Warriors

How Willie Cauley-Stein trade changes Warriors' frontcourt this season

Warriors

SAN FRANCISCO -- Willie Cauley-Stein crept into the Warriors' locker room about an hour after his soon-to-be former team's 129-118 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Friday, armed with a round of goodbyes. 

Walking near each stall at Chase Center, he said farewell to any staffer within an eyeshot, finishing with teammates Omari Spellman and Jordan Poole. As he towered over his former domain, his teammates were forced to reconcile a basketball life without the seven-footer around 12 hours before Golden State officially traded Cauley-Stein to the Dallas Mavericks. 

"It sucks," Warriors big man Marquese Chriss said. "It's hard when you're with somebody every day and you're playing games with them, and they're gone in a snap of a finger. I wish the best for him." 

Before Chriss and others bid adieu, the two-way center started for just the fourth time this season. Chriss scored 13 points, but he grabbed just three rebounds while Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis finished with 16 points and 10 boards. Along the way, Indiana outscored Golden State 56-28 in the paint, shedding light on the Warriors' frontcourt struggles.

Once Cauley-Stein officially is traded, Chriss and Omari Spellman are the only healthy big men on the Warriors' roster. While serviceable, both players routinely are playing out of position. At 6-foot-9, Spellman prefers to play on the wings, with a game more suitable for jump shots than post-ups. Meanwhile, Chriss has played much of his career as a power forward, providing a learning experience in his new role.

 

"Marquese was good tonight," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "Every night is a learning experience for him. He's going to be a guy that shoots a high percentage from the field because of his athleticism.

"He's going to get good experience going forward, so we're just going to keep working with him and I know he will work hard."  

As Chriss adjusts to his new role, coach Kerr said he would be open to bringing up rookie Alen Smailagic from the G League for a unit in need of improvement. Over the last two games, the Warriors have been outrebounded 92-75, including a 56-37 disadvantage in Wednesday's loss to the Utah Jazz.

That, combined with Cauley-Stein's trade, is prompting a new approach moving forward.

"Marquese and Omari will get some experience out there and we'll let Draymond play some center," Kerr said, "and then it's a matter of helping with defense with all five guys on the screen and we have to communicate."

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Cauley-Stein's departure could be the first of many for the current roster. Last month, league sources told NBC Sports Bay Area's Monte Poole that the team would be open to parting with Alec Burks in the coming weeks for the right deal.

But before the Feb. 6 trade deadline, Cauley-Stein's replacement says he's up for the challenge of filling the departing big man's shoes. 

"I've tried making a role off playing hard and doing the dirty work," Chriss said. "I'm not the guy who is going to shoot 20 shots and get you 40 points. I'm gonna try and be that guy that is down low and banging, getting rebounds and setting screens."