The Golden State Warriors re-signed 22-year old center Marquese Chriss on Tuesday, just eight days after waiving him. And suddenly the team’s center logjam is . . . well . . . logjammed once more. And eventually, something will have to give.
Entering the season, it appeared as though proven Warriors youngster Kevon Looney would split center minutes with free agent signing Willie Cauley-Stein. That has not happened.
Both players missed training camp with injuries. Looney has yet to find his full health - he’s played a mere 105 minutes over 10 games. Cauley-Stein has found his health, but hasn’t exactly found his rhythm.
Instead, it’s been the players signed for the back of the bench that have received the biggest chance. Omari Spellman - whom the Warriors acquired over the offseason in a trade that felt more about getting rid of Damian Jones than getting Spellman - has taken over as starter. He’s averaging 16.0 points and 10.1 rebounds per 36 minutes played, but perhaps most important is his three-point shot. On a team in dire need of shooters, Spellman is hitting on a Splash Brothers-esque 43.0% of his triples. It’s hard not to envision him playing a stretch 5 role next to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson for years to come.
Chriss has been equally surprising. Signed to a non-guaranteed training camp roster just a month before the season, Chriss was never supposed to make the team. But he impressed in training camp, so much so that the Warriors waived locker room favorite Alfonzo McKinnie.
Prior to being waived - a purely business move, as the team didn’t have the cap space necessary to convert Damion Lee’s contract - Chriss was averaging 14.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per 36 minutes, and playing significant minutes. Even though he’s now on a two-way contract, he’ll likely spend the rest of the year with the Warriors, and earn a chance to add to those numbers.
It’s not that those players have been notably better than Cauley-Stein. The fifth-year pro is averaging 12.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per 36 minutes, with defense that wavers between quality and disinterest. Cauley-Stein leads the Warriors in Player Impact Plus-Minus, and ranks fourth in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, behind only Steph Curry, D’Angelo Russell, and Lee.
He’s been wholly uninspiring, but perhaps not bad.
Yet he still feels like the odd man out. Looney is proven - an elite, switchable defender, who is under contract through the 2021-22 season. Spellman is young (22), impressing already, and under contract next season. Chriss is young (22), seems to have earned the interest of the coaching staff, front office, and roster, and will be a restricted free agent, assuming he ends the year with Golden State. And of course there’s Alen Smailagic, the raw-but-brimming-with-potential 19-year old who is under contract through 2022-23.
Cauley-Stein is technically under contract for next season, but he has a player option for his roughly $2.3 million deal. If he opts out, he’ll likely be pursuing a contract the size of which the Warriors neither can, nor wish to match. But even if he opts into next season, the team will likely explore trade options. Entering a season with five guaranteed contracts at the center position isn’t exactly a recipe for success, especially given Draymond Green’s ability to play the position for important minutes.
That’s if he makes it to the summer. Cauley-Stein’s play likely doesn’t have opposing GMs blowing up Bob Myers’ phone, but it only takes one team. If the Warriors can get off of Cauley-Stein’s contract, and free up cap space (to potentially convert Ky Bowman’s contract), it seems likely they will.
The Warriors have too many centers. And one of them certainly stands out as unlikely to stick around.