In a steamy, cramped Warriors locker room noisy with exuberant shrieks and musty with a mixture of sweat and champagne spray, Patrick McCaw found a seat in a corner and dropped his head between his legs, burying his face in his hands beneath a towel.
Crying? Maybe. McCaw occasionally lifted his head to peek at the delirium, his eyes rolling in moisture.
Meanwhile, veteran big man David West held court in the center of the room, exulting, his booming baritone telling all willing how gloriously this felt and how much the Warriors had endured to win this NBA championship.
The Warriors had won it all, for the second consecutive season, and McCaw’s reaction in the wee hours of June 9 in Cleveland was interesting. There was plenty of raw emotion, to be sure, but its source was hard to discern.
Was it because this felt dreamy? McCaw had been in the NBA for two seasons, both ending in ultimate triumph.
Was it because he felt lucky? McCaw was 69 days removed from being strapped to a stretcher and taken by ambulance to UC Davis Medical Center, where he spent the night undergoing tests on his spine after a brutal spill at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
Or was it something else altogether? Something deeper? Was McCaw mulling his future, and whether this might be the last time he’d wear a Warriors jersey?
Nearly four months later, it’s fair to revisit that moment because McCaw’s future is far more uncertain than might have been imagined from the outside.
Upon returning last May 26, after an eight-week absence, McCaw described it as “amazing” to be back on the court. He said he wanted to continue playing basketball. He said several times afterward that he wanted to be back with the Warriors. Said it again after emerging from the locker room at Quicken Loans Arena after Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
“I would love to be here,” McCaw told Bay Area News Group after the Warriors won Game 4 to clinch the back-to-back NBA title. “There’s no place I’d rather be. This is all I know.”
Less than three weeks later, the Warriors made a $1.71 million qualifying offer -- roughly $400,000 more than his 2017-18 salary -- in hopes of retaining McCaw. Rumors circulated over the summer that McCaw's reluctance to sign was indicative of him wanting more money or a multiyear contract.
The qualifying offer expired Monday night, so McCaw remains a restricted free agent. There is a chance he can return on another deal, but there's no denying this episode has left many people curious and frustrated and puzzled, including some of the Warriors, who have expressed support while hoping he returns.
The team has no choice but to carry on this season. The Warriors have carried on without Stephen Curry, without Kevin Durant, without Andre Iguodala, without coach Steve Kerr. None of those absences derailed them, and neither would the loss of McCaw.
The Warriors are forced to look at players in training camp -- rookie Jacob Evans III to name one -- as possible replacements. They can pluck someone off the free-agent market, where Jamal Crawford is waiting for a call.
McCaw has the potential to be at least a rotation player in the NBA. He possibly could develop beyond that and become a starter on a playoff team. He’s athletic and composed, with a high basketball intellect, as well as an instinctive feel for the game.
There’s no denying, however, that McCaw, after a solid rookie season, showed signs of performance regression in 2017-18. He had a crisis of confidence, which last February resulted in him requesting -- and receiving -- a two-game assignment to the G-League Santa Cruz Warriors.
Before making that request, McCaw consulted with his father, Jeff McCaw, a basketball coach in the St. Louis area, and also with Kerr. Both were on board.
"I just asked if I could go down there and get some consistent run in, get up and down and get my conditioning right," McCaw said at the time. "Just play."
McCaw spent two games in Santa Cruz, returned to the Warriors and lasted one half before leaving with a fractured wrist that sidelined him for nearly five weeks. He healed, only to sustain the spine injury 12 days after he was cleared.
So there's no question McCaw had a trying season. It happens.
There's also no question that a trying season chips away at any player’s leverage. McCaw was in no position to make a power play -- if he truly wanted to return to the Warriors -- yet he made one anyway.
The tactics employed over the last three months, along with declining the qualifying offer, suggest McCaw is ready to move on from a team that wants him but doesn’t need him. Having a change of heart over the summer is the only way this makes sense.
But no one can know for certain until there is a resolution that might explain this risky and mystifying approach.