Jonas Jerebko harbored lofty goals for his second NBA season. A second-round pick from hockey-crazed Sweden, he had outpaced expectations as a rookie, starting 73 games for the Detroit Pistons to earn All-Rookie second-team honors.
Follow-up plans ended, however, in a 2010 preseason opener, when Miami center Joel Anthony bit on a pump fake and landed awkwardly on Jerebko’s right leg. The prognosis — torn Achilles tendon — was a gut check for Jerebko, set to become a restricted free agent the next summer.
More than eight years later, Jerebko, 31, is a key reserve for the Warriors. His Achilles story, a life-changing tale for some, will go down as a minor subplot in a productive career. That is noteworthy for Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins, 11 months into his rehab from a torn left Achilles tendon.
Though Cousins is bigger and older than Jerebko was during his recovery, he can take at least one important lesson: Don’t rush the process. Jerebko, who benefited from extra time the 2011 NBA lockout afforded, rehabbed for 14 months before returning to game action. He believes that patient approach is why he has experienced no lingering soreness in his Achilles.
“I know how it feels to get out on the court and feel like you’ve got the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Jerebko. “You can see it, but you’ve still got to grind. I feel for him.”
Few would blame Golden State for rushing Cousins back. Damian Jones’ potentially season-ending pectoral injury has forced coach Steve Kerr to rely on the undersized Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell, with cameos from Jerebko and Draymond Green, at center with underwhelming results.
In the last three games, with no one to match their physicality inside, the Lakers’ Ivica Zubac and the Trail Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic — serviceable centers, hardly All-Stars — rang up a combined 66 points and 33 rebounds on the Warriors. Even a less-than-100-percent Cousins would be an upgrade from the mish-mashed crew in the middle.
Still, the Warriors refuse to state a timetable for Cousins’ return.
There have been signs of progress. Little more than a week ago, Cousins dunked on Kevin Durant in a post-practice game of one-on-one. In 5-on-5 scrimmages, teammates have praised Cousins’ shooting and passing ability.
However, Cousins’ movement looks labored at times. His conditioning isn’t game-ready. Some mornings after intense workouts, Cousins’ legs feel like bricks.
“It all depends on who you listen to, and how your body responds,” Jerebko said. “You can say that you’re six weeks from playing, but you never really know. It’s all about how you feel.”
Within days of tearing his Achilles tendon, Jerebko moved in with the Pistons’ conditioning coach, Arnie Kander. Jerebko slogged through a multifaceted rehab regimen, oscillating between sports-psychology sessions, stretching exercises and LED red-light therapy.
Who: Warriors (23-12) at
When: 6 p.m.
The Warriors will not match the Cavaliers’ non-guaranteed two-year, $6 million offer sheet to restricted free agent Patrick McCaw, a league source has confirmed with The Chronicle.
ESPN was first to report the news. McCaw is due to join Cleveland, ending a contract stalemate with Golden State that dragged out for six months.
This deal, which will pay $3 million in each of the next two seasons, could position McCaw to become an unrestricted free agent. If the Cavaliers waive him before next Monday, they wouldn’t be liable for his remaining salary.
Had they matched the offer, the Warriors would have endured an $11.3 million hit against the luxury tax.
The Warriors, who have been intent on keeping their 15th roster spot open for flexibility in the buyout market and other player-adding avenues, essentially chose forward Alfonzo McKinnie over McCaw. In 28 games, McKinnie has averaged 5.4 points on 46.5 percent shooting (37.7 percent from three-point range) to go with 3.8 rebounds.
— Connor Letourneau
Because Cousins tore his Achilles five months before free agency, he hadn’t been cleared for even individual work when he was trying to land contract offers. Concerns about his ability to come back from a potentially career-threatening injury were a big reason Cousins reverted to what he called his “last resort” last summer and signed a one-year, $5.3 million contract with Golden State.
According to a 2013 study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, seven of the 18 NBA players who sustained major Achilles injuries between 1988 and 2011 did not come back to the league.
Players Cousins’ size tend to have a tougher time overcoming Achilles injuries. One comparison is Elton Brand, who was a similar age (28) and size (6-foot-9, 254 pounds) as Cousins when he tore his Achilles in 2007. A two-time All-Star before the injury, Brand wasn’t the same player afterward. In an interview with InsideSoCal.com, he said, “I didn’t have the same explosiveness that I had. I regained and then I re-lost it. I didn’t have it. I had to change my game a little bit where I jumped off two feet, and I was a little bit slower.
Now in his ninth NBA season, Jerebko isn’t dwelling on what-ifs. Less than six months after being waived by the Jazz, Jerebko has resuscitated his career, averaging 7.8 points and 5.2 rebounds for an elite Western Conference team.
“Things happen for a reason,” said Jerebko, who has shared his Achilles story with Cousins. “You can look back on it and say, ‘could’ve, would’ve, should’ve.’ I’m here now, almost 10 years in, still playing and still getting better.”