Warriors

Warriors' Marquese Chriss playing his way into starting opportunity

Warriors' Marquese Chriss playing his way into starting opportunity

Warriors coach Steve Kerr, like all his NBA peers, does not follow strict rules of meritocracy when deciding upon starting lineups. He has to consider roles, balance, spacing and general team chemistry.

So Kerr has to peep beyond the best man, position-by-position, and examine his bench and how it might come together as a unit.

Which is why it’s not so simple for Kerr to make what appears to be the obvious change at center, replacing Willie Cauley-Stein with Marquese Chriss -- even as Chriss is doing all he can to earn a promotion.

If this were a meritocracy alone, yes, Chriss would start. He is outperforming Cauley-Stein in almost every way -- better numbers, higher impact, more positive and productive energy.

Yet Cauley-Stein, who spent four seasons in Sacramento, remains the starter. That was the plan when Willie signed in July. He would slide into the starting vacancy created by the departure of former Kings teammate DeMarcus Cousins.

A sprained foot kept Cauley-Stein on the sideline the entire preseason and the first three games of the regular season. He came off the bench in his Warriors debut, Oct. 30 against the Suns, but has since made 23 consecutive starts. At an even 7-feet, Cauley-Stein has the physical dimensions required to play center. Though not a classic rim protector, he runs the floor well and poses a lob threat.

The Warriors didn’t add Chriss until September on the eve of training camp, and even then it was to a non-guaranteed contract. With Kevon Looney and Cauley-Stein sidelined, they needed big bodies for scrimmaging purposes. Remember the brief stay of Kavion Pippen? Scottie’s nephew? There was a desperation that might linger until Willie was ready.

Well, Willie is back and healthy. Looney returned last week. Pippen is gone. Omari Spellman, who absorbed minutes at center during the first few weeks, has moved mostly to power forward. Chriss, at 6-9, 240 pounds, has been the team’s most assertive and effective center.

Chriss submitted a strong performance Wednesday -- 12 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks, two assists in 24 minutes -- in a loss to the New York Knicks. He followed that with 12 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and two blocks in 23 minutes Friday night in a 114-106 road loss to the Utah Jazz.

“Marquese was fantastic,” Kerr told reporters in Salt Lake City on Friday. “He played a tremendous game. He was all over boards, he had a couple blocked shots, he ran the floor.”

Kerr barely skipped a beat before navigating an issue with an increasingly high profile.

“I also thought Willie made some big plays for us down the stretch defensively,” he added, “protecting the rim. Those guys were really good.

“And it was good to have Loon back, playing his solid minutes for us. Just having that size and that experience.”

In so liberally spreading praise, the coach was being careful not to show favoritism or slight anyone. And, in truth, Cauley-Stein made a difference, blocking three shots.

Willie was scoreless Friday night, going 0-of-4, missing layups and dunks. In addition to the blocks, he had five rebounds and two steals. He had seven points, five rebounds and three blocks Wednesday.

Cauley-Stein’s combined numbers, over 45 minutes, for the last two games: Seven points, 10 rebounds, six blocks, two steals and one assist.

But here is where Kerr should feel at least a modicum of pressure. Chriss’ minutes often parallel those of Spellman and, together, they give the Warriors a detectable bump in energy. Starting Chriss means playing Spellman with Cauley-Stein and, frankly, that’s likely to bring its own challenges.

[RELATED: Warriors believe they're improving despite dismal record]

Though making the change seems an obvious move to make -- and I’m told Kerr is considering it -- all sides of the issue must be scrutinized. That is happening. It is an ongoing process. And merit does matter.

If it were the only factor, Kerr would be without reasons to keep Chriss out of the starting lineup.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr wishes 49ers well in Super Bowl 54 vs. Chiefs

Warriors coach Steve Kerr wishes 49ers well in Super Bowl 54 vs. Chiefs

Draymond Green might not be rooting for the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, but one other prominent member of the Warriors’ organization will be.

Coach Steve Kerr delivered a message via social media on Friday, wishing the Niners well as they prepare to take on the Kansas City Chiefs at Hard Rock Stadium on Feb. 2.

"I just wanna say good luck to the 49ers," Kerr said. "Everybody's pulling for you guys, let's go."

[RELATED: How Dubs benefit from Cauley-Stein trade to Mavericks]

Draymond said after shootaround on Friday that he’ll be rooting for the Chiefs, whose roster features his close friend, defensive end Frank Clark.

Both Kerr and Green happen to know a thing or two about winning championships, but only one of them will be happy with the result from Miami.

How Warriors gain flexibility in Willie Cauley-Stein trade to Mavs

How Warriors gain flexibility in Willie Cauley-Stein trade to Mavs

SAN FRANCISCO -- Willie Cauley-Stein walked out of shootaround, down a long corridor that leads to the Warriors' locker room in Chase Center late Friday morning in preparation for a game scheduled hours later against the Indiana Pacers. The trek marked the big man's last as a member of Golden State.

By Saturday morning, Cauley-Stein officially was traded to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for the Utah Jazz's second-round draft pick in 2020, ending his short tenure in the Bay Area. Along the way, the Warriors set themselves up for future flexibility. 

In the immediate aftermath, the Warriors shed Cauley-Stein's current $2.17 million salary and his $2.8 million player option for the 2020-21 season, while freeing up an open roster spot for this season and beyond. From a financial perspective, it sank Golden State $2.57 million below the hard cap, according to ESPN's Bobby Marks. Additionally, the Warriors have enough salary space to convert the two-way deals of either Ky Bowman or Marquese Chriss. 

Six months ago, Cauley-Stein came to Warriors in search of career revitalization. After four years in Sacramento, he demanded that the Kings rescind his qualifying offer to make him a free agent last summer. After garnering more lucrative offers from other teams, he chose to sign a one-year contract with Golden State, which included the player option. With a new contract, the center hoped to keep the Warriors' postseason streak alive while earning a payday next summer. 

However, those wishes didn't come to fruition. A week before training camp, Cauley-Stein sprained his foot, causing the center to miss the first month of the season. His injury, coupled with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney missing significant time, led to a lost season for the big man.

Nonetheless, Cauley-Stein expressed a desire to stay with the Warriors long term, citing his relationship with coach Steve Kerr. 

"He wants to build a relationship with you," Cauley-Stein told NBC Sports Bay Area last month. "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: Draymond not rooting for 49ers]

Unfortunately for Cauley-Stein, he won't get to continue that relationship with Kerr.

Now, with Dallas in need of a center with the loss of Dwight Powell, his hope to find a similar relationship with Rick Carlisle will immediately start in a Mavericks uniform.