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DeMarcus Cousins has a lot left in the tank and a lot left to say

The four-time All-Star reflects on a career of injuries, why his Kings tenure went wrong, how he revolutionized modern big man play and more

SAN FRANCISCO – DeMarcus Cousins sat in the stands at the Chase Center on Friday afternoon after the Denver Nuggets practiced in preparation for his former team, the Golden State Warriors. Cousins almost won an elusive NBA championship with the Warriors. About 10 feet away, talking to the media, was Nuggets coach Michael Malone, his beloved colleague, who also coached the four-time NBA All-Star during the best and worst time of his career 90 miles away in Sacramento.

Malone described him as “terrific” for Denver since his signing on Jan. 21 after his non-guaranteed one-year deal with the Milwaukee Bucks ended. Denver signed Cousins for the rest of the season on Feb. 25.

“It’s been great to reconnect with him,” Malone said. “And I told him this when I coached him in Sacramento, ‘On the exterior we look very different. Inside there are a lot of similarities.’ DeMarcus is a guy that is a competitor that wants to win and I never had to worry if DeMarcus Cousins was going to be ready to play a game, at 5:30, at 7:30, at 1:00. He is a guy that when you put him in a competitive situation, more times than not he rises to the occasion. And I’m happy to be a part of him kind of getting back into this NBA and showing people what he’s still capable of doing.”

Times have certainly changed for Cousins as major injuries such as a torn Achilles, quadriceps and ACL caused him to go from being an NBA star making max money to a role player who has been waived, signed to 10-day contracts and lost millions of dollars. The 31-year-old owns career averages of 19.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists while averaging 22 points or more in seven seasons.

But two things that haven’t changed about the two-time All-NBA selection are his desire to play through all the pain and his ability to speak his mind without filter.

“As long as they appreciate me, that’s all that really matters to me,” Cousins told Andscape. “Everybody doesn’t appreciate everybody’s greatness. There are people out here that hate on Michael Jordan. There are people that hate on LeBron James. People that hate Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, the list goes on.

“For those that are gracious to my career, I appreciate you. But the rest of them, you know what it is. Middle finger to you.”

Cousins and the Nuggets face the Warriors in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series on Monday. The following is a Q&A with the 6-foot-10 big man in which he talks about his relationship with Malone, potential future with the Nuggets, confusion and emotions over being waived by the Bucks on Jan. 5, injury frustration with the Warriors, a brutally honest reflection on his days with the Kings and his intention to keep playing “till the wheels fall off.”

(Editor’s note: Cousins spoke to Andscape before being ejected in a 123-107 Game 1 loss to Golden State on Saturday. Cousins received two technical fouls with 10:28 left in the game, finishing with 7 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in 10 minutes.)

What was your mentality during free agency and the way it went and how slow it went, and where were you at during that time when you didn’t get signed until Nov. 30 by the Bucks?

Well, honestly after the way I performed with the Clippers in the playoffs last [season] in my limited minutes, I thought something would have opened up for me. I proved that I was healthy. I proved that I could help the team. I proved that I could fit whatever role was needed. It didn’t necessarily work out in my favor for whatever reason.

Then Milwaukee came around. I thought I had found a home. Everything went smoothly. Another situation where I still don’t really understand that situation. They say it was for financial flexibility that [I was waived]. I’m not buying it. So, I don’t know. I’ve always been a firm believer everything happens for a reason, so this place [Denver] found me, and it’s been good. It’s been a good fit on both sides. They appreciate my value. It’s mostly been smooth since then.

Did Denver have interest in you before you agreed to go to Milwaukee?

Denver called before Milwaukee. And I worked out for Denver and then [general manager Calvin] Booth came and worked me out in Vegas. It was real quiet and hush, and two days later Milwaukee came in with a whole staff, it looked like. They worked me out and basically told me they were signing me after the workout.

And I eventually asked them, ‘Did y’all come here because you heard Denver work me out?’ They eventually told me the truth and that was the case. And they wanted to get a deal done fast. But at the time when Denver worked me out, they told me, ‘We want you badly, we just don’t have the spot open.’

“[NBA teams are] just brutal as f—. It’s brutal, man. And then the weird part about it, the part that sucks the most, they can give you whatever excuse they want. They can give the media, the public whatever excuse they want and then not even be the truth. And you’ll know for yourself that it’s bull—-.”

— DeMarcus Cousins on being cut from the Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee came in and got a deal done quick. They put all their cards on the table, told me they needed me. They were even talking long term, and that’s why, like I said, that whole situation, it just didn’t make sense. What disappointed me the most was more so just going through my grind. For me, everything felt right. We were winning games. I showed that I’m healthy. I fit in Milwaukee perfect next to the guys that were out there. I put up numbers. Everything worked out. I don’t know. Just for it to happen the way it did.

That same night that they cut me I ended up hurting my calf that night as well, so I ended up with a calf strain. I didn’t even shower. I didn’t even take off my uniform before they told me they were cutting me.

It’s just that side of the business that people will never really understand. [NBA teams are] just brutal as f—. It’s brutal, man. And then the weird part about it, the part that sucks the most, they can give you whatever excuse they want. They can give the media, the public whatever excuse they want and then not even be the truth. And you’ll know for yourself that it’s bull—-.

Did you consider retiring after the Bucks waived you?

No, Denver called right away. I went home for a day, and Denver was calling. I really think it hurt and it definitely hit me in a place where it kind of crushed me. I’ve never really had time to talk about it, to be upset about it. At that point, I had to start rehabbing this calf. I never really had time to be upset about it because at that point I had to get ready, be prepared to be with the Nuggets. It’s just funny how things worked out.

DeMarcus Cousins (right) has been reunited in Denver with head coach Michael Malone (left), who coached him in Sacramento but was fired. “Still doesn’t make sense and it never will,” Cousins said.

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Maybe I’m wrong, but for some reason you and Michael Malone are connected in a way that you haven’t connected with any other coach. Why is that?

It’s the most well-documented coach that I’ve connected with. I’ve definitely connected with other coaches. This is the most documented, for sure. But with that being said, Mike knows it. Mike’s not buying into the reputation s—. Obviously, he spoke on my behalf with the Nuggets. He stuck his neck out for me to even be in this position. He definitely gave this opportunity legs. He knows me.

He has known me since I was a kid. We’ve stayed in touch since our first time being player and coach in Sacramento. Every time I had a mishap or a little bump in the road, I heard from Mike every single time. If I got cut, I got traded, I got injured, I heard from Mike. If he ended up making an accomplishment or whatever the case may be, he heard from me, as simple as that. And that’s just a real, genuine relationship.

You had success playing for Malone in Sacramento when he was fired after an 11-13 start during the 2014-15 season after losing eight of 10 games while you were out fighting viral meningitis. What do you recall about his firing and how it affected you?

I thought they were insane, and it shows. You don’t even really have to speak on it, because what I knew then about Mike, I knew he would soar. He went to the next place and has been nothing but successful. When he was with us [in Sacramento], he was successful. Still doesn’t make sense and it never will. Everything else that happened to Sac should have never happened. That guy should have never been fired. The rest of what happened in Sac would have never happened if they let him go.

You think you would have been in Sacramento longer if they didn’t let him go?

Absolutely. We would’ve been winning. We would’ve won. Probably would have finished my career there along with Mike. Simple as that. I don’t reflect on it much anymore. I’ve kind of bounced around and been through so much other things, it’s hard to even harp on that situation. Sitting there focusing on that, I probably wouldn’t be where I’m at now. I had to put a lot of time and focus on just righting my wrongs, correcting my body, trying to get back in shape and all the other rehab. It was just so much other things. It’s hard to even focus on Sacramento, and for what? They sucked before I got there. They sucked when I was there. They sucked after I left.

“When it comes to these modern-day bigs we see today, that we’re praising today, I feel like I’m the godfather. And they won’t give me the credit, which is fine.”

— DeMarcus Cousins on the evolution of the big man in the NBA

You averaged 21.1 points and 10.8 rebounds in seven seasons with Sacramento after they drafted you with the fifth overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft. Would you want to see your No. 15 jersey retired there?

I put the time and work in. I hold many records there. I honestly think I’m the best player to ever come through Sacramento. And I stand on that, absolutely.

Did your relationship with Mike help your adjustment period to Denver after they signed you?

Obviously, the hardest part is learning the system, learning the guys, their movements, learning my role. Once I got past that part, everything else has been smooth. You know what to expect from Mike. He knows what to expect from me when I step on the floor. If it’s an issue, Mike has no issue telling me to do this or that or correct this, or whatever. It’s going to get done, so it’s as simple as that.

You have averaged 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds while backing up NBA Most Valuable Player candidate Nikola Jokić. Are you looking in the mirror a little when you watch “Joker” play? Does he remind you of yourself a little bit when you were younger?

Absolutely. Not to take anything away from anything, Nikola Jokić. He is a one-of-one. When it comes to these modern-day bigs we see today, that we’re praising today, I feel like I’m the godfather. And they won’t give me the credit, which is fine. But I credit myself. I know what I’ve done in this game. I’m the first big getting triple-doubles. I’m first big shooting 3s. I was getting triple-doubles when there was two bigs in the paint, when there was a power forward and a center. I’ve been doing this.

DeMarcus Cousins thanks fans during a game against the Sacramento Kings on Oct. 26, 2017, at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. Cousins was traded from the Kings to the New Orleans Pelicans in a February 2017 trade during All-Star Weekend.

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

If you could go back and change anything, what would you change that might have changed how you’re perceived now? Is there anything where you’re like, “Man, I should’ve just …”

I would’ve skipped my draft workout [in Sacramento].

Why is that?

What did Sac do for me? Besides say my name [draft day]. I did more for them than they did for me. That’s just being honest. Just being 100% honest. I had two owners, three GMs, seven coaches in seven years. I was there seven years. I had three GMs, two owners and seven coaches. Not much more needs to be said.

How’s it been going mentally from being the man to being a role player? Is that tough?

Not really. Obviously, when it comes to playing time, you’ve played a certain way your entire life to saying, ‘I’m in a limited role. I also understand my circumstances. I understand the journey that I’ve been through.’ Is it fair? No. I’ve seen plenty of other top-notch guys get hurt and still get opportunities, still get that money. It just is what it is. I can’t harp on s— that’s not in my hands. That’s just wasting energy, and I won’t waste energy.

Do you reflect much on how that torn Achilles tendon injury with the New Orleans Pelicans affected your career?

I can’t. If I sit down and reflect on that, I won’t be able to move forward in life. There’s nothing I can do about it. It happened. Only thing I can control is bouncing back from it and bettering myself in that low moment. That’s all I’ve tried to do.

What are your thoughts seeing Warriors guard Klay Thompson overcome similar injuries to return like you did?

It was basically the same thing, just in reverse. Obviously, I felt for Klay. Me and Klay spoke a lot of times. I just think from an organizational standpoint, they understand what I was going through a little more seeing what Klay had to go through, a guy that they obviously were invested in. It was a lot of frustration for me coming back from that and just trying to find my way. And I don’t think they quite understood it. Not saying it in a negative way. It’s just I don’t think they quite understood. Them going through it a second time around with a guy that they cherished, I think they understand a little bit better.

DeMarcus Cousins (right) has embraced his new role playing behind Denver Nuggets star center Nikola Jokić (left).

Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

“I think I got a lot left in the tank. It’s just about opportunity and who’s willing to give it.”

How have you gotten through everything mentally?

I been going through s— my whole life. I’ve been going through s— my entire life since I was in a f—ing Pamper. Adversity is all I know, and I’ve built myself up with armor and defense to always prepare myself for the next moment. I’m a fighter at the end of the day. I’ll never lay down. I’ll never fold. I’m going to fight my way until it’s my last breath.

How do you reflect on the money lost due to injury?

Man, it sucks. It definitely sucks. It sucked. But if it’s not in your hand, how did you really lose it? Can’t lose something that you never had in possession.

How much longer do you plan to play?

Squeezing this lemon, man. Ride until the wheels fall off. I think I got a lot left in the tank. It’s just about opportunity and who’s willing to give it.

You think there’s another opportunity with the Nuggets past this season?

That’s not a question for me. Obviously, I would love for that to happen. That’s a [Nuggets president] Tim [Connelly], Booth and Mike question. I’d love for it to happen.

What do you have to do to get your body ready on a daily basis and how does your body feel right now?

Feels good. I’m in a really good place. It’s been two seasons for me with no setbacks or anything like that. I’m in a really good place physically. Obviously, I don’t get to play the way I’m used to playing from the past. Just evaluating the team and getting my rhythm with the team and getting game shape.

Do you think you got Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame numbers?

Vlade Divac is in the Hall of Fame.

I’m asking about you.

Vlade Divac is in the Hall of Fame. … Look at his [career statistics] and look at mine. We’ll leave it at that.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.