DeMarcus Cousins is set to make his debut with the Golden State Warriors during the team’s Los Angeles road trip later this month, according to two sources with knowledge of the team’s plans.
The Warriors will play the Clippers on Jan. 18 and the Lakers on Jan. 21, and Cousins is expected to make his return from a torn Achilles’ tendon he sustained in late January 2018 in one of those two games, according to the people, who were not authorized to discuss the situation publicly.
Warriors Coach Steve Kerr, speaking to reporters before the team’s home game Tuesday night against the Knicks, would not give a specific timetable for Cousins’ first game this season but acknowledged that it would be sooner rather than later.
“It’s closer now,” Kerr said. “It seems to me he’s gotten through a barrier conditioning-wise.”
Cousins was in the midst of his best professional season with the New Orleans Pelicans last Jan. 26, when he tore his left Achilles late in a victory over the Houston Rockets.
The injury cost Cousins his first trip to the playoffs after six and a half fruitless seasons with the Sacramento Kings and ultimately led him to sign a one-year, $5.3 million deal in July with Golden State, with his value deflated amid concerns about how he would recover from the setback.
The Warriors have been eager to see Cousins on the floor to finally address what has been one of the league’s most frequently asked questions since they signed him: How will Cousins mesh on the floor alongside four fellow All-Stars in Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green?
But the Warriors — despite a well-chronicled lack of size on their roster — have also been cautious in terms of bringing Cousins back from what has historically been one of the most unforgiving injuries for basketball players.
The team’s resolve has held thus far despite a difficult season for Warriors centers. Damian Jones, who was expected to expand his role this season, tore his left pectoral muscle and is expected to be out for the season. With Jordan Bell struggling to maintain a spot in Kerr’s rotation, adding Cousins would solve the biggest hole for a team that has often underperformed despite the presence of several stars.
Because of his continuing recovery, Cousins, 27, was forced to accept a one-year deal worth the league’s taxpayer midlevel exception, according to two people familiar with the contract who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.
New Orleans was originally planning to sign Cousins to a lucrative contract this summer before he sustained the season-ending injury. But the combination of fears over Cousins’s recovery as well as the quick evaporation of funds for the teams that were expected to pursue him — such as the Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks — left him with little market.
As a result, Cousins decided to spend the season with the team that has won three of the N.B.A.’s last four championships. The lack of urgency to have him in the lineup has given him time to continue his rehabilitation without facing pressure to rush his re-entry. Cousins has still yet to appear in an N.B.A. playoff game after eight seasons in the league, missing out on his first trip to the postseason in April because of the injury.
When Cousins does play against the Clippers or Lakers, Golden State will become the first team since the Boston Celtics in 1975-76 to be able to put five reigning All-Stars on the floor.
The Celtics did it that season with a lineup of Jo Jo White, Charlie Scott, Dave Cowens, Paul Silas and John Havlicek.