OAKLAND — DeMarcus Cousins was on his best behavior on Thursday.
Maybe it was the fact that he was holding his introductory press conference for the Golden State Warriors in the midst of the team’s youth camp. Maybe it was because his favorite future teammate — Klay Thompson — has rubbed off on him. Maybe it’s because he’s been humbled by the daily rehab grind as he works back from an Achilles injury.
“It’s the worst,” he said. “Honestly, just waking up every day doing the same exact thing, it can drive you crazy.”
So, does all work and no play make DeMarcus — like Thompson — dull? Here’s another theory: Maybe, just maybe, because the Warriors were his nuclear option — his last resort — he’s keen not to waste the opportunity, after the four-time All-Star and Olympic gold medalist reportedly received no other free agent offers after a career year with the New Orleans Pelicans was cut short due to injury.
“The chance to play for a winning culture, and I also have the chance to play with some of the most talented players of this era — those two things alone, that pretty much sums it up,” he said.
On Thursday, there was little indication of the player who’s tried to intimidate media in the past, or the surly contrarian who’s accrued 118 technical fouls and 13 ejections in his eight seasons — all the reasons why some teams may have shied away from him in free agency.
“To say I’m playing with an extra chip on my shoulder because of free agency, no,” Cousins said. “I feel I have something to prove anyway.”
This is a mutually beneficial partnership. Cousins — on a one-year, mid-level exception contract worth $5.3 million — gets a shot at his first career playoff trip, and to prove he can still play after he suffered an Achilles tear on Jan. 26. The Warriors — who looked disinterested at times during their title run last season — get a piece that gives them an extra bit of motivation to get through the dog days of what will be by almost all projections a fifth straight run to the NBA Finals.
“I’m so happy for him, because there’s something different about those games and that journey, those 16 games that you have to win,” said Golden State general manager Bob Myers. “I think for myself and our team, we’ll be living some of that pursuit through DeMarcus.”
In his first conversation with Myers — after a restless night in Las Vegas and a 5 a.m. phone call to agent Jarin Akana, as Cousins told Marc Spears of The Undefeated — the Warriors GM told Cousins that, whether or not he wound up signing with Golden State, he hoped Cousins would get his shot at the playoffs.
The Warriors have made four straight trips to the Finals, winning three titles, without a true low-post presence. They’ve continually switched out parts, with JaVale McGee, David West and Zaza Pachulia at center. Cousins — who shot 37.5 percent from three last season and made 104 3-pointers before tearing his Achilles — adds a soft touch around the rim and a 6-foot-11, 270 pound frame to bang down low.
“We all get caught up in positions; let’s just get the best player we can and put them out there,” Myers said. “That’s what we’ve always tried to do. He fits that criteria.”
Having played for Team USA along with Thompson, Draymond Green, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, the two-time All-NBA selection will have to subsume himself to a team culture rooted in fun and selflessness.
“The way we do things is, we collaborate. We wanted to hear what Steph thought. We wanted to hear from Draymond, Kevin,” Myers said. “I want him to talk to those guys.”
The Warriors’ other four All-Stars came to a consensus.
“Every guy said, ‘Let’s go get another championship,’” Cousins said. “That was the first thing. What really put me at ease was the excitement. They a well-established team, and they could have easily been like, ‘Now don’t need him,’ or whatever the case may be, but they were excited like a team that’s never accomplished anything. Just having that feeling alone gave me a sense of just being able to relax about it, or be calm about the situation.”
Cousins said he’s always played with a chip on his shoulder — his favorite attribute about himself is that he’s stubborn — and feels like he has something to prove.
“We all started loving this game because we had fun with it,” he said. “If you’re not having fun playing this game, something’s wrong. I look forward to having fun this season.”
On Thursday, Cousins was affable and honest, parrying some tough questions with just enough honesty and humor that he satisfied those asking without getting into a war of words.
Asked about whether he, the famously combustible Green and Kevin Durant — Cousins and Durant got into a brouhaha after both were ejected in a game last December — would get into a big fight before the season, just to get it out of the way, he smiled and said, “Might as well.”
Asked about the reported lowball offer he got from the Pelicans when free agency opened, he said, “I’m gonna put it like this: Only me and [Pelicans GM] Dell Demps know what was said on the phone that night. We both know the truth. And I’ll leave it at that.”
Before he got hurt, Cousins was well on his way to earning a max contract, shooting 47 percent — the most since 2013-14 — and was averaging 25.2 points, 1.6 blocks (most since 2015-16, second-most in his career) and a career-best 12.9 rebounds. He also set a career-high in effective field goal percentage, with 53.0.
Long the focal point of other teams’ defensive game plans while serving as the only real star for the Sacramento Kings for seven years, Cousins can afford to take his time rehabbing, as the Warriors run out a lineup with four other All-Stars. Once he hits the court, he’ll have the luxury of letting the game come to him.
“My main goal is to win a championship,” he said. “hat’s what I’m signing up for. What I can bring, I’ll bring a toughness. I’ll bring a skill set that they say they’ve never had before — rebounding, passing, able to score — I’m bringing a little bit of everything, and a couple of techs as well.”