Kerr said that during the past several months, Cousins was, in fact, down about his situation, but he and the rest of the Warriors team and staff helped the 28-year old big man regain his spirits to get through the most grueling part of the process.
The same passion that Kerr showcased while arguing what he saw as a questionable loose ball foul on Kevon Looney during that early February game two years ago helped push Cousins through one of the most tumultuous times of his career, as did Cousins’ family.
“A lot of things switch up for you once you’re out of the picture,” Cousins said. “When reality hits, it’s kind of an out of sight, out of mind type of thing. A lot of people that were all about you kind of disappear. Reality hits you and you realize the people that really are in your corner … This is a good year for me on top of all of the negatives because you really realize who is in your corner.”
Over last two weeks, Kerr and the Warriors training staff put Cousins through several rigorous scrimmage situations to test his conditioning. According to Kerr, Cousins recently broke through a wall, convincing the team that he’s be ready to make his debut.
Cousins, the fiery and strong-minded individual that he is, pushed for an earlier date.
“It was a battle between myself, the training staff, the guys at the top,” Cousins said. “Eventually, we all got on the same page.”
While Cousins declined to comment on the exact dialogue that was had between he and the Warriors brass, it was clear that his keen ability to voice his opinion played a large role in setting the comeback date on January 18.
As far as his integration on the court, Kerr mentioned that Cousins will indeed be thrust into the starting lineup for his debut against the Los Angeles Clippers.
“I’ll start him and after that everything is on the table,” Kerr said. “We have to figure out what the rotations will look like, how many minutes he’ll play. We’ll have to play around with the minutes, the combinations, the sets. We haven’t had a player like him here before.”
While some of the players that Cousins will hit the floor with will be unfamiliar, there are a pair of players with whom he’s shared the court while with USA Basketball: Warriors forwards Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. The three were part of the 2016 Olympic gold medal-winning team in Rio. They also share the same fire as Kerr and Cousins.
“It just shows that your heart is in it.” Cousins said. “When I’m going to battle every night. I want all of my teammates to have their heart into the game. It shows that you care. It shows that it means something to you.
“I’m not really a fan of guys that are emotionless on the floor. I appreciate every guy in that locker room. Those are the types of guys I want to go to war with.”