Willie Cauley-Stein's injury thins Warriors' middle in bruising West

Willie Cauley-Stein's injury thins Warriors' middle in bruising West

SAN FRANCISCO – Seven months after a paucity of centers prompted the Warriors to sign semi-retired Andrew Bogut, the team opens training camp Tuesday without a healthy NBA center on its roster.

Not one.

The only Warrior that fits the description of “center,” 7-foot Willie Cauley-Stein, will miss all of training camp and part of the early season with a left mid-foot strain. That leaves 6-foot-9, 225-pound Kevon Looney, drafted as a forward in 2015, as the team’s only experienced “big.”

Given the physical challenges Looney has overcome to save his NBA career, it’s not reasonable to expect he can play 25-30 minutes on a nightly basis.

These circumstances invite the possibility of physical mismatches and the bruises that follow.

The Western Conference is rife with legitimate big men, such as Denver’s Nikola Jokic, Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams and Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton. With Jusuf Nurkic still rehabilitating from a severe injury, Portland added Hassan Whiteside.

The Eastern Conference? That’s where Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, Detroit’s Andre Drummond, Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic reside, along with Marc Gasol of the defending champion Raptors.

The Warriors have gone from having a phalanx of bodies to throw at the league’s beasts to having no choice but to hope their small lineups can win with speed and finesse.

“The big difference,” said coach Steve Kerr, “is that, while we may not have had the stability of one guy at center over the last few years – we did with Bogut; the first couple years, he was our starting center – but what we’ve had over the past few years is a stable of veteran guys who could all fill very significant particular roles.”

In addition to Bogut, Kerr’s first five seasons with the Warriors have featured centers Festus Ezeli, Anderson Varejao, Zaza Pachulia, Damian Jones, JaVale McGee and DeMarcus Cousins – all legit centers standing at least 6-11. Power forwards Marreese Speights and David West, each 6-9 but weighing about 260 pounds, also were able to slide to center.

When the Warriors will open the season, Looney, with 38 career starts – including playoffs – will be the starter because there is no other viable option. Youngsters Omari Spellman and Alen Smailagic will open as backups.

Spellman, listed at 6-9, 245 pounds, is perceived as similar to Speights insofar as he has shooting range out to the 3-point line. Spellman, 22, conceded Monday that he lost 40 pounds over the summer, dropping from 315 in Summer League to 275 – with a goal of reaching 265.

Smailagic is only 19 and is listed at 6-10, 215. He has shown some offensive skill, but he’ll be at a decided physical disadvantage against the league’s prototype centers.

“We’ve had a lot of different possibilities,” Kerr said. This year is different because we’re relying on a couple rookies, at least in camp, with Alen and Omari, who are 4/5s. Looney is also a 4/5.

"But that’s the way the NBA has turned. It’s more of a league with wings and bigs. So, we just look at them as bigs.”

Though there is a focus on wings and versatile bigs, not all of the NBA has gone that route. Most teams still have at least one 7-footer, with some carrying three or four, as the Warriors once did.

It’s a very different season for the Warriors because it’s a very different roster. This is their youngest squad since the Joe Lacob/Peter Guber ownership group purchased the franchise nearly nine years ago.

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Cauley-Stein, who spent four seasons with the Kings, was expected to start at center. He’s a good athlete, though not particularly big (listed at 240). Upon his return, likely sometime in November, he’ll be relied upon to provide vertical spacing and rebounding. His defense will be a work in progress.

As will the entire Warriors team.

“That’s part of the excitement of this season,” Kerr said. “It’s one of the things that our fans should look forward to is watching the team grow. Watching this team develop as the season goes. Rather than seeing a finished product, they’re going to see a team that really has to define itself over the course of a year.”

A team that, once it enters the physical fray, may realize that even in today’s NBA, size matters.

Steph Curry explains rationale behind Howard golf program donation

Steph Curry explains rationale behind Howard golf program donation

Warriors star Steph Curry simply was visiting Howard University to attend a screening of a documentary he was an executive producer for called "Emanuel," which focused on the horrific 2015 shooting of nine Black worshipers by a white supremacist inside a Charleston, South Carolina church.

But a single conversation with a Howard student ended up leading to Curry making a donation allowing the school to create a Division I men's and women's golf program, beginning with the 2020-21 academic year. The amount of Curry's donation wasn't disclosed by the University, but it is expected to support several scholarships, hire a coach and fund the initial recruiting process. One student in particular, Otis Ferguson IV, sparked the idea in Curry's head after the two spoke about Ferguson's hopes of Howard creating a club golf program.

"He told me how much golf means to him," Curry told reporters after the first round of the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe. "The idea came just from that. I heard what he had to say and I was like 'What can we do to bring that Division I program back?' Men's and Women's, and create scholarships, because we know how great the game of golf is, wanting to continue to create access and opportunity, not just playing but also in the business of golf."


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The coronavirus pandemic could have some disastrous impacts on Division I athletic departments over the next few years, but it doesn't sound like Curry's donation is going anywhere.

The recent groundswell of support for the Black Lives Matter movement has brought national attention to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which never have had the same kind of competitive football and men's basketball programs as their other Division I counterparts. Five-star prep basketball prospect Makur Maker committed to Howard's men's basketball program on July 3, which could be just the beginning of a trend of elite prep athletes choosing HBCUs for all sports, not just basketball.

[RELATED: Watch Steph Curry, Canelo Álvarez spar at celebrity golf tournament]

Curry's obsession with golf has been well documented throughout his NBA career. He and former teammate Andre Iguodala famously would sneak away during playoff series to get 18 holes in, whether they were at home or in another market. Iguodala recently said he bet a lump sum on Curry to beat the field in Lake Tahoe this weekend at the ACC.

The two-time NBA MVP finished Friday's first-round in 14th place, with 14 points (ACC utilizes golf's Stableford scoring system). Considering Steph's father Dell Curry stood ahead of him in the standings going into Saturday's second round, expect Curry to come out motivated at Edgewood Tahoe South.

Steph Curry believes Warriors' 15-50 year could be blessing in disguise

Steph Curry believes Warriors' 15-50 year could be blessing in disguise

Making it to five straight NBA Finals is a tough task.

Not many NBA teams have accomplished it. The journey each year takes a lot out of players.

During the Warriors' five straight Finals appearances, they played 105 NBA playoff games. That's a lot of extra miles on the human body, and it started to take its toll on the team over the course of a few months last year.

Kevin Durant, before leaving for the Brooklyn Nets in free agency, ruptured his Achilles in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Klay Thompson tore his ACL in the very next game, the last of the Warriors' season.

In the Warriors' fourth game of the 2019-20 season, Steph Curry broke his left hand and didn't return until early March. With his Splash Brother sidekicks out, Draymond Green nursed several injuries and missed 22 of 65 games.

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All that added up to an NBA-worst 15-50 record this season.

So what gives Curry hope that the Warriors can get back on the right track during the 2020-21 season?

"We still have a great core," Curry told reporters Friday during an interview after the first round of the American Century Championship golf tournament in Lake Tahoe. "We have an understanding of who we are, and like you said, it was a crazy year with my hand injury, Klay being out all year, Draymond in and out of the lineup with injuries all year, a lot of new guys. It's definitely different.

"But this could be a blessing in disguise in terms of this next three, four years we want to have. Get rested, get healthy. We'll obviously be watching Orlando and taking all that in, but come next season, whenever that starts, we'll be ready. We've had a long seven years, so it was nice to get a little refresh."

The NBA is set to restart the 2019-20 season in Orlando later this month. At the moment, the 2020-21 season is expected to start as early as Dec. 1.

The championship core of Curry, Thompson and Green still have that hunger and still carry a chip on their shoulders, as guard Damion Lee said recently on the Runnin' Plays podcast.

[RELATED: Five bold predictions for Warriors]

General manager Bob Myers and his staff will attempt to retool the roster this offseason, and get the trio some help.

But no matter what happens in Orlando or during the offseason, Curry and the Warriors expect to return to contention next season.

It would be unwise to doubt him.

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