OAKLAND — With just over 11 minutes left in the third quarter of his third game of the preseason, Stephen Curry set a screen on Shaquille Harrison. He was handily controlled by Harrison, but was called for his third foul.
Curry put his hands up and laughed. Kevin Durant shared a laugh with Joe and Kirk Lacob, mockingly applauding the officials. Steve Kerr was ejected for arguing the called illegal screen, and waved to his players on the way out.
“I don’t want to be here anyway,” Kerr said to the officials. “I don’t want to be here.”
The back-to-back NBA champion Golden State Warriors — led by a 8-for-14, 23-point night night from Curry — lost to the Phoenix Suns 117-109 at Oracle Arena on Monday, but the result was immaterial. The Warriors — Curry in particular — are ready for the regular season to begin. They just have to get two roster spots sorted out, first, and for the players vying for those spots, this was anything but a throwaway game.
“I was in this exact same position last year with Toronto,” said 6-foot-8 Alfonzo McKinnie, who made the Toronto Raptors out of training camp in 2017, but played in only 14 games. “If you go in and do what you’re supposed to do, people see it. People take note of it.”
Both Quinn Cook and Kerr said Monday that the young bunch in training camp has made this the most competitive, talented camp they’ve seen in years. McKinnie and Danuel House Jr. were two of the six players invited without a guaranteed roster spot.
The Warriors will sign several players over the course of the next five days who will end up at G League Santa Cruz, but none of them will be the replacement for the still-unsigned Patrick McCaw. McKinnie and House have the chance to be just that.
The Warriors were patient with McCaw last season, as he sat for a month with a wrist fracture, then developed his confidence and began to emerge as a rotation piece. Then, he suffered a scary fall going up for a lay-up against Vince Carter. He was undercut, and landed on his back, bruising his lumbar spine. Out for two months, McCaw finally got some action in the playoffs, receiving notable ovations from the home crowd.
As the offseason began, Golden State made a $1.7 million one-year qualifying offer to keep McCaw in Oakland. It expired. They made and a second, two-year, $5.2 million offer. It has not been signed. Golden State can ill afford to keep waiting.
After going undrafted in 2015, McKinnie appeared in 50 games (34 starts) with the G League’s Windy City Bulls, averaging 14.9 points and 9.2 rebounds in 30.5 minutes per game.
Last season, the 6-foot-8, 215-pound forward out of Wisconsin-Green Bay started all 35 games he appeared in with Toronto’s G League affiliate, Raptors 905, when not with the big club. He averaged 14.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists in 29.9 minutes per game.
Texas A&M product House played in 23 games last season for the Suns, averaging 6.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 17.5 minutes after signing a two-way deal in December. When in the G League, he averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists for Northern Arizona.
If McCaw does not sign — and it’s looking less and less like he will — then Golden State has two roster spots open, with McKinnie and House being the top two contenders. The two spent a combined 41 minutes on the floor on Monday, with the Warriors resting Klay Thompson, Shaun Livingston, Draymond Green and Andrew Iguodala.
Without Thompson, Golden State went just 8-for-25 from three, and neither House — who passed up an open three look in the second quarter to dish to Kevin Durant — nor McKinnie got into much of a rhythm beyond the arc. McKinnie went 0-for-2 from three and House didn’t take a shot.
That said, neither needs to be a primary option. They need to defend, make smart plays and contribute about six points and two to three rebounds per night. Both made athletic, smart basketball plays, and both had some missteps.
“I feel like I had a pretty decent game, was able to make some plays with the minutes I was given, on both ends of the floor,” McKinnie said. “I was a little bit more active than I’ve been.”
Late in the first quarter, McKinnie was able to corral a tipped Jordan Bell pass on the right wing and hit a fadeaway jumper.
“He’s always ready,” Cook said. “He’s a pro. He doesn’t need 20 minutes to be effective. I don’t know how many minutes he played tonight, but if it’s eight or if it’s five or if it’s 30, you know what you’re going to get from him. Danuel is like that, as well.”
With 3:04 to go in the first half, House hit a lean-in bucket off the glass from the right wing over a defender. He finished with a preseason-high 20 minutes on the floor. Though he only took four shots, he didn’t foul, played smartly and contributed four points.
Dribbling the ball at the start of the fourth quarter, McKinnie looked down and then up, and lost the handle, leading to a Davon Reed steal and a T.J. Warren lay-up. Four minutes later, he followed up a short Jonas Jerebko three and put it back with a one-handed jam.
“That one turnover at the top of the key, I over-dribbled, and that charge, a couple of petty fouls, other than that, it’s part of the game; stuff like that happens,” McKinnie said. “You’ve got to move on to the next play.”
McKinnie played in a preseason-high 21 minutes, going 5-for-7 from the field, with five rebounds and an assist, but he did commit five fouls, including a fourth-quarter infraction where he didn’t have his feet under him in the low post.
Golden State has until Oct. 15 to set their final roster, but will likely make whatever decisions have to be made by Saturday.
“The whole decision part of it, that’s something that’s not in my control,” McKinnie said. “I can only do what I can control, and that’s me coming in every day and putting the hard work in, and getting the coaches to trust me enough to give me that position.”
The Warriors next see action on Wednesday against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in Las Vegas. Golden State will play the Lakers again on Friday at 7:30 at the SAP Center in San Jose for their final preseason game.