Former Kentucky and current Golden State Warriors center DeMarcus Cousin is set to make his team debut tonight against the Los Angeles Clippers at 10:30 p.m. on ESPN.
Cousins has not played in an NBA game since tearing his Achilles tendon late last January and after nearly a full year of recovery and controversy, Boogie is ready to take the big stage yet again.
So what should we expect from Boogie’s first game back? Will he play more than 15 minutes? What lineups will head coach Steve Kerr slot him into? Is he going to bust out for a 40-point triple-double?
The correct answer is I have absolutely zero ideas, but let’s speculate anyway because I’m so so excited to watch Cousins play basketball again that I might cry.
So let’s start with the most glaring question. How will Cousins – a six-time All-Star who is often the man with the ball in hands – handle playing second, third, fourth, or even fifth fiddle to one of the most talented collections of players in NBA history?
It’s no secret that Cousins is a bit of a hot-head. I think even he would openly admit that at this point. From what I can tell from him and on social media, he’s bonded with fellow Warriors teammate and another notorious trouble-maker, Draymond Green. While that relationship off the court might be a match made in heaven, I’m skeptical that they can work together on the court. They counter each other’s strengths and weaknesses well, however. Draymond is the playmaking, defensive-minded – yet undersized – power forward while Cousins can dominate on offense from every area of the court. In strictly basketball terms, they should theoretically mesh well on the court, but in terms of their personalities and passion, we might see some colorfully worded arguments during games.
But it’s not like the Warriors aren’t used to that at this point. Kevin Durant and Green had some public beef the other month and that seems like news from seasons ago. Golden State’s front office didn’t sign Boogie to a one-year, $5.3 million steal of a contract hoping that he would come in and balance out the chemistry. They signed him because they had the power to do so and didn’t have to worry about working out the specifics of how they’ll integrate him until now. So any potential beef between Cousins and his new teammates is something that was surely expected. Now it’s just a matter of when (or if) it happens and how every side will deal with it.
Aside from Green – and sometimes the insecure Durant – the Warriors don’t really have any other players that might clash with Cousins. Now, in terms of how he’ll work playing alongside Curry, Durant, and Klay Thompson, that’s where things get a bit foggier. During his time in New Orleans, Cousins had Anthony Davis by his side and those two acted as twin towers on wheels, forcing opponents to stretch open the floor entirely and pick their poison of who they prefer to double-team. In Golden State, that’s going to be even more exaggerated. You can’t double Cousins with Curry and Thompson roaming the perimeter, that’s asking for death. Cousins is an incredibly competent playmaker for his size. Even if Cousins doesn’t come back at 100 percent, he should still be a viable force in the paint and whenever he decides to step out for a three. His reputation alone will attract defenders and open up action for one of the four other All-Stars.
The Warriors have never had a dominant center since they began their reign of terror on the NBA a few seasons ago. How they incorporate one of the most unique big men to ever play the game should be interesting. They can’t hold Cousins to the same type of game that they have done with some of their other centers such as JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia, Jordan Bell, or Kevon Looney. Cousins needs the ball to be effective and the reality of the situation is he won’t be getting it nearly as much as he’s been accustomed too, even if the Warriors go out of their way to feed him the ball. I expect the Warriors to run a few plays for him early against the Clippers to test himself against L.A.’s slow-footed big men. But once the game gets going and into a flow, it’s going to be hard to argue for force-feeding the ball to Cousins if Curry has hit two straight threes on back-to-back possessions.
So therein lies what will most likely be the biggest issue between the short marriage of Cousins and Golden State. Can they keep him happy long enough? Can they get him to buy in long enough to finish out the season without being a featured proponent? Remember, Cousins is set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He’s coming off a torn Achilles, an injury that has derailed the careers of several big men before Cousins. He wants to get paid. He would have received a max contract had he not torn gone down the injury. Now his future is completely unclear and his play for the remainder of the season and into the playoffs is going to be a giant indicator of how much money he might earn. The Warriors won’t be able to resign Cousins next season (that is, if they intend to keep their core together, which I’m sure they do) and he’s essentially auditioning for 29 other franchises on a team where he’s maybe the third best player when fully healthy.
So is he going to be a major part of the rotation early? Steve Kerr recently told reporters that Cousins will start, but it is unclear exactly how long he’ll play. “I’ll start him [Cousins]. After that, everything’s on the table,” Kerr said. “We have to figure out what the rotations will look like, how many minutes he can play. We’ll have to play around with the minutes, the combinations, the sets.”
That reads to me as Kerr struggling his shoulders. I don’t think even he has any idea of how this experiment is going to work. I don’t think anyone in the known universe can predict how this all might end. There hasn’t been a situation like this in recent NBA memory. But I’ll tell you one thing, I haven’t been this excited to watch the Warriors play since they blew a 3-1 lead in the 2016 NBA Finals with the first-ever unanimous MVP to LeBron James and my Cleveland Cavaliers. *now I’m shrugging my shoulders*
Welcome back, Boogie. We’ve missed you so, so much.
Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan