SAN FRANCISCO – Fairy tales can indeed come true, as one did last autumn for Alfonzo McKinnie. After four years hopscotching the world in pursuit of an NBA career, he landed on the roster of the defensive champion Warriors.
Life was great. His work and perseverance had paid off. Two years after scrapping by in makeshift gyms in Luxembourg and Mexico, he was teammates with Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. McKinnie bought a house for his mother and still had money in his pocket.
One year later, the 6-foot-8 forward is discovering fairy tales don’t always stay true.
There is a reasonable chance the status McKinnie earned one year ago will go to someone else.
The Warriors acknowledge a need for size and Marquese Chriss, the 6-10 forward/center who signed a non-guaranteed contract two weeks ago, has impressed players and coaches with his work ethic, adaptability and cognition.
“Marquese is doing great,” coach Steve Kerr said Sunday. “He’s probably been the surprise of camp, given that he came in late on a non-guaranteed, one-year contract.”
The Warriors cannot upgrade Chriss’ contract and add him to the roster unless someone else is waived or traded. The simplest sacrifice is McKinnie, whose contract is not fully guaranteed until January. None of the free agent acquisitions are eligible for trade, and the Warriors won’t be moving second-year guard Jacob Evans III or any of their three rookies.
McKinnie is a 27-year-old reserve, making him a trade candidate.
“I hear it, but I try not to pay attention to it,” McKinnie told NBC Sports Bay Area. “All I can do is just come out, put my work in and perform. Whatever happens from there, that’s out of my control. I can only control what I do and how hard I go. Everything outside of that, it’s front-office business. I can’t control what goes on up there.”
With two centers on the sideline – Willie Cauley-Stein (mid-foot sprain) and Kevon Looney (hamstring) – general manager Bob Myers is seeking a way to add Chriss, a 2016 lottery pick (No.8 overall) by the Kings.
The need for a big man and the way Chriss is playing – he’ll make his second consecutive start Monday night against the Lakers in Los Angeles – imperils McKinnie’s hold on his roster spot.
“We did have a lot of injuries to the bigs, so we definitely need some bigs,” McKinnie conceded. “Outside of the ones that are hurt, we’re a little smaller than a lot of teams.
“But I’m coming in here every day and competing. Whether you’re guaranteed or non-guaranteed, unless you’re totally solidified, you’ve always got to compete, whether it’s for a job or a spot or more minutes. Competition is always first nature.”
In 37 preseason minutes, McKinnie has been less than dazzling, scoring nine points on 4-of-12 shooting from the field, including 1-of-5 from beyond the arc. He has grabbed 13 rebounds, as well as contributing three assists and two blocks.
“I know where I’ve been,” he said. “With this basketball thing, I’ve been at the bottom of the totem pole. Being here, with this organization, experiencing what I experienced last year, having a role on a championship-contending team, this is the highest I’ve been. I’m really self-motivated, because I know where I’ve been, and I know what it’s like to be at the bottom.
“I want to stay here. And continue to be here for years to come.”
Kerr expressed relief that he is coaching instead of facing the decisions looming before Myers.
“These guys are all working hard,” Kerr said. “And you know it’s their dream to play in this league. You wish you could keep everybody. But the nature of camp is generally that you’ve got to release four or five people, and it’s no fun at all.”
If the Warriors decide to keep McKinnie, it will be out of familiarity with the system and culture, as well as his rebounding ability.
If they decide to move him and cut him, it will be out of a greater need elsewhere on the roster.
Either way, McKinnie has a clear-eyed view.
“I definitely feel like I’m a mentally strong person,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot, on and off the court. When it comes to basketball, it’s for a job. People go through much tougher times. I’ve seen people go through (stuff) way harder than getting cut from a basketball team.”
[RELATED: Warriors reportedly push Myers to keep Chriss]
That’s the voice of McKinnie past, when there were nights when he barely knew the name of the city where he would lay his head. When he barely knew his teammates, some of whom had full-time day jobs.
No matter how this turns out, McKinnie is prepared. He’ll continue to live the fairy tale. Or he’ll remember the lessons of survival when the fairy tale went no further than his imagination.