DeMarcus Cousins signed with the Warriors this season to rehab from an Achilles tendon injury and get his first career taste of the playoffs.
He completed Job 1, but his postseason experience lasted just 25 minutes over two games before he tore a quadriceps muscle in his left leg against the Los Angeles Clippers on April 15.
Now Cousins is close to being ready to return to action, just in time for the NBA Finals.
“I feel good. A lot better than I was,” the 28-year-old center said Thursday after his first full practice since the injury. “I’m able to get up and down the court more. I’m able to play a little competition basketball.
“I’m in a lot better place.”
Coach Steve Kerr, noting that Cousins feels no pain, said now it’s a matter of regaining his conditioning. Game 1 of the NBA Finals is next Thursday, on the road against either the Bucks or Raptors.
Will Cousins be ready to play?
“It’s up in the air,” Kerr said.
Cousins, who went his first eight NBA seasons without a postseason game, tore his Achilles a year ago in late January while playing for the New Orleans Pelicans.
He spent more than half of this season still recovering, only to face a second setback with the quad injury against the Clippers.
“It’s been a wild year for me all season,” Cousins conceded. “Happy to be in this moment. If I get the opportunity to play, I’m going to try to take full advantage of it and leave it all on the floor.”
Neither Kerr nor Cousins knows how that might take shape.
Asked if Cousins, a four-time All-Star, would definitely start when he’s ready to play, Kerr responded, “I wouldn’t say so. It depends on how everything is going. It depends on matchups. It depends on health.
“I have to see how well he’s moving up. I would have to say everything is up in the air at this point.”
Cousins’ assessment is pretty much the same.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said.
In the big picture, Cousins is simply encouraged that he has a shot at returning to the floor. He said he never doubted he could play again this season, but admits there was a brief sense of panic after the quad injury.
“Once the diagnosis came out and I realized what it was, I had to gather myself after a couple of days of frustration, anger, sadness . . . all of the above, tell myself to get back to work. Just do it all over again.”
Having worked through rehab after the Achilles injury and subsequent surgery actually helped with the quad situation, Cousins said.
“I feel that’s what adversity does. It always builds you up to make you stronger for the next moment,” Cousins said. “That was one of my darkest moments, dealing with the Achilles.
“I felt like I was in a strong mental (state) when it came to dealing with this one. Not to say it was easy, but it’s a more comfortable situation to maneuver.”
Cousins has been continually impressed by his team’s ability to overcome obstacles this season, including the calf strain that has sidelined Kevin Durant the past five games. The Warriors won all five of those games, including a sweep of the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals.
Even with free agency looming again this summer, Cousins is not worried about how others will view his value.
“I think people know what I can do,” he said, “It’s just about me being healthy.”
His priority now is making an on-court contribution to the final push toward a third consecutive NBA title.
“I feel better each and every day. That’s my whole goal,” Cousins said. “Hopefully, that opportunity comes and I’m able to get on the floor and help my teammates win a championship.”