TORONTO -- Life is what happens when you’re making other plans. That’s sort of the theme of DeMarcus Cousins’ career.
After more than six seasons with the Kings, Cousins was prepared to sign a massive extension to remain the face of the franchise likely for the remainder of his career. At the last moment, Sacramento shifted gears, dealing the All-Star center to New Orleans.
Just as he and Anthony Davis were finding their chemistry on the court with the Pelicans, Cousins ruptured his left Achilles tendon, setting him back a year and costing him his first look at postseason play and likely tens of millions of dollars.
Starting back at square one, Cousins accepted a one-year, $5 million deal with the Warriors with the understanding that he would spend a good portion of the season rehabbing.
Once healthy, Cousins finally began to find his niche with the two-time defending NBA champions, finishing the final 30 games of the season in Steve Kerr’s starting lineup.
And then disaster struck again.
Four minutes into Game 2 of the Warriors' first-round NBA playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers, Cousins went to the floor chasing a loose ball. When he stood up, it was clear that something was wrong.
“I kind of looked down and saw it in the moment,” Cousins told NBC Sports Bay Area following Saturday’s practice in Toronto. “It happens.”
As he walked through the tunnel with the Warriors' training staff, cameras captured what appeared to be a complete detachment of Cousins’ left quad. An inverted “V” ran from his knee cap, halfway up his upper leg where his rectus femoris muscle should have been.
In what should be considered a minor medical miracle, Cousins returned to the court six weeks after the injury and played eight minutes during Golden State's Game 1 NBA Finals loss to the Toronto Raptors on Thursday at Scotiabank Arena.
“Once I kind of started to the doctors, they gave me a little more knowledge on everything that was going on with injury and the usual timeframe,” Cousins explained. “My first week I sat in a hyperbaric chamber for a week straight like two or three hours a day. That was my first week just to speed up the whole process of healing and things of that nature.”
The setback took an emotional toll as well. Cousins openly admitted to falling into the trap of self-pity, but it didn’t last long.
“I kind of went through my dog days, sat around and pouted, I felt sorry for myself,” Cousins said. “I kind of told myself it’s time to move past that and get back on track.”
It’s an improbable recovery, but at 6-foot-11, 280-pounds, Cousins still is fighting an uphill battle to get back to who he has always been on the court.
Cousins had to make a difficult decision. A free agent at the end of the season, he easily could have shut it down and focused on next year. No one would have questioned his decision. In fact, it looked like his only real option.
“Once I started feeling better and I could actually walk a little bit, I got back to work,” Cousins said. “There wasn’t a guarantee, but I just told myself I would work and give myself a chance and things worked out for me.”
The four-time All-Star can’t predict what kind of player he will be throughout the series. He’s doing everything in his power to continue to improve and get stronger, but he’s missed the better part of 16 months.
“I don’t know,” Cousins said of the possibility of getting back to 80 or 90 percent before the end of the series. “I was still in the process of finding myself from the Achilles injury after sitting out for an entire year of basketball. I lasted 30 games and boom, you know, something else. It’s like a double whammy, I guess you could say.”
At 28, going on 29, Cousins knows full well that opportunities like this don’t come around very often. He’s risking his long term future to get back on the court to try and help his team win a ring.
“I’m not really concerned with that, if I get an opportunity to play, I’m going to put it all out there,” Cousins said.
He’s gambling with his career and his long-term health, but it’s not really a surprise. Cousins has spent his entire time in the NBA chasing the chance to become a winner. It’s something he openly discussed during his time with the Kings and again with the Pelicans.
With the possibility of becoming a champion within his reach, it’s not shocking to see him putting it all on the line. Winning is an obsession for the former Kentucky star.
“It shows you how important this moment is for me,” Cousins said. “Everybody’s opinions doesn’t f--king matter. It never did.”
He hasn’t found his smile yet, and the increased media attention that comes with The Finals isn’t helping. His want to prove naysayers wrong is part of his DNA.
But getting to this point isn’t enough. He wants to be a factor in the Warriors' third straight title.
There is a glimmer of hope that he can become a factor in a series that will likely stretch out over the next two weeks.
“Obviously I wish I could be a 100 percent right now and I could just go out there and be DeMarcus,” Cousins said. “I’ve been wanting that all year. But it’s a process and we’re all aware of that. You’ve got to go through it.”
The longer The Finals go, the more time he has to find himself on the court and get closer to returning to form.
“I’m not really looking for any excuse, when I’m on the floor, I’m going to try and go out and play as hard as I can and be as close to myself as I can be,” Cousins said. “That’s all I can do.”
Cousins would matchup well against Raptors big man Marc Gasol, but the Warriors need him closer to full strength if he’s going to play more than spot minutes.
Cousins has defied all the odds to this point. It’s a good story, but the surly big man wants more.
A ring is within his grasp and he’s showing that there is very little he won’t do to obtain his ultimate goal.