In early November, the Golden State Warriors faced a moment that had the potential to fracture their locker room.
In the midst of a heated verbal altercation between Warriors forwards Draymond Green and Kevin Durant late in the fourth quarter of an eventual 121-116 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State’s newest addition, DeMarcus Cousins, stepped in to separate the two.
As the clash carried over into the locker room after the game, Cousins spoke to Green privately in an attempt to calm the situation.
“Yeah, he talked to me,” Green said. “He helped two men handle their business.”
When the Warriors signed Cousins to a one-year, $5.3 million contract in June, he still bore the reputation of a malcontent, whose immaturity had earned him a ticket out of Sacramento. During the first half of his first season with Golden State — including that November night — Cousins, who is set to make his debut tonight against the Los Angeles Clippers after missing almost a year due to an Achilles injury, has proven himself as the opposite of the locker room cancer he’s been perceived to be.
“He’s a lot better of a guy than he gets credit for,” Green said. “Everybody thinks he’s just this mean guy, who doesn’t know much, but he’s the complete opposite.”
Of those unsure about Cousins heading into the season was Warriors center Kevon Looney. The UCLA product, entering his fourth season in the NBA, had heard stories of Cousins and his short-fused temper.
“Coming in, I thought he’d be a lot more […] angry,” Looney told the Examiner. “They always say how angry he gets on and off of the court.”
In the far left corner of the Warriors locker room at Oracle Arena, Cousins’ locker sits directly to the right of Looney’s, just five feet away.
During games, Looney takes his seat at the end of the Warriors bench, after his first quarter minutes, with Cousins right beside him, often clad in full streetwear and a pair of yellow-tinted sunglasses while he rehabs from a torn Achilles suffered on Jan. 26 of 2018.
That’s where Looney gets to see DeMarcus the comedian, who routinely makes jokes about botched dunks and other blooper-reel-type plays that transpire right in front of him.
In a preseason game against the Phoenix Suns, though, is when Looney says he really learned about Cousin’s lightheartedness.
“On the team we had a lot of rookies,” Looney said trying to contain laughter. “Just trying to get on the court and trying to make their name. As soon as they walked on the court you hear DeMarcus yell from the bench, ‘Who is you? What’s your name? Introduce yo-self.’
“That just made me laugh because I know if I had saw DeMarcus Cousins messing with me like that, I would have been terrified.”
According to teammates Klay Thompson and Alfonzo McKinnie, Cousins’ sense of humor precedes the harsh, confrontational villain that he was painted as during his dysfunctional tenure with the Sacramento Kings.
In 2016, Chris Mannix of The Vertical reported that an unnamed NBA executive, referring to Cousins, said, “Everything about that guy is wrong. I don’t want that attitude around my young players.”
According to head coach Steve Kerr, from what he’s seen, Cousins’ has been far different.
“He’s been very supportive of our younger bigs during games during practice,” Kerr said. “He’s just been great as a teammate.”
On top of providing moments of comedic relief amid the monotonous grind of a regular season at a volume which Warriors point guard Stephen Curry said is “as loud as advertised,” Cousins has also been a source of wisdom for some of Golden State’s young big men.
“He’s been in [Damian Jones’] ear, Looney’s ear, [Jordan Bell’s] ear all the time,” Curry said. “Just giving them his knowledge.”
As one of the first people to arrive to practice and the last one to leave, as he’s worked to rehab his torn Achilles — an injury suffered on Jan. 26, 2018 — Looney says that Cousins has been able to help bolster his game this season, as he’s been placed in the Warriors starting lineup in the wake of Damian Jones’ torn pectoral muscle suffered in December.
From learning how to maneuver on the block in the low post, to dealing with lumbering centers on the defensive side of the ball, Cousins’ experience has helped Looney double his production, compared to the first three years of his career.
Before 2018, Looney had averaged only 2.7 points, 2.5 rebounds and 0.3 assists per game. This season, Looney is up to nearly seven points, six rebounds and two assists per game while only playing 21 minutes per night.
“We talk about positioning and stuff like that,” Looney said. “He’s all about having confidence out there. That’s something that he gave to me, J.B. (Jordan Bell) and D.J. (Damian Jones) in terms of ‘Hey, you gotta be aggressive just to make the team better.’
“You don’t have to be shooting threes or doing everything, but when you get it, be aggressive and confident in what you’re doing and it shows. It’s something that we all took from him.”
This season, the Warriors have faced perhaps the most adversity of any year since Kerr took over as head coach in 2014. From a visible disinterest in the regular season, to the Green-Durant spat, to Durant’s pending free agency, to injuries suffered by Green, Curry and Jones, the 2018 season has been difficult for Golden State.
“[Cousins] lifted the morale when we’ve needed it,” Thompson said. “He’s had our back when we’ve needed it … He’s been there every night on the bench supporting us and just being there.”
The benefit of having Cousins sitting courtside was most evident during that Clippers game on November 13.
With less than five seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Green snagged a rebound off of a missed shot from Lou Williams.
As he pushed the ball up court, Durant trailed behind looking for the ball, and an opportunity to score on the game’s potential final possession.
Overlooking Durant, Green tripped near the three-point line, failing to even get a shot off at the buzzer, triggering a nationally-televised shouting match with Durant, which, in the post-loss locker room, reportedly turned to criticism of Durant’s impeding free agency.
Enter: Cousins, who halted the fight before things escalated on the floor.
While Green declined to disclose what exactly was said, Cousins intervened in that locker room argument, and assisted the Warriors in putting the skirmish behind them as quickly as possible, in order to move on with their quest of a third consecutive championship and fourth in five seasons.
Entering the year, very few people knew what to expect considering the whispers they had heard about the misunderstood big man from Mobile, Alabama. After six months though, the Warriors, who Cousins once called his “last resort,” in free agency, have a better understanding of his true character.
“He’s just a great dude,” Curry said. “There was probably an opportunity for him to just sit in the background, take care of his rehab and not really try to plug himself in but he’s been so present and involved.”
With his Warriors debut expected to come on Friday against the Clippers, Cousins has earned his keep with his teammates and coaches, especially Looney.
“He’s been one of my favorite teammates by far in his short time here,” Looney said. “I know how tough it is coming off of injury to stay positive like that is tough… He’s been a great guy and a genuinely good person. He’s taught me a lot and helped me. I’m just waiting to see what he can do on the court.”