OAKLAND — The Golden State Warriors have announced that center DeMarcus Cousins will, in the near future, be integrated into “controlled aspects of team practices.”
The two-time defending NBA champions signed Cousins to the veteran minimum this offseason, with the knowledge that he would miss a significant chunk of the season recovering from tearing his Achilles tendon on Jan. 26, while playing with the New Orleans Pelicans.
The move of Cousins from individual work — shooting off to the side in practice, running the court and working with assistants in non-contact drills — to participating in a team-oriented practice plan gives credence to speculation that he will be back far sooner than expected. Cousins has already looked far ahead of schedule in his recovery, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s back by the Christmas Day showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James. Head coach Steve Kerr, though, did not want to address such speculation.
“I think he’ll be more involved in practice,” said head coach Steve Kerr. “He’s been doing a lot of individual work, most of the young season. He has not participated in most of our practices. He’s done work in the weight room, in the training room, and then on the floor before practice, so I think we’re going to start seeing him more involved in our team activities, 5-on-0 and ball handling skill work. If we do scrimmage, which is very rare, and when we do, it’s usually with the young guys who don’t play a lot, he’ll probably join those scrimmages.”
The Warriors have been playing center by committee so far this young season, giving Damian Jones and Kevon Looney the majority of the center minutes, with Draymond Green playing small-ball center instead of Jordan Bell, who has played just five minutes in three games.
Cousins, who signed with Golden State for one year at $5.4 million, is expected to command a much higher price on the free agent market next season, a price the Warriors would not be able to match. Golden State is already well over the $101.9 million salary cap this season by more than $46 million, and have $119.4 million committed for next season (not including luxury tax penalties), while still needing to extend Klay Thompson and deal with Kevin Durant’s once-again-pending free agency.
Despite fans in opposing cities — including Denver this past weekend — screaming at him that he has “destroyed the league,” joining up with the Warriors’ four All-Stars — two-time Finals MVP Durant, two-time league MVP Stephen Curry, Green and Thompson — Cousins’s stay in Oakland was always intended as a one-year rental, and the more the Warriors can get out of him, the better — for both parties.
As he chimed in on the draft process, Green poignantly told general manager Bob Myers that there are 82-game players, and there are 16-game players — drawing the distinction between players a team needs for the full 82-game season, and players who will help drive home a championship in the postseason. Cousins has been implied to be the latter. The more Cousins plays, the more enticing he will be to teams this coming offseason.
That was primarily why Cousins came to Golden State — a mutually beneficial arrangement. He helps the Warriors win their fourth title in five years, and third in a row, and they help elevate his game even beyond where it was to begin with — which was as one of the most dominant centers in the game.
Kerr said that Bell’s absence from the rotation (he’s played in two of three games, and even then, just barely), has been the function of a numbers crunch.
Jones, who was converted to a full NBA contract from a two-way dearly last season, has started all three games, and averages 8.0 points and 2.0 blocks per game in 21.3 minutes. Looney, in his fourth season, is averaging 8.0 points, 6.0 boards and 1.3 blocks in 18.7 minutes per game.
Jonas Jerebko, a 6-foot-9 stretch four in his ninth NBA season, helps space the floor, and has averaged 5.0 points and 3.7 rebounds in 13.7 minutes per game.
“When you look at how we play, and how many guys we have in the front court, Jordan’s not doing anything wrong,” Kerr said. “We’re committed to starting Damian, because of his size, and potential. We’re grooming him, and he’s doing a nice job. Looney is just ahead of Jordan … More than anything, it’s a numbers game. It’s frustrating for Jordan, but he has’t done anything wrong.”
Guard Shaun Livingtson (left knee contusion) will not play Monday night against the Phoenix Suns.
“It gives other guys an opportunity to play,” Kerr said. “It’s early in the season, so we’re still kind of searching for rotations and rhythm and stuff like that. We’ve just got to rely on the next guy up, and it means that maybe Quinn [Cook], maybe Alfonzo [McKinnie], maybe Jacob [Evans], those guys could step into the mix.”
Evans, picked 28th overall in the NBA Draft, has yet to make his Golden State debut, despite strong reviews from training camp.
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