Through two preseason games Marquese Chriss has proved he deserves a spot in the Golden State Warriors’ 14-man roster, but whether he makes it in or not will say a lot of how the organization is taking this 2019-20 season and its sense of urgency. Signing Chriss won’t be as easy as it is for most teams though, as the Warriors will have to make some tough decisions and really look at the belly of the shark before harpooning their potential next addition.
Why are we here?
The Warriors put themselves in a precarious situation by executing a sign-and-trade for D’Angelo Russell. While it gave them an All-Star-caliber player at a ripe 23 years of age, it also hard-capped them — forcing them not to exceed the $138,928,000 number for the next 365 days.
That’s a large reason why Golden State’s roster stands at 14 and not the full 15 players teams are allowed to carry. Simply too much money has been handed out to the four-man core of Stephen Curry (five-year supermax), Klay Thompson (five-year max), Draymond Green ($18.5 million for 2019-20) and D’Angelo Russell, who signed a four-year, $137 million deal this summer.
As a result, the Warriors had to make due with filling the rest of their spots with minimum salaries, but only got to 14 players, despite the carnage of sending out Andre Iguodala and a first-round pick to the Memphis Grizzlies, waiving Shaun Livingston into retirement and re-signing Kevon Looney to a reasonable price tag of $15 million for the next three years.
How does Chriss make it in?
In order for Chriss to make the roster, Golden State has only one clear avenue to make this happen — to cut Alfonzo McKinnie.
The 28-year-old, who made the team out of training camp after taking Patrick McCaw’s vacant spot, is the only one of the 14 contracts that is non-guaranteed, allowing the Warriors to cut him at no cost. Yet to make Chriss’ signing worthwhile, the Warriors would have to virtually transfer McKinnie’s contract to him and agree to terms in a non-guaranteed deal.
Chriss has been open to even a two-way deal (which he hasn’t been with other teams) if the Warriors deem it necessary, but there is simply no immediate need to transfer Ky Bowman or Damion Lee to the roster at the moment. If moved from a two-way spot to the NBA roster, Lee would count at $1.62 million, which is more than the $1.59 million McKinnie is making, making Bowman; a first-year player, the most likely option.
What’s keeping it from happening?
For one, it is McKinnie’s experience and his rapport with the coaching staff. Steve Kerr praised his commitment to pounding the glass and improving his defense as well as his movement off the ball, but Chriss has shown some real fire since joining the roster, which has had an unnamed veteran clamoring to have him become part of the team.
Chriss is coming off a rough 2018-19 season in which he split time between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Houston Rockets. His NBA life was already hanging by a thread after he was traded to the Rockets prior to his third year in the league, to top that off, his fight with veteran Serge Ibaka during his stint with the Cavs further complicated a history of aggression and frustrations during his two years with the Phoenix Suns.
Does he deserve a spot?
Based on two games of sample size? No. But Chriss has shown more than just that. The fact that a veteran player has already vouched for his signing means that he’s likely not alone in this fight and has proved something to them in practice as well.
The Warriors are very thin at center at the moment, and that would be a void that Chriss could help fill immediately, even if it isn’t his natural position. At 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, the 22-year-old might just be the most experienced healthy center the Warriors can trot out there, considering that second-year big man Omari Spellman and rookie Alen Smailagic would also be playing out of position.
Moving Chriss into the roster however, comes with its share of consequences. Waiving McKinnie would push Glenn Robinson III into a starting spot and make Chriss the sixth power forward on the roster. While Kevon Looney and Draymond Green play the center spot as well, this would create a logjam with the likes of rookie Eric Paschall and Spellman fighting for time.
What does Chriss bring to Golden State?
While it’s tough to do an apples-to-apples comparison with players that play a different position, simply put the Warriors like Chriss’ motor and this newfound conviction to resurrect his career. Chriss is talented, but he’s put his gifts in combination with a motor, now pounding the offensive glass, keeping possessions alive and actually becoming one of the team’s best defenders.
After putting up an encouraging eight points, six rebounds, and four assists in 14 minutes against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday before fouling out, Chriss scored eight points and yanked down a team-high 11 boards in 25 minutes of action, along with a steal and two blocks.
Chriss’ mettle was put to the test in his very first defensive possession, forcing one of the league’s best big men in Karl-Anthony Towns to travel and turn the ball over. It wouldn’t take long for him to connect in an alley-oop play with Green running his patented drive-into-lob run.
What will the Warriors do?
How the Warriors manage this dilemma will say a lot about how they’re choosing to approach this season. Preseason press conferences and offseason chats are one thing, but these are the decisions that will truly show what cards the front office wants to play.
Keeping McKinnie will mean Golden State is playing a wait-and-see approach and will tough it out despite injuries to Looney and would-be starter Willie Cauley-Stein, hoping to weather the storm — even if it does cost them wins to start out the season. Waiving McKinnie and consequently signing Chriss means the Warriors feel a sense of urgency and want to rack up the wins early, putting their new addition to work right away in hopes to keep Green fresh for the bulk of this season.
Chriss has the upside of helping the Warriors immediately with his motor and his willingness to shoot from the outside, albeit a 30% career shooter — though how the Warriors act with only days left in the preseason will determine his future as well as theirs.