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Obit (for now): The Marquese Chriss experiment

It didn’t work, except that it kind of did.

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Dallas Mavericks v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Back on September 24, the Golden State Warriors had no money to spend, the result of a hard cap that was triggered when they secured a sign-and-trade for All-Star D’Angelo Russell.

But they had seven-foot hole in their preseason roster, the result of injuries to veterans Kevon Looney and Willie Cauley-Stein, and rookie Alen Smailagic.

To fill that hole, the team signed former lottery pick-turned-bust Marquese Chriss to a non-guaranteed training camp contract. Here’s how one idiot described the situation:

It’s highly, highly, highly unlikely that we see Chriss in a Warriors jersey this season, but just to do due diligence, let’s consider the player. There are some serious pros, and some serious cons.

Pros: Outrageous athleticism, just turned 22 years old, lottery pick pedigree.

Cons: Bad at offense, bad at defense.

Yes, that idiot was me. Still is, in fact.

You know what happened next. The Warriors were impressed by Chriss, who was never supposed to have a chance at the roster. Their center situation stayed both injured and grim. Draymond Green and Steve Kerr publicly stumped for the young, hyper-athletic big man.

Bob Myers made the only feasible move he could to get Chriss on the roster, cutting Alfonzo McKinnie, the lone roster player on a non-guaranteed contract. Chriss was given a non-guaranteed contract in McKinnie’s place, and thrown right into the rotation.

He played more than 14 minutes in the season opener, and started the second game of the season. He averaged 14.9 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.8 blocks per 36 minutes.

And on Monday, after the Warriors fell to the Sacramento Kings for their fifth straight loss, Chriss was waived.

If looked at from a distance, it appears that the Chriss experiment ended. The Warriors gave him a chance to impress, before ultimately going in a different direction.

As is often the case, the reality is a bit more nuanced.

Chriss’ contract would have become guaranteed on Tuesday, at which point the team would be locked into his salary. Meanwhile, guard Damion Lee is about to finish up the available NBA days on his two-way contract. According to The Athletic’s Anthony Slater, Lee and the Warriors had a mutual understanding that his contract would be converted when possible:

This summer, when Damion Lee agreed to return to the Warriors on a two-way deal, there was a mutual understanding that he wouldn’t spend time in the G League and, once a roster spot opened, he’d be ticketed for it.

With Chriss being waived, the team now has the cap space necessary to convert Lee’s two-way contract into his first guaranteed NBA contract.

The continued presence of Lee - who will likely be given a multi-year contract, ensuring his spot on next year’s team - was worth the sacrifice of the Chriss experiment.

Except the sacrifice may only be temporary.

Chriss - who has been given up on far more unceremoniously by three franchises already - seems to harbor no ill will towards the Warriors. He understands the bind that the team was in, in part because the Warriors probably were transparent from day one.

Rather than be bitter in the wake of a release, Chriss seems to hold positive thoughts about the organization.

Now, amicable conscious uncoupling happens all the time in the NBA. It isn’t particularly newsworthy, though it is good to see.

But reunions? Those are newsworthy. And perhaps on the horizon.

According to The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson II, the Warriors would like Chriss back, whenever that is financially possible. That could be in a few weeks, or it could be next season, but the team hopes the experiment has not concluded:

A part of the front office hopes he doesn’t get claimed off of waivers, so the team can bring him back in March. The Warriors would definitely be interested in signing him in the offseason, which for Chriss is a sign of how impressive he was during this make-good opportunity. But they weren’t just going to dump other assets.

The feeling appears to be mutual.

If Chriss clears waivers - meaning no other NBA team claims him for the now-guaranteed minimum salary contract that he was on - he could re-join the Warriors on a 10-day contract, or in March.

In an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area, Chriss sounded receptive to that:

We’ve had conversations about certain things to try and make things work but I think that’s something that I would try to keep between myself and them, just because I don’t know any situation that might come up.

But who knows? I would like to be here. So eventually, if that happens, I would be all for it.

While Chriss would certainly not bring it up, there is another way that the Warriors can bring him back this year: A trade. Golden State will almost surely explore trade options for Cauley-Stein and veteran guard Alec Burks as the February 8 trade deadline nears. If either player is traded, with no salary coming back to the Warriors, Golden State could bring Chriss back.

Had there been a market for either player this week, the Warriors likely would have pursued a trade and kept Chriss. But the trade market is usually quiet until the deadline is closer, and it’s very possible that a team comes calling about one of those two (or perhaps Glenn Robinson III).

With the Warriors eyes firmly on 2021 and beyond, it seems likely that they would prefer keeping the untapped potential of the 22-year old Chriss over one of those three veterans.

So while the experiment is over for now, don’t be surprised if Chriss is back in the Bay before all is said and done.

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