TORONTO — Ten months after curiously turning down the Golden State Warriors’ first qualifying offer, Patrick McCaw admitted on Wednesday that he did not seek more money when he decided to leave the only team he’d ever known, but more playing time.
On the eve of the NBA Finals, which will pit Patrick McCaw’s new team — the Toronto Raptors — against Golden State, the 23-year old guard finally provided at least some clarity on one of the more bizarre storylines to emerge out of the Warriors’ offseason.
One year after a dramatic return from a career-threatening injury, McCaw is playing less and making less than he would have, had he stayed with Golden State. Even though he has tweeted about his pride in returning to the Finals, and maintained that he had no regrets, he adknowledged having learned quite a bit about the business of the NBA during Finals media day on Wednesday.
“Last year, when people were talking about money, ‘He wants more money,’ and things like that, I think it was kind of blown out of proportion,” McCaw said. “I think, for me, I was just a kid who wanted more for himself, who wanted a bigger opportunity.”
McCaw said, when asked what that bigger opportunity meant, “You could say playing time … I wanted to be somewhere where people would see me more.”
It hasn’t worked out.
This season, McCaw has made a three-game cameo with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and is on the end of the bench for the Eastern Conference champion Raptors, averaging 13.2 minutes for Toronto in 26 regular-season games — nearly four fewer than he averaged with Golden State last season. In seven playoff games, he’s totaled just 36 minutes.
“I kind of understand, now, figuring out what I want, and also, how the NBA works and how the business side works. You can’t just put your wants and needs first all the time … It’s a tough thing to do in this league, when all you see is guys getting paid and getting money. That’s not my goal at all.”
After a 2017 rookie season in which he steadily earned more playing time, filling in for Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry while playing solid defense and finding open teammates within the flow of the offense, McCaw was seemingly in line for more playing time in the 2017-18 season. He regressed, getting sent down to the G League to get his head right. When he returned, he averaged 27.2 minutes per game, 1.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 6.8 points and shot 29.4% from the field, before being undercut by Vince Carter in a game at Sacramento and suffering a lumbar spine contusion.
He dramatically returned in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against Houston, and clocked an average of 2.7 minutes in the remaining six playoff games, but averaged just 0.7 points. A third-year restricted free agent with no leverage, McCaw held out.
“I felt it was right for me,” he said Wednesday. “A lot of kids at 21, 22 years old, doing what I did, probably never would have took that chance, and I kind of just bet on myself, and let the chips fall where they may.”
Golden State kept a locker open for the entire preseason and some of the early part of the season, hoping to see him return. In that locker room, there were players who had come and visited him while he convalesced in a hospital. It was a potentially life-altering fall: Two minutes after he fell, McCaw couldn’t feel the lower half of his body, and when he was in the hospital, he couldn’t feel his legs. He wouldn’t feel them until the next day.
Over the course of his stay at the UC Davis Medical Center, many of his teammates and coaches came to visit him, something he still thinks fondly on, and appreciates.
“It was horrible, the pain that I went through, thought I would never walk,” McCaw said. “It was something that I never would want anybody to go through, but it made me think a lot about life and basketball.”
He turned down the Warriors’ qualifying offer of one year at $1.64 million as a restricted free agent, then turning down a second offer of a reported two-year, $5.2 million contract once the qualifying offer expired.
More than two months into the season, the Cavaliers extended him a nonguaranteed, two-year, $6 million offer sheet. The Warriors let the deadline to match the offer pass. After playing 53 minutes over a week with Cleveland, he was waived and landed with Toronto.
“I was a kid,” McCaw said. “I can’t go back and change what I did … I’m still alive, and breathing and playing the game I love. Who wouldn’t want to be part of the Warriors, but who wouldn’t want to be a part of the Toronto Raptors? To be in the NBA, to be here and still be able to play, to still be on a roster, I don’t think people put everything into perspective. They see money, they see playing time, they see guys who are superstars, but they don’t see the people behind the basketball. Everything’s in perspective now.”
On Saturday, after the Eastern Conference Finals-clinching Game 6 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, McCaw tweeted, “SAY WHAT YOU WANT 3 STRAIGHT NBA FINALS APPEARANCES?! I CAN’T MAKE THIS UP.”
He swiftly drew backlash from Golden State fans, but not from his former teammates, many of whom visited him at the UC Davis Medical Center in the days after his injury. True to form, Shaun Livingston and other Warriors recently texted him after the death of his older brother, Jeffrey.
“I’ve still got love for Pat,” Livingston said this week. “This is where he started. He’s our little brother.”