It was Andre Iguodala’s turn on the erected stage outside the Kaiser Convention Center, the final checkpoint of the Warriors’ 2017 championship parade. He and fellow veteran reserve Shaun Livingston answered questions from Tim Roye, radio voice of the Warriors. Roye asked Iguodala about mentoring the young players. Iguodala directed his answer to one player specifically.
“I got knuckleheads like Patrick McCaw,” Iguodala said affectionately. “You see how he wants to be the coolest guy on earth. So I’ve got to keep the knuckleheads in line.”
McCaw, in sunglasses and his Warriors dad hat, rose to his feet behind Iguodala. McCaw raised his hand before the sea of people gathered near Lake Merritt, copping to the knuckleheadedness.
It was an endearing moment. Iguodala made it so by what he revealed. He was 33 and had just finished his 13th season. Two years removed from the 2015 NBA Finals MVP award, he was an afterthought in the Kevin Durant-era Warriors. Iguodala salvaged a mediocre 2017 postseason, in which he went 8 for 42 from 3, by breaking out in the clinching moments, scoring 20 points at home in Game 5 against Cleveland to finish off the championship run.
He was also a free-agent-to-be. Ever a realist, Iguodala stood on stage and kept it real, all but passing the torch.
Knowing Iguodala, he probably felt the cold sting of the business when the Warriors purchased a second-round pick in the 2016 draft to acquire McCaw. Knowing Iguodala, he processed the presence of McCaw as a message from the NBA machine that it was about done using his body now that it wasn’t so vibrant and resilient.
Somehow, that his successor was McCaw seemed to make it all OK.
“When you see potential, when you see greatness in guys, you want to embrace them, you want to bring it out of them,” Iguodala said, continuing his answer on stage. “And, it can be hard for a guy like me who basically sees my replacement — until Game 5 — you see your replacement and, you know, you want to hold on and get your extra years and extra money. But I had some great veterans. You know, Aaron McKie and Kevin Ollie, who brought me up the right way. So it’s only right I gave it back. Patrick McCaw is next. … You’re going to be a great player for a long time and I appreciate you, young fella.”
Fifteen months later, McCaw was no longer the replacement. He was no longer a young knucklehead on the bench. He was no longer on the team.
Now, he is a Toronto Raptor.
What in the world happened? It’s a question people in the Warriors organization are still asking. No one knows. Except McCaw, and perhaps his family. But he isn’t explaining. So it remains a mystery, one that remains fueled by the absence of an explanation. It’s become fodder for gossip.
In the organization, there is a universal liking of McCaw the person. There were certainly hopes for the potential of McCaw the player. The Warriors had big plans for him. But the player, the person and the plans took a backseat to the obvious truth: McCaw did not want to be a Warrior anymore. With few words, he made that loud and clear.
Of course, that begs the question: why not?
Let’s try to unpack this.
April 22, 2017 — the end of McCaw’s rookie season
An injury to Durant put McCaw in the starting lineup in Game 2 of the first-round series against Portland. In that game, McCaw played more than 34 minutes. The game before, he got some garbage minutes, but this was his real playoff debut.
The next game, a close one on the road with the Trail Blazers fighting for their playoff lives, McCaw played 28 minutes, including some big minutes in the fourth quarter. He totaled 11 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals. With Durant back for the end of the Portland series, McCaw didn’t play much in the second-round series against Utah. But in Game 2 against San Antonio in the Western Conference finals, McCaw was the most-used reserve and finished with eight points, five assists and three steals in the Warriors’ rout.
In hindsight, this probably set a high bar for expectations. McCaw didn’t play much in the Finals until his 11 minutes in the clinching Game 5. But the No. 38 overall pick the Warriors bought from Milwaukee in 2016 was certainly looking like the future. He finished the season ahead of Ian Clark in the rotation. He was next in line.
July 5, 2017 — the Swaggy P signing
Apparently, whatever good feelings McCaw took with him into the offseason were short-lived. News leaked that the Warriors had agreed to terms with free-agent guard Nick Young. Immediately, McCaw’s role was up in the air. Also: the Warriors re-signed Iguodala for three more years.
When training camp opened, coach Steve Kerr, without knowing it, might have made the situation worse by declaring an open competition for the backup shooting guard spot. According to insiders, this was the first grievance McCaw had with the Warriors and it is about the only tangible issue that has been vocalized. McCaw was confident coming in after a good summer. It wasn’t as productive as the summer of 2017, when he played well at Summer League and had a good showing at Tim Grgurich’s camp for young players. But he was healthy again and feeling good. Having to compete for minutes with Young, who came into camp out of shape, seems to have harmed McCaw’s trust in the Warriors.
There is nothing new or surprising about a player being concerned about competition at his position. But if this was a fissure in the McCaw-Warriors relationship, what happened during the season did not do much to alleviate McCaw’s concerns. If he was of the mindset he had earned the minutes in Season 2 based on his rookie season, McCaw probably wasn’t happy Kerr made him earn them again.
Through much of the 2017-18 season, McCaw was in and out of the regular rotation. He played nearly 19 minutes in the season-opening loss to Houston on ring night then got a DNP the next game in New Orleans, in front of family and friends. He played 12 minutes at Memphis in the third game of the season and a total of 16 over the next two games.
McCaw was back in the rotation against Washington, the sixth game of the season. But the next game, he totaled just 16 seconds: the final 4 seconds of the second quarter and the final 12 of the third.
That’s a bit of how it went for McCaw. Over the first 57 games, he was inactive four times and had two DNPs. There were 16 games in which he played fewer than 10 minutes, including five times totaling fewer than five minutes. So that’s 22 games he was barely or not used.
He also had stretches when he played over Young. In December, with Stephen Curry out, McCaw logged at least 20 minutes in seven straight games and fell 25 seconds shy of an eighth straight. In those eight games, he totaled 48 points — 18 coming in one game, a blowout over visiting Utah.
The run ended with just 2:32 minutes of action against Memphis, but then he started another stretch of games when he was back in the rotation. McCaw logged at least 20 minutes in five of the next seven games, never fewer than 13. He totaled 29 points in those seven games.
He would miss 13 games in February with a fractured bone in his left wrist. He returned to big minutes: five straight games over 20 minutes, including three straight games logging 30 minutes. He managed double digits in scoring just once.
Maybe the presence of Young, which Kerr saw as competition that benefited everybody, had an opposite effect on McCaw. Maybe the volatility of his minutes did a number on his confidence. Maybe the increased pressure to score was an unfair expectation. But his sophomore season was a definite slump.
McCaw shot just 40.9 percent from the field and, after making a third of his 3-pointers as a rookie, his 3-point shooting percentage dropped all the way to 23.8 percent in 2017-18. He was a good athlete who could defend and was a capable driver and passer. But the Warriors needed shooting, scoring off the bench. And he wasn’t providing it.
March 31, 2018 — the fall
McCaw ran along the baseline of Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center, sneaking backdoor behind the defense. He took the pass from Jordan Bell and immediately lifted off of two feet. At 6-foot-7, 185 pounds, McCaw has nice bounce. He gets up quickly. But he went for the layup instead of dunking, perhaps because he saw Vince Carter rotating over to help.
Carter, 41, recovered late. He wound up not contesting the shot but kept sliding, crossing underneath an airborne McCaw. On his way down, McCaw’s left leg got caught on Carter’s shoulder, upending him. He landed flush on his back.
McCaw was strapped to a stretcher and taken to UC Davis Medical Center. He experienced some temporary paralysis and his injury would later be diagnosed as a lumbosacral bone bruise. It proved to be a traumatic experience. He couldn’t sleep because of back pain. He could barely walk for a while. He couldn’t start rehab for about a month.
“It was definitely a life-changing moment for me,” McCaw told The Undefeated a few weeks after suffering the injury. “It is so much bigger than basketball to say that I can stand on my own two feet again and be able to walk again. It made everything so much bigger than what I had been seeing it for. You really take so much for granted being young and thinking you’ll be able to get it back if you make a mistake. Now, I look at things just wide-eyed. Every day I wake up, I’m blessed to be there. Blessed to move around. Blessed to be part of the NBA with such a great family that loves me so much. It’s just a special feeling to know that nothing serious happened to me. Every day I thank God for blessing me and giving me the life that He has and protecting me from that incident.”
May 25, 2018 — McCaw returns
With 4:28 left, the Warriors had Game 6 of the Western Conference finals in hand. They were up 25, setting up a Game 7 in Houston for the series. Comfortable, Kerr emptied his bench. McCaw checked in.
It was his first action since his scary fall nearly two months earlier. It was a triumphant moment in a trying season. He called it “amazing” after the game.
Then he played the final 58.5 seconds of the third quarter in that memorable Game 7, a defensive substitution to keep Curry from picking up his fourth foul. This minute of action wasn’t like the other short stints he endured this season. This one seemed encouraging.
In the Warriors’ Finals sweep over Cleveland, McCaw played just shy of 11 minutes combined, getting spot minutes in all four games. But it felt like he closed the season on a high note. His resilience, not the struggle, was the lasting impression.
June 8, 2018 — the emotions
One of the most poignant memories from the Warriors’ celebrations after clinching the 2018 NBA Finals in Cleveland was McCaw with a towel over his head in the champagne-soaked locker room, his eyes welled with tears, staring at the trophy.
Chelsea Lane, the Warriors’ head performance therapist at the time, consoled him in what was an intense and emotional moment. She asked the media to give him his privacy. Undoubtedly, it had been a tough year for McCaw. And he ended the season in a much different place than everyone expected. Before the year, he was pegged to be a coveted free agent. But at this point, his value perhaps couldn’t be lower.
It was hard to tell if this was jubilation or devastation, if he was soaking in the moment or suffering through it. Was he reflecting, appreciating the difficulty of what he’d endured and thankfulness for pulling through? Or was he agonizing, hit with the reality of how much things had changed for him? With McCaw, such an internal person, it’s hard to tell. But after the locker room scene, he talked with Logan Murdock of the Mercury News and it sounded like the former.
“I would love to be here,” McCaw said. “There’s no other place I’d rather be. This is all I know. Who would want to leave such a great team or a great organization? Who wants to go through an injury like I did? Nobody? So it’s all in God’s plan. So whatever He has in store for me, that’s the next step in my story.”
Sept. 20, 2018 — McCaw in limbo
The Warriors announced their training camp roster for the 2018-19 season. It had 18 players on it. None of them was Young, whom the Warriors did not re-sign. McCaw was also not on the roster, because he was a restricted free agent and still unsigned.
There had been whispers about his unhappiness. Now, it was official.
The Warriors extended a $1.7 million qualifying offer to McCaw in July, retaining their rights on him. At one point, they offered a two-year deal with the second year non-guaranteed. He didn’t get the offer sheet from another team that he might have expected, so the Warriors were in the driver’s seat. He didn’t play in the Summer League, so no one had seen McCaw since the championship parade. And it was starting to look as if he wasn’t coming to camp.
At media day on Sept. 24, with training camp set to start the next day, McCaw was a no-show. His qualifying offer was a week from expiring and no one from the team could even get him on the phone. The Warriors front office didn’t know for sure if he was in the Bay, as was the rumor, or back home in St. Louis.
At this point, much of the behind-the-scenes conversation around the Warriors was about McCaw and what was going on. Nobody knew. The only understood complaint, according to multiple sources, was that he was unhappy with how Kerr distributed his minutes.
And it all seemed fixable with a conversation. Plus, the Warriors told McCaw many times he was in the team’s long-term plans.
Whatever issues McCaw had were news to most, including his teammates. McCaw is a quiet man. He listens more than he talks. He exists in the background, keeps to himself. He keeps his feelings close to the vest. When his teammates heard he was unhappy, they tried to reach out to him to encourage him but were mostly met with silence.
The answer seemed obvious to most: go take the minutes he believes belonged to him. If McCaw was certain he was good enough to command significant minutes, the opportunity was there for him to show it. The Warriors struck out on perimeter help in free agency — they made a play for Tyreke Evans but couldn’t land him — so plenty of minutes were available. Young was gone and they didn’t replace him. And with Kerr hoping to give a lot of rest to his veterans and ready to start a youth movement, this was setting up to be McCaw’s year. If he would just show up.
Oct. 16, 2018 — the season starts without him
Ring night at Oracle Arena. The holdout was now three weeks old and McCaw was nearly impossible to reach. At this point, two things were clear.
One: The Warriors still wanted McCaw. The two-year, $5.2 million contract offer was on the table. The first year was fully guaranteed.
Two: This holdout wasn’t fully mapped out.
A week into the season, a month into McCaw’s holdout, the Warriors were still making a push to get him back. McCaw had several voices telling him to return to the Warriors and prove himself. Despite his holdout, he still ended up in a scenario where, whatever he could want, from a basketball perspective, the Warriors seemed most able to provide it.
The Warriors offered more minutes than any other team. Rookie first-round pick Jacob Evans didn’t look ready to play. Alfonzo McKinnie came through in the clutch, earning a roster spot as a training camp invite. But McKinnie was brand new to the organization and the system and doesn’t have the off-the-dribble abilities of McCaw. The plans the Warriors had for McCaw to be the next Iguodala were still live.
The Warriors offered more money. By the time the season started, no team was offering McCaw more than the minimum. Financially, the $2.5 million of guaranteed money on the table from the Warriors was the most available to him. But this clearly wasn’t about money for McCaw.
The Warriors offered more exposure. If he wanted to hit the market in a better spot next season, his best hope was to ball in the playoffs. If there is one thing the Warriors have, it’s eyeballs on them.
The Warriors offered more support. Management hadn’t taken the stand many fans did. Though he was coming off a rough season and holding out, the Warriors’ patience wasn’t deterred. Kerr had talked to McCaw several times during the offseason and he and Bob Myers are arguably the most open and perspective-driven coach-GM tandem in the league. McCaw still had veteran players who liked him and mentored him, including Iguodala.
If McCaw wanted a trade at this early point in the season, the Warriors likely would have obliged. It was the only way to get something for the player they spent money to acquire, a player they had held a roster spot for. But McCaw’s silent treatment scuttled any of those potential options. McCaw had some feelers from other teams for the minimum, but everyone expected the Warriors to match. And the Warriors weren’t just going to release him. Even if he wasn’t going to be the next Iguodala, he was an asset. The Warriors don’t just give away assets.
It seems as if what he wanted was just to be out of the Warriors organization and there was no obvious path for that. Restricted free agency worked against McCaw.
Dec. 28, 2018 — the exit
According to sources, McCaw considered coming back to the Warriors a couple of times but couldn’t pull the trigger. The last hope was to get a team to sign him to an offer sheet. McCaw was ready to play and this was his last chance to get his freedom — and if he ended up having to come back to the Warriors, so be it.
McCaw signed an offer sheet with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Though Cleveland jumped higher than the Warriors by only $500,000. The Warriors probably put have matched if not for the injury to Damion Jones. They still might need to sign a center so they need that spot open.
The play worked. The Warriors declined to match. That the Cleveland offer was non-guaranteed was a clear message that McCaw wanted to be anywhere but the Warriors. He took a nearly valueless deal with a tanking organization just to force the Warriors to let him go. At that point, it was over. It’s hard to commit to about 11 million — his $3 million salary plus luxury tax penalties — for a player who is making it clear he doesn’t want to be a Warriors.
Then Cleveland released him after just three games — a few days before the Cavaliers would’ve had to guarantee his first-year contract — and McCaw became an unrestricted free agent. A few days after that, McCaw signed a minimum-salary deal with Toronto. He had interest from other teams, according to sources, but McCaw chose the Raptors because of the player development prowess of Toronto assistant coach Phil Handy, one of the best in the league.
A year and a half after he was publicly declared to be the future face of the Warriors’ “Strength in Numbers” movement, McCaw was a Raptor, earning far less than he could’ve gotten from the Warriors after sitting out almost half the season. There’s no available explanation for all of this, except the conclusion: He’s not a Warrior now and that apparently was his goal all along.
Why? The real answer is nobody knows but McCaw.