OAKLAND – Returning to the Bay Area after a weekend trip to Alabama, where he attended a funeral service for his grandmother, DeMarcus Cousins was back at practice Monday and did enough to impress Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
"Mainly just confidence and conditioning, confidence in his ability to get up and down the floor and play a block of minutes at a high level," Kerr said of the center. "And I'm seeing dramatic improvement from him over the last couple weeks with his wind, with his ability to run the floor.
"It's all been pretty exciting."
It's "pretty exciting" because Cousins is in the final stages of rehabilitation.
It's downright exciting because the Warriors, in their sixth week without an actual center, are badly in need. The 10-day contract window opened last Friday and the Warriors, who have been evaluating big men for weeks, would prefer to avoid it.
The four forwards doing time in the middle – Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell, Jonas Jerebko and Draymond Green – have done a decent job pushing the boulder uphill, but none is built to battle the NBA's true behemoths.
Which is why once Cousins is cleared to play, whether it's this week or next week or the week after that, his debut will provide the most intriguing 10 minutes of Warriors basketball in the last quarter century.
The addition of Kevin Durant in 2016 was less so because he was a known commodity.
The return of Stephen Curry after ankle surgery in 2012 was less so because the expectations on him and the Warriors were considerably lower, and much more local than international.
The hiring of Kerr was less so because he came without a coaching resume.
Cousins, however, is coming at a time when there is plenty of mystery about how much he'll be able to do coming off major surgery, and also because the Warriors are designed for championship-or-bust aspirations.
There will be a restriction on the number of minutes Cousins plays at the start, and his court time will be closely monitored throughout. The plan is for him to play 10 to 12 minutes, followed by any adjustments as recommended or necessary.
There still is no precise timetable for his return, according to Kerr. He added that, with the second half of the team's season coming Friday, "we're going to have to incorporate DeMarcus into the mix."
So the wait continues, the anticipation and curiosity mounting about as high as they did in the days leading up to Chris Webber's rookie debut in 1993. He was hailed as the team's ticket to the NBA elite.
Cousins was perceived as an extravagance when he signed in July. Now that the Warriors realize how badly he is needed, he can better be described as someone who can be The Difference between a championship, and something less.