Warriors

Warriors’ still-mounting injuries a big blow to young players’ development

Warriors’ still-mounting injuries a big blow to young players’ development

SAN FRANCISCO -- In the waning moments of the Warriors' latest loss Friday night, their bench resembled the front row of a fashion show more than a functioning NBA roster.

Toward the end of the bench, All-Star guard Stephen Curry sat in a black suit jacket, covering a massive cast protecting his broken left hand. To Curry's left, center Kevon Looney sat in a gray suit, his immediate future in peril as he continues to seek answers about an injured hamstring.

That type of visual has become commonplace over the last month.

Over that stretch, 11 Warriors players have been sidelined with injuries, crippling a roster that seemed armed with an outside shot of making the playoffs on opening night just three weeks ago.

The latest blow came Saturday morning, when an MRI confirmed that D'Angelo Russell had suffered a sprained thumb, sidelining him for at least two weeks. Over his previous six games, the guard had averaged 29.7 points on 48 percent shooting from the field, including a 52-point, nine-rebound performance against Minnesota, so his absence will be felt.

That's because the Warriors are in roster transition, marked by their youthful core.

When Jordan Poole and Eric Paschall were drafted in June, the expectation was that the rookies would be brought along slowly, learning behind Golden State's battered All-Star cast. The myriad injuries changed that, though, forcing both into more minutes than initially anticipated.

While Paschall has flourished in that spot (15.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 30.8 minutes per game), Poole has struggled. Since Curry's injury in the fourth game of the season, Poole has shot 29 percent from the field, and he has hit just five of his last 28 shots over his last two contests.

The trickle-down effect started on the eve of training camp, when Warriors general manager Bob Myers announced that center Willie Cauley-Stein would miss most of October with a foot strain. Two days later, rookie Alen Smailagic rolled his ankle and Looney strained his hamstring in the same controlled scrimmage.

Last month, Curry broke his hand, sidelining the guard until at least February. Two nights later, forward Draymond Green tore a ligament in his left index finger. On Monday, two-way guard Damion Lee fractured his hand.

Amid all those injuries, Warriors coach Steve Kerr trotted out his ninth starting lineup of the season Friday, with two-way guard Ky Bowman at the point. For a moment, it worked.

Midway through the third quarter, Bowman intercepted a pass, ran cross court and dunked over Grant Williams, cutting the Celtics' lead to three. Two minutes later, Alec Burk stripped Boston guard Brandon Wanamaker, setting up a fast-break layup that gave Golden State a brief 82-80 lead before the Celtics rallied and held on in the fourth quarter.

The Warriors' current reality is much different than their immediate past. After winning 78 percent of their games over five years, they now find themselves with a roster that lost Kevin Durant to free agency, while Curry and Klay Thompson's rehabs are expected to last until at least February. Their 2-11 record is the NBA's worst.

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Minutes after the final buzzer Friday, there were reminders of potential hopes lost. Curry's hand swelled out of his cast as he walked near a team official. In the locker room, Paschall sported an ice pack on his right hand, and Poole reconciled an ankle injury that he said wouldn't affect him.

As the Warriors packed for another road trip, potentially with just eight healthy bodies for the foreseeable future, another reminder that the team's development is coming at a hefty price was evident.

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.' "

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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.

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

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

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."