Time to Boo­gie gets close

Kerr said Cousins will start at cen­ter when he de­buts next week

The Mercury News Weekend - - SPORTS - By Mark Me­d­ina mme­d­[email protected]­yare­anews­group.com

After 11 months of frus­tra­tion, de­ter­mi­na­tion and progress, DeMar­cus Cousins fi­nally has some clar­ity about his fu­ture. Cousins, who hasn’t played since tear­ing his left Achilles ten­don last Jan­uary, con­firmed Thurs­day that he is eye­ing Jan. 18 at the Clip­pers for his War­riors de­but. “It’ll be a lot of emo­tions, hon­estly,” Cousins said. “I don’t think an- ybody can ever un­der­stand this un­less they’ve ex­pe­ri­enced it them­selves. It’ll be a lot of emo­tions. It’ll be a big day for me.”

Will Cousins start or come off the bench in his first game? “He’ll start,” coach Stever Kerr said. Cousins along with Stephen Curry, Kevin Du­rant, Dray­mond Green and Klay Thomp­son, will make the War­riors the first team since the 1975-76 Bos­ton Celtics to start five All- Stars from the pre­vi­ous sea­son.

Hav­ing five All- Stars on the floor would seem to present some ob­vi­ous prob­lems for a team and a coach.

“I’m not think­ing of it in those terms. If you look at it like fan­tasy bas­ket­ball, then you’re im­me­di­ately on the wrong track,” Kerr said. “Bas­ket­ball is not about putting five All­Stars out there. It’s fit­ting them to­gether. The puz­zle has to fit.”

As of now, the puz­zle pieces are scat­tered on the floor. Kerr and his staff have brain­stormed how to as­sem­ble it. The War­riors (27-14) have

four more games to fig­ure it out be­fore Cousins’ an­tic­i­pated re­turn.

“Ev­ery­thing is on the ta­ble. We’ll have to fig­ure out what the ro­ta­tion looks like and how many min­utes he can play,” Kerr said. “He’ll have to play around with it. The min­utes, com­bi­na­tions, sets, we haven’t had a player like him here be­fore. It will be new. It won’t be as sim­ple to plug him in and he’ll fit right in. We’ll play through him some, but there will be a pe­riod where we all have to adapt. For­tu­nately, we’re half­way through the year. We have a lot of games to fig­ure this out.”

Cousins also had plenty of time to fig­ure out his re­turn date.

He ad­mit­ted “it was all over the place” amid his de­sire to re­turn as soon as he felt com­fort­able.

The Bay Area News Group’s Lo­gan Mur­dock re­ported that Cousins ini­tially hoped to play dur­ing the War­riors’ five-game trip Nov. 29-Dec. 7, but the War­riors’ coach­ing staff and train­ing staff de­cided oth­er­wise.

“There’s not re­ally a point in get­ting into what date we wanted, but we ended up find­ing this date,” Cousins said.

“It was a bat­tle be­tween my­self, the train­ing staff and the guys at the top. Even­tu­ally we all got on the same page. We set­tled for that date.”

Say­ing “we should give our­selves some lee­way on ei­ther side,” Kerr sug­gested the “pos­si­bil­ity” of Cousins mak­ing his de­but on Wed­nes­day against New Or­leans at Or­a­cle Arena, pit­ting Cousins against his most-re­cent for­mer team, one that de­clined to give him the max of­fer he had hoped to re­ceive last sum­mer. Ac­cord­ing to Kerr, it’s also “a pos­si­bil­ity” that Cousins makes his de­but Jan. 21 against the Lak­ers, which might co­in­cide with LeBron James’ re­turn from a groin in­jury.

Wouldn’t Cousins love to play against the Pel­i­cans and give them a dish served cold?

“I’m past that in my point of life. I’m just glad to be back on the floor,” Cousins said. “I’m not look­ing for a vengeance game or any­thing for head­lines or any­thing like that. I’ll be glad to be back on the floor play­ing the game I love to play. I can’t care less who it is. I re­ally don’t care.”

After av­er­ag­ing 21.5 points in eight sea­son with Sacramento (2010- 2017) and New Or­leans, how does Cousins ex­pect to look with the War­riors?

“It’s ob­vi­ous I won’t be tak­ing as many shots as I have in the past,” Cousins said. “It’s an ad­just­ment for every­body. I be­lieve that’s pretty ob­vi­ous.”

What isn’t as ob­vi­ous: to what ex­tent Cousins can em­u­late how he used to play.

After all, Kerr be­lieves Cousins was play­ing the best bas­ket­ball of his ca­reer with the Pel­i­cans be­fore the in­jury Jan. 26, 2017. Which ver­sion of Cousins will the War­riors see in his first game?

“I’m not re­ally look­ing for­ward to any­thing in par­tic­u­lar. This is the next step for me,” Cousins said. “Just the re­hab process. I’m get­ting ac­cli­mated with the guys, find­ing my wind, find­ing my legs. I’m not ex­pect­ing to come out and score 50 points or any- thing like that. It’ll be great if I could. But that’s not my ex­pec­ta­tions. Just com­ing out and be­ing a part of the team. That’s good enough for me.”

All of which un­der­scores the uncer­tainty the War­riors are fac­ing with Cousins hey know he is start­ing, but they don’t know how he will ad­just his role to ac­com­mo­date four other All Stars. They know he will get min­utes with the sec­ond unit, fill­ing David West’s for­mer role as the team’s of­fen­sive play­maker, but they do not know the ex­act mix of scor­ing and pass­ing. They know Cousins will give the War­riors a true cen­ter after lack­ing one since Damian Jones’ sea­son- end­ing in­jury last month. But they don’t how they will ad­just their perime­ter de­fense.

“We’re adding an­other great shooter to the mix and adding a guy who is pow­er­ful in­side and is a great passer. He’s not a run­ner and not a sprinter. That’ll be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent,” Kerr said. “We played at a high pace here over the years. I imag­ine he will be in a trail po­si­tion on the break at times, which could be pretty good, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the shooter he is at the top of the key. These are all sort of un­knowns we’ll have to ex­per­i­ment with, so we’ll see.”

Be­yond Cousins’ cre­den­tials, the War­riors be­lieve he can ac­cel­er­ate his learn­ing curve be­cause he has been around the team since the sea­son started. He al­ready has some fa­mil­iar­ity with the four other All- Stars, hav­ing played along­side them with Team USA. And he has be­come ac­quainted with the War­riors’ play­book and cul­ture since sign­ing a oneyear deal at the $5.2 mil­lion mid-level ex­cep­tion.

In other words, this isn’t some guy, star or not, com­ing in at the trade dead­line.

“It’s bet­ter than that be­cause he’s been here all year watch­ing us play. He knows a lot of the ac­tions we like to run, and he’s fa­mil­iar with the guys,” Kerr said. “The hard thing about join­ing a team mid-sea­son is when you don’t know any­body. He knows every­body and every­body knows him, so it’s an eas­ier tran­si­tion. As I said, it doesn’t mean it’s go­ing to be an easy one.”

Cousins did a few things to make that ad­just­ment eas­ier. He did a lot of his re­hab around the team. He trav­eled with the War­riors when­ever his re­hab sched­uled al­lowed. He sat on the bench dur­ing games.

“I see a lot of things I can help with and ar­eas I can fit right in. There’s also some ar­eas I have to work my way to­wards be­ing a part of,” Cousins said. “I fin­ished one step and that’s com­plet­ing the re­hab and get­ting back to the floor. Now there are more steps ahead. That’s build­ing the chem­istry and find­ing my­self on the team. It’s all find­ing a com­fort­able place and play­ing to­gether.”

RAY CHAVEZ — STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Cen­ter DeMar­cus Cousins ex­pects to make his de­but with the War­riors next week against the Clip­pers.

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