Warriors, Cavs could force NBA into tough spot


Warriors, Cavs could force NBA into tough spot

Programming note: Watch "Warriors Playoff Central" Monday at 5 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, and immediately after the final horn in Game 4. Both shows will be streamed live right here. CHANNEL LISTINGS

HOUSTON -- The last burning question to address in this now-smoldering Western Conference Finals is a relatively simple one, namely:

What happens if the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers have to wait eight days between games before they start their series?

And yes, that is not only putting the cart before the horse, but putting it at the destination while the horse is still in the stable.

But this is what Golden State and Houston have left us after Saturday night’s 115-80 garroting at the Toyota Center. It isn’t so much that the Warriors look invincible, but that the Rockets look like they have no more answers to the questions the Warriors have asked. They were perplexed, schooled, blitzed and then humiliated Saturday night, all the way down to the sub-molecular heckling fan lever, which as we all know is the last vestige of resistance before surrender terms are exchanged.

So it as in the second quarter when the middle-aged man in the Vernon Maxwell throwback jersey (and there’s a mixed metaphor for the ages right there) seated at courtside decided to get a few words in at Stephen Curry’s expense while Curry was preparing to inbound the ball. At the time, the Warriors were ahead by a margin in the mid-teens but Curry hadn’t turned the game into his personal paint-and-easel set yet, so it seemed the perfect time for Basketball Einstein to tell him how poor a player he really was.

[REWIND: Game 3 rout of Rockets 'great lesson' for Warriors]

Thirty-some-odd points later, the response had been codified.

“That’s a dude who shouldn’t be allowed back into the building,” Draymond Green said as he smiled knowingly. “The Rockets should not let him back in at all, and give his ticket to someone else. Because when he gets that look . . . “

Yes, yes, we know. We have seen the look. Even people who refuse to consider staying up beyond 11 p.m. to watch television have now seen the look. You irritate Stephen Curry only as a prelude to a rarefied level of psychological masochism; otherwise, you remain silent for your own good.

But that is a lesson that is too late for the Rockets to benefit from, as they are now too deep into their own relative inadequacies to muster the kind of fight that could force a return trip in five days. Even if they fix what ails them in Game 4 Monday, Game 5 in Oakland is merely a cruel reward.

Which brings to the next logical conundrum that really isn’t – namely, what happens if the Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers both sweep their series and leave the league with nine days of ginned-up Curry vs. LeBron narratives to fill? This double-sweep scenario, which has only happened one time and that was in 1957, is much to be avoided, at least by the league office. After all, it’s not easy to get film of the St. Louis Hawks, Minneapolis Lakers, Boston Celtics and Syracuse Nationals that works in HD. Or even color.

Not that the teams mind, of course. Both sides can use the rest, and seem unfazed by the potential for rust or rhythmic disruption. The Warriors handled a five-hour flight delay with a 35-point skull-cracking, and the Cavs had matched them stride for stride, sweeping Boston (the Warriors’ New Orleans), going six games with Chicago (the Warriors’ Memphis) and are on the verge of sweeping a crippled Atlanta team, so they’re both probably good with a home-and-home series on the surface of the sun.

[RELATED: Curry puts end to MVP debate with Game 3 performance]

The league, though, is already rumored to be speaking in early and very theoretical terms with ABC about bumping up the Finals by a couple of days if the Warriors and Cavs complete their tasks in minimal time. Among the potential scenario (cq) being discussed would bump the start of the Finals to June 2 (rather than June 4), and then go Thursday (4) in Oakland, then Sunday (7) and Tuesday (9) in Cleveland, and the if-necessary games would begin June 11 in Oakland.

But nothing of lasting commitment has been agreed to, because after all, ABC is a major television network, they have their own needs and desires, and besides, you know how those people can be.

As we said, this is exceedingly premature, but we have reached the stage in both series where exceedingly premature is actually borderline prudent. Both the Warriors and Cavaliers have put oppressive stamps on their series, and one’s mind goes immediately to “What comes next” when the “What comes now” has stopped being a mystery.

After all, if you can’t get middle-aged men who think wearing jerseys in public are a good idea to disrupt the other guy’s best player with an improvised display of rapier-like drunk-wit, what ideas have you left in reserve?

Willie Cauley-Stein opens up about time with Kings, how things ended

Willie Cauley-Stein opens up about time with Kings, how things ended

SALT LAKE CITY -- Warriors center Willie Cauley-Stein bunkered up in a corner of the visitor's locker room at Vivint Smart Home Arena under unusual circumstances before Friday night's loss to the Utah Jazz. 

For the last four years, he has sat in a similar area twice a season, with "Sacramento" across his chest. Now, two days before his first matchup against his former team, Cauley-Stein is still reconciling his emotions. 

"It's going to be weird," Cauley-Stein said to NBC Sports Bay Area. "It's my brothers over there, and I went to the battle with them dudes and for them four years. So it's going to be cool just to see my guys again and be on the other side of it, it's going to be cool to just to see how different it is." 

Cauley-Stein’s time in Sacramento came as the Kings were in peril.

Six months before the Kings drafted Cauley-Stein, the team fired coach Mike Malone after a year-and-a-half on the job. Sacramento opted to hire George Karl midseason, reportedly to the dissatisfaction of the roster.

By the end of his tenure, Cauley-Stein had two head coaches in three years. The Kings never made the postseason, holding true to the perception he heard about Sacramento when he was drafted. 

"Before I got drafted there, [University of Kentucky] coach [John Calipari] kind of warned me what that organization was like already,” Cauley-Stein admitted. “So, I mean, I just went in there just trying to get better. Every year just try to keep on getting better, and that's the way I approached the game and every day.”

All the while, Cauley-Stein garnered the reputation of inconsistency, much to his chagrin. While he posted respectable numbers, local observers complained about his propensity to occasionally disappear during games. 

Nonetheless, prior to last season, with solid numbers in tow, Cauley-Stein stated his goal for his fourth season was to “get paid.” Despite him averaging 11.9 points and a career-high 8.4 rebounds per game, the Kings missed the playoffs, leading to the center’s former agent Roger Montgomery to tell The Sacramento Bee that his client needed a “fresh start.”

According to Cauley-Stein, his agent’s comments came after the team had all but given up on their former first-round draft pick. 

‘Yeah, because they decided to go a different route,” Cauley-Stein said. “So like we tried to jump the curve and be on top of it.

“I might as well move on and show my work somewhere else. That’s the way me and my agent approached it was just like, 'They really don't want us, so we might as well take our talents somewhere else.' That's the kind of way we went on with it.” 

The prospect of leaving Sacramento left Cauley-Stein with a conundrum. The capital of California gave him the center the luxury of living on the West Coast, while providing a hometown feel similar to his small-town Kansas roots. 

“Sac was home,” Cauley-Stein admitted. “I was here for four years. Like, I lived there. I didn't go away for the offseason. I could go to the same neighborhood and go to my little like corner store and jones with my guys there and it's all love.” 

On the business side, the Kings decided to extend a qualifying offer to the center, giving the team the first right of refusal on any contract tendered from another organization. The Kings relented in late June, pulling the offer on the eve of free agency in a move Cauley-Stein believes hindered his options. 

"I feel like that kind of screwed things up for me a little bit," Cauley-Stein said. "Because people didn't know. So, then it was just a waiting game after that, all the deals was gone by that time."

A little over a week later, he signed a one-year contract with the Warriors, equipped with a player-option, giving him an opportunity to make true on his proclamation last season. However, his performance hasn't helped so far.

Despite flashes, Cauley-Stein is averaging just 7.7 points and 6.4 rebounds, the lowest output since his rookie year. Nonetheless -- with Steve Kerr coaching -- he says he wants to stay in the Bay Area long-term.  

"He wants to build a relationship with you," Cauley-Stein said of Kerr. "I think, in the past I hadn't had a relationship with my coach. [Former Kings coach Dave] Joerger, me and him had a pretty good rapport, pretty good, like cordial, but we never had like in-depth conversations about life and stuff like that, and the first couple of conversations I had with coach Kerr was real-life stuff and that hit home with me like, 'Damn, he really tried to get to know me.'"

[RELATED: How Warriors' players recruited Cauley-Stein]

Until the decision about his future is made, the center remains fond of his former home, even if it's not his current place of employment. 

"I'll always have a place for Sacramento in my heart," Cauley-Stein said. "Like I said, it's never, it was never bad blood. It was just like a business decision on their side. So, I had to make one on my side."

Warriors' Steve Kerr says trade rumors don't affect D'Angelo Russell

Warriors' Steve Kerr says trade rumors don't affect D'Angelo Russell

D'Angelo Russell is rapidly approaching a date some NBA observers have circled since the Warriors acquired him this summer.

Golden State can trade Russell as soon as Sunday, Dec. 15, and the 23-year-old has been the source of trade speculation during his time in the Bay Area. The Athletic's Jon Krawczynski reported Wednesday, citing sources that the Minnesota Timberwolves "remain interested in Russell" and that the guard "seems to be realistic in understanding that he may not be long for the Warriors once Steph Curry and Klay Thompson return to full health."

Russell is averaging a career-high 22.4 points per game this season to go with 6.1 assists and 3.1 rebounds, serving as the top offensive option in the absence of his All-Star teammates. He knew he wouldn't play much with Thompson this season as he recovers from a torn ACL, but Curry's broken hand threw a wrench into the Warriors' -- and thus Russell's -- prospects this season. Warriors coach Steve Kerr praised how Russell has handled the rumors surrounding him. 

"Money doesn't buy peace of mind," Kerr said Friday morning (H/T San Francisco Chronicle's Connor Letourneau). "It doesn't buy a sense of belonging, a sense of, 'Alright, this is my team.' If there's speculation that you're going to be traded all the time, I don't care how much money you make, I don't care who you are. That's tough. That's no fun to deal with, and this season has been nowhere close to what D'Angelo thought it would be when he first signed with us.

"There's no Steph. We're struggling to win games. He's had his own injuries, and we're throwing all kinds of different lineups out there based on the other injuries we've faced." 

Russell has played in just 15 of the Warriors' 27 games this season, playing on a team that looks far more like the Los Angeles Lakers of his first two seasons than the playoff-contending Brooklyn Nets a year ago -- let alone the reigning Western Conference champion Warriors. 

[RELATED: How Warriors' Chriss earning chance to start at center]

Kerr, who entered this season with the highest winning percentage in NBA history (.785), is as aware of Golden State's dramatically different reality as anyone. He said it has only brought out the best in Russell. 

"So given all that, he's played really well, and he's been a great teammate and he's doing everything he needs to do to solidify his position here," Kerr continued. "But this is the NBA here, and we never know what's coming, what's happening. So, it's a difficult position to be in in general, but for him in particular it's strange set of circumstances and he's handling it really well." 

Whether or not the Warriors trade Russell, it's clear Kerr holds him in high regard.