DeMarcus Cousins: ‘I’m back, and I’m not looking back’

After missing nearly a year of action due to a ruptured Achilles tendon, DeMarcus Cousins is set to make his NBA return. When he does, he’ll be debuting as a member of the Golden State Warriors, after signing with the two-time defending champions in July. In advance of his Warriors debut, Cousins sat down with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols to discuss coming back from such a devastating injury, his tumultuous career and the talent overload in Oakland.

Nichols: It is happening. You are finally going to walk out onto the court and be an NBA player again. What do you think that’s gonna feel like?

Cousins: Kind of nervous about it, actually. You know, at the end of this month, it’ll basically be a calendar year. So it’s been a long time coming, to say the least.

Nichols: You’ve called this the most challenging, the most difficult year of your life.

Cousins: It’s almost like a punishment. You know when you were a kid and you get your favorite toy taken away for a certain amount of time? And, you know, once you finally get it back you just feel like you love it even more. So it’s kind of one of those feelings. And you know, once it’s in my hands, I’ll take care of it.

Nichols: How do you think you’re gonna come back a different player than you were when we last saw you?

Cousins: Well, obviously, I won’t be the same player. I’ve gotten better. (laughs) So you know, a lot of things have changed in my game. You start to tune up other areas of your game: jump shooting, skill work. I think everything has just increased and gotten better.

Nichols: You’ve talked to other guys who’ve had this injury before, Dominique Wilkins, Kobe Bryant. Some guys, they have this kind of injury, they are never a good enough player again. They can never really continue. Some guys are able to move forward and build a whole second stage of their career. What did those two tell you about how to do it?

Cousins: Well, with Dominique, that’s who I’ve probably spoken to the most. And he just basically tells me to attack it. Once you realize you are healed, like, don’t think about it. Just go forward.

Nichols: The guys who weren’t able to move forward past this injury, do you let that get into your thoughts at all?

Cousins: Not at all. Not at all. One thing that Dominique also spoke on is — they don’t know your heart, and they don’t know your drive. So you know, the people that do know me, they know I can be very stubborn. I don’t like to be proved wrong.

Nichols: Have those parts of your personality really come forward in this last few months?

Cousins: Oh, they’ve gotten worse. (laughs) A lot worse.

Nichols: So you’re coming back more stubborn than you left us?

Cousins: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Nichols: Should the officials be concerned?

Cousins: Nah. They’re on my good side — right now.

Nichols: You had one of the most tumultuous first six or seven years in the NBA of anyone I can think of. And the question always hanging around you was: Is it the Kings’ fault? Is it Boogie’s fault? Then you go to New Orleans, rave reviews out of the Pelicans’ locker room. You come to the Warriors, your teammates and coaches have great things to say about you. If you finish this year in that same way, do you think it will change the minds of the people who doubted you? Because there were organizations who said, “We’ll never trade for him.”

Cousins: Nah, it probably won’t. It probably won’t. But, I mean, I can’t live worrying about what the next man thinks. I know who I am as a person. And the people that matter around me know who I am. So, it is what it is.

Nichols: You did get a technical this season, while on the bench, in street clothes, which is a very impressive feat, by the way. But in general, the fiery side of your personality seems to fit in well with this team. You’ve got Draymond Green, plus coach Steve Kerr. He was just talking the other day about a game in Sacramento a few years ago where you stayed in the game. He’s the one that got thrown out, because he was going so crazy. And he said he looked and caught your eye as he came off the court.

Cousins: We were kicking their ass. (laughs) And you know, he was pissed. As they ejected him, we kind of caught eyes. And I just kind of gave him the wave. So I don’t think he could be too mad about that.

Nichols: What does it mean to you that if you do get fiery and emotional on the court in this stint with the Warriors, you’re surrounded by people who have gotten emotional on the court themselves?

Cousins: I actually prefer teammates that have emotions. It means you care, compared to a guy that’s kind of just nonchalant and goes about it like it doesn’t matter. So I want guys that care. I want guys that show they care. And that’s something this team does.

Nichols: There was a feeling at the start of this season that the Warriors were gonna be a title favorite regardless, that you needed them more than they needed you. But then the season has gone along and do you think it’s shifted a little? That they might need you at least a little more now, too?

Cousins: I don’t really pay attention to storylines. I mean, they’re gonna say what they have to say. They’re gonna add their opinions. We’re the most hated team in sports.

Nichols: You think you’re the most hated team in sports?

Cousins: Can you name another?

Nichols: I would say there’s a lot of people in this country who love to hate the Yankees or the Cowboys.

Cousins: Well, put us up there. (laughs) I would say the Warriors are for sure. You know they hate Kevin [Durant]. They hate me. I think the only guy they really like is Steph [Curry]. Actually, they may hate him as well. They hate Draymond. But I mean, it is what it is. I can’t worry about that.

Nichols: The bottom line is you are getting back on the basketball court. When people hear, “Boogie’s back,” what should they know?

Cousins: I’m back, and I’m not looking back. I’m moving forward. I’m leaving it on the floor every night. And I plan on coming back for that top spot.

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