— Ryan Gorcey (@RyanGorcey) October 19, 2019
CHASE CENTER — When Marquese Chriss chose a training camp invite from the Golden State Warriors instead of two-way deals with other NBA teams, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told him he’d get a fair shot.
It’s not something Golden State tells all of its training camp invitees.
On Friday, before the final preseason game — a dress rehearsal for the season opener on Oct. 24 — Kerr confirmed that the Warriors will waive Alfonzo McKinnie on Saturday, and sign Chriss to the 15-man roster. The former lottery pick, pushed to the fringes of the league after playing for three teams in three years, could possibly be the starting center on opening night, and a foundational piece moving forward.
“This is just the way things have fallen out, and the injuries at the center position have put us in that spot, along with the hard cap,” Kerr said. “We tried to see if there were ways that we could keep Marquese and Zo, and we just couldn’t find any way. We need Marquese with injuries at the center spot, and with our general lack of size, anyway, and he’s had a great camp.”
Chriss — at 6-foot-10, 240 pounds with a 38 1/2-inch vertical leap and a seven-foot wingspan — came into camp looking to dispell the notion that he was uncoachable, and hook on with another team on a guaranteed deal. Golden State was hard capped, and couldn’t sign a player to even a minimum deal.
Chriss was then thrust into the starting center role one game into the preseason, after injuries to Willie Cauley-Stein (mid-foot strain), Alen Smailagic (ankle) and Kevon Looney (hamstring), and has averaged 9.5 points and 8.3 rebounds.
He’s impressed with his basketball IQ, his athleticism, his ability to pass out of the high post and the deftness with which he runs dribble handoffs with Stephen Curry, who is expected to play upwards of 30 minutes against the Lakers on Friday.
“I think he already has made the most of the opportunity,” Kerr said of Chriss. “He’s a great young man. He’s really been fun to coach. He’s eager to learn, very talented, athletically. He can run and jump and really move. He’s advanced as a passer. I wasn’t aware of how well he could screen and pass at the top of the key, and that’s been probably the highlight for us, watching him and how effective he is in that spot.”
In order to sign Chriss, Golden State has to waive McKinnie, whose contract isn’t guaranteed until mid-January.
The 26-year-old McKinnie — last year’s feel-good story who’d made stops in Luxembourg, Mexico and the G-League — was invisible for large stretches of games this preseason, while getting extended preseason run. The small forward was told of his fate on Friday morning, before shootaround.
“He’s the kind of person you want on your team,” Kerr said. “He’s an NBA player. He helped us win a lot of games last year, helped us get to the Finals. He’s everything you want from a player in your locker room, in terms of being a great teammate, a great worker. Just a really high-character human being.”
Though Chriss still needs to work on defense since he’s a natural four, there’s a strong chance that the former No. 8 pick in the 2016 draft could be Golden State’s starting center on opening night against the Clippers.
While Cauley-Stein has begun basketball activities, he’s still not close to returning. Smailagic is a long-term project with an indefinite injury timeline. Looney will go hard in practice on Sunday and Monday — playing and scrimmaging — to determine if he’ll be ready, but he’s had injury concerns dating back to college. Without Chriss, that would leave Golden State with two healthy options who have NBA center experience: Omari Spellman and small-ball center Draymond Green, who checks in at 6-foot-6 in shoes.
“If all goes well, Loon will play,” Kerr said. “I don’t know how many minutes he can play, and at that point, it might be a matchup thing, based on who we’re playing, but we’ll see when we get there. Marquese will definitely be out there opening night. He’ll play.”
At just 22, Golden State is looking at Chriss — a Sacramento-area native — as a possible building block, as the franchise looks to move forward after losing much of its championship core. Cauley-Stein’s contract is reportedly a two-year deal, with the second being a player option, so it’s concievable that, if he decides to opt out after a strong showing, Chriss would be an even more attractive option to keep around.
“It’s exciting to think about Marquese as a prospect for us for the future,” Kerr said. “We haven’t had a high draft pick here in — I don’t know — seven or eight years. To get a 22-year-old who is a high lottery pick, it means a lot, adding that kind of talent to our roster.
“Obviously, it doesn’t come with the same financial protections, because we signed him as a free agent, but if it’s a good fit for both sides, and we can figure out a way to make it work, and he were to continue to develop, it’s a really exciting through that he could be part of our group for years to come. That would be the hope.”
Glenn Robinson III will start at the three on Friday, and will start there on opening night. Alec Burks is still coming back from injury, but looked close to full-go in shootaround Friday morning. He’d likely be coming off the bench to back up Robinson.