OAKLAND — Throughout the first half of the 2018 NBA season, the Golden State Warriors have been tasked with managing the rehabilitation of former New Orleans Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins, while awaiting his impending return to the game.
On Tuesday night, two hours before their tip off against the visiting New York Knicks, head coach Steve Kerr gave some insight as to when Cousins will be back on an NBA floor, even narrowing the timetable to within the next 20 games.
“All I can tell you is that it’s closer now because in the last week, his scrimmaging looks much better,” Kerr said. “It looks to me like he’s gotten through a barrier conditioning-wise.”
After Kerr declined to put a timetable on Cousins’ return, Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports reported that the former Sacramento Kings center would make his debut on Jan. 18 against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Cousins, who went down on Jan. 26 of last year with a ruptured Achilles, was acquired free agency in July, 2018, and since then, the Warriors have treated him and his injury with caution and care, noting that they would in no way, shape or form rush the big man back to the floor.
According to Kerr, he and the Warriors training staff have broken the season into four, 20-game quadrants, and have designated the third, which Golden State has just entered, as the time in which Cousins could be introduced into the fold.
“It’s not easy for anyone, much less a center — a guy who carries a lot of weight and size,” Kerr said. “The thing that everyone who has an Achilles comeback talks about is the movement and space you have to get comfortable with.
“And it’s not like a sprained ankle or knee or something that, once it’s healed, you feel normal. It’s more about growing accustomed to the movement and the pounding.”
Golden State and its medical staff have had Cousins running through scrimmages and post-practice workouts for the last four months.
He was seen in early November, less than three weeks after the start of the regular season, running four-on-four drills with fellow big men Damian Lee and Jordan Bell along with Quinn Cook and rookie wing Jacob Evans.
Most recently, Cousins was also seen working with former USA Basketball teammate Kevin Durant at the Warriors downtown Oakland practice facility, going viral with a dunk on the reigning Finals MVP.
While Cousins’ training regimen and rehabilitation workouts have intensified over the last month, Kerr also mentioned that he and the rest of the Warriors coaching staff have already begun constructing rotations and lineups that incorporate Cousins in anticipation of his return.
“That’s been an ongoing discussion. That’s our job as a staff.” Kerr said. “We have a decent idea of how we’d like to use DeMarcus and and in what rotations but we have to see it, too.
“We’ve had to play around with a lot of the rotations this year and so it may not be as simple as ‘this looks good on paper.’ We’ll have to see what happens and work through it until we feel like we have it where it should be.”
Considering that the Warriors lost fellow big men David West and JaVale McGee to retirement and free agency, respectively, over the off season, the return of Cousins is paramount in regards to Golden State’s ability to pressure opposing defenses at the rim as well as creating an interior deterrent on their own end.
In addition, the loss of Jones, who tore his pectoral muscle in early December, makes Cousins even more important to bolster the Warriors center rotation.
“There are certain centers whether it’s [Oklahoma City center] Steven Adams or [Portland center Jusuf] Nurkic, who are just really, really big guys and powerful guys who can score inside,” Kerr said. “Those guys have given us trouble where in the past, we’ve had bodies to throw at them. That’s obviously an area where DeMarcus can help.”