Before game two of the Golden State Warriors’ first-round series against the LA Clippers in April, DeMarcus Cousins was finally starting to feel like himself again after having torn his Achilles tendon the year before. He was telling people close to him how “amazing” he felt, how he thought he was starting to be himself again.
Later that night, Cousins crumpled to the floor with what an MRI would later confirm was a torn quad tendon. Cousins would ultimately return for the NBA Finals and try to help the Warriors before the team fell to the Toronto Raptors, but he clearly wasn’t feeling 100 percent at that point.
That was probably a tough situation to go through, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to Cousins talk about it on a conference call with reporters after he officially signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. DeMarcus Cousins, a player (often unfairly) criticized for his attitude, actually seems to have had the most difficult years of his career turn him into sort of an optimist.
“I was really feeling good at the time,” Cousins said of the night he hurt his quad. “That’s kind of a good thing because I know it’s possible to get back to that place, so that’s the positive I took out of that.”
Another positive to take forward? Cousins says his quad “is 100 percent healed” now, and that he’s working every day to strengthen his lower body so those injuries don’t happen again.
“I’m getting stronger, getting in better shape. My plan is to come into camp in tip-top shape. My goal is to play 82 games this season,” Cousins said. “I want a full season of health and going to the playoffs, and whatever happens, happens.”
And Cousins thinks some good things can happen for the Lakers, who had his former Pelicans teammates Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo recruiting him along with LeBron James. Cousins had a conversation with all three players that answered every question he had about an organization that he didn’t know very many other people in, and once they eliminated any potential reasons for concern, they all had the same, simple message for Cousins.
“Everybody’s message was the same: We’re all here this season to compete for a championship, and that’s that. I think we can all agree on that, and with that being said, it was an easy decision,” Cousins said.
How well the Lakers compete for a championship will be in part fueled by how much Cousins can outperform his one-year, $3.5 million contract. Two seasons removed from his Achilles tear — normally around the time players start to approximate their prior form — Cousins could potentially be an incredible bargain for the Lakers, a way to add a plus-level starter at a massive discount.
Cousins says he didn’t expect teams to be falling all over themselves to sign him because of his health situation, and that he wasn’t stressed about not coming to terms with any team before finding a deal with the Lakers several days into free agency. He doesn’t mind being doubted.
“I feel like I’ve been trying to show and prove myself my entire career. I feel I do better under pressure when the odds are against me. I feel like the best of me comes out, so I take it for what it’s worth,” Cousins said.
“I’ve kind of been doubted my whole life, and used that as fuel to push every single day. One of my biggest fears is to be proven wrong by somebody who doesn’t agree with me, or doesn’t have my best interests at heart,” Cousins continued. “I’m always seeking to prove those types of people wrong.”
There won’t be a whole lot of people doubting the Lakers this year, as the team will be one of the favorites to win the title due to the pairing of James and Davis. A chance to reunite with the latter after feeling like they had unfinished business together because their pairing in New Orleans was cut short by injuries was part of what drew Cousins to Los Angeles, and he’s excited by James’ addition to a dynamic that already worked well.
”I think we’re a pretty tough big-man duo. That’s part of the reason we wanted to become teammates again. We realized how much better we made one another, and how much we made the game easier for one another. So I think we both appreciate each other’s presence,” Cousins said.
“To add LeBron James to the mix, I think his resume speaks for itself. Having one of the greatest players in the game added to (Davis and I),” Cousins said, pausing and trailing off, avoiding a chance for hyperbole before instead just mischievously offering “It should be be an exciting season.”
There is probably a reason for Cousins playing coy. Last season with the Warriors looked like it would all-but-guarantee him his first ring, to the degree that it led to criticism that he ruined the league by picking the team. As you may have noticed, the Warriors did not win a title last year.
Predictions are great, but Cousins knows better than almost anyone now that the games still have to be played, even if he’s optimistic how well the Lakers can do.
“The roster is incredible. I think we have a lot of talented pieces. On paper we look legit. We look like we have a great chance of competing for a title, but it’s obvious that the game isn’t played on paper,” Cousins said. “It’s our job to come together, mesh, get on the same page, build chemistry and go out and win games. But as far as on paper, we look great.”
Cousins seems ready for the season to get here, which is only surprising in the sense that it would be human nature for someone to worry about their own health after the last two injuries Cousins has sustained. But he says they haven’t made him less excited about a chance to play basketball.
If anything, it sounds like they’ve had the exact opposite effect.
“I love it that much more. Everything I’ve kind of gone through in the past three years, it’s just made me realize how fast this thing can be taken away from you,” Cousins said.
“I’m grateful for every opportunity. I learned the hard way.”