OAKLAND, Calif. — He is moody and conditioned to be suspicious, personality quirks that set DeMarcus Cousins apart from a majority of human beings, not just NBA players. In the basketball bubble in which he works, referees and reporters are necessary evils and he often sees enemies where none exist, which add to his complexity.
Those who know him best — and they can fit inside a shot glass — insist Cousins just doesn’t trust very many, that’s all.
But what happens when the flesh and blood that’s closest to him — his own body — winds up being the most untrustworthy of all?
There’s nothing else that can explain why, for the second time in 14 months, the 6-foot-11, 270-pound center dropped to the floor without being pushed and immediately grabbed a body part in pain.
He’ll undergo an MRI on Tuesday to determine the extent of the left quad injury he suffered in Monday’s Game 2 of the Golden State Warriors’ playoff series with the LA Clippers. And he’s hoping that test will be more positive than the eye test.
When Cousins hustled for a stolen pass in the first quarter and fell right in front of the Warriors’ bench, players and coaches jumped and knew something was wrong. The Oracle Arena crowd instantly hushed. This was no ordinary plop.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr called the injury “significant” while adding “he’s going to be out for … I’ll just say a while.”
If it’s a tear, his season is over. A strain, depending on severity, will cost him a chunk of the postseason if not all of it.
And of course, Cousins is bracing that this exam will be nothing like the last exam.
Cousins is in a Warriors’ uniform only because the Achilles he tore two Februarys ago with the New Orleans Pelicans led him to Oakland in a search to restore his All-Star status, win a championship and mainly to cash in as a free agent this summer. It appeared a worthwhile gamble, to play for peanuts (relatively speaking) on what amounts to a stopover while mending peacefully and gradually without any sense of urgency on the team’s behalf.
Cousins put in the work, returned earlier than expected in January, was heartily welcomed by his new teammates and gradually regained his timing and conditioning. The Warriors carefully rationed his minutes and touches and yet, he averaged 25.7 minutes per game this season and looked frisky at times. His 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game were impressive on a team that was loaded without him.
He’s a big man with a gentle touch, capable of posting up or shooting 3-pointers. Yet he’s someone who languished nonetheless for six turbulent seasons in Sacramento before a flash of brilliance and refreshing serenity in his brief stay in New Orleans.
To the two-time defending champion Warriors, who have four other All-Stars in the rotation, Cousins’ worth is negotiable. More talent on the floor is always better. Still, Cousins amounts to a bonus and insurance in case something goes really wrong on this three-peat chase. Their vaunted “Hamptons Five” lineup, with smaller and quicker players, was used in Game 1 vs. the Clippers while Cousins had six turnovers and fouled out.
If Cousins is out, the Warriors have few options at center (and none who can match his skill set). Andrew Bogut was signed a month ago, but is fit and knows the system. Kevon Looney is more athletic and has played well as of late. And that’s about it.
There are longer-term implications as well, depending on what the MRI says. Cousins wanted to make a splash in free agency and because of a salary cap that’s very limiting to what the Warriors can offer. That splash would be elsewhere and the Warriors are fine with that.
“This is a one-year deal with us … we’d like to help him win a championship and sign a great contract somewhere else,” Kerr said.
Instead, Cousins must deal with betrayal, from the person closest to him: Himself.
“You feel for him because of what he’s been through last year,” said guard Stephen Curry. “This is the big stage, the playoffs. He’s been looking forward to this. It’s tough, for sure. There’s no sugarcoating it.”
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