Alfonzo McKinnie

John Beilein and Tristan Thompson
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Do you believe John Beilein’s ‘slugs’ explanation? Tristan Thompson sidesteps question

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DETROIT – Six Cavaliers players addressed John Beilein’s thugs-slugs jumble yesterday. Five offered clear support of their coach for this volatile situation.

The exception: Tristan Thompson.

“At the end of the day, he’s our head coach,” Thompson said after Cleveland’s win over the Pistons last night. “We’re the players, and have to go out there and play and do our job at the end of the day. So, that’s all that matters.”

Beilein apologized to the Cavs both individually and collectively after the film session on Wednesday, when he called players “thugs” but later said he misspoke and meant to use the word “slugs.” Did Beilein’s explanation help motivate and focus the team for Detroit? Thompson: “Coach’s job is to give us the scout and the game plan. But we don’t need no coaches at all to motivate us. Us as players, we motivate each other.”

The Cavaliers will keep Beilein as coach. Can Thompson still play for him? Thompson: “Man, I’ll play anywhere. I’ll play all over the world.”

Beilein has reportedly struggled to connect with the Cavs. Does Thompson need anything different from his coach? Thompson: “As long as I’ve got my dogs with me every night in that huddle – what do we got, 13, 14 guys? Brought back Zo. As long I’ve got my dogs with me ready to go to war, that’s all that matters to me.”

Eventually, I flatly asked Thompson whether he believes Beilein’s explanation that he inadvertently said “thugs” while intending to say “slugs.”

“I’m not trying to take away from tonight,” Thompson said. “So, I want to keep it based on how great the guys were tonight. I think Brandon Knight was great. A guy that doesn’t get to play a lot. When his number was called – especially when we have KP down – he stepped up and was great tonight. So, I don’t want to take away from my team’s tremendous win tonight in overtime. So, that’s where my focus is at.”

Missing from that answer? Some variation of “yes.”

This was a strange interview from Thompson, who was recently Beilein’s most vocal supporter.

Maybe we’re supposed to read between the lines and see the lack of stated support for a lack of support. “Thug” is a racially charged word, and I can see how a black player would resent his white coach calling him one.

It’s also quite possible Thompson truly thought sidestepping the issue was the best way to make it go away. If so, he was wrong. A quick declaration of support – like Larry Nance Jr., Kevin Love, Darius Garland, Collin Sexton and Brandon Knight gave – would have been far more effective. Instead, Thompson opened the door wide open for speculation into how he truly feels.

The timing doesn’t help discern his meaning. Thompson didn’t speak at shootaround or pregame yesterday. After the emotional victory, it’s easy to see why he’d prefer attention land on the game. Thompson had a career night. He’s also a supportive teammate who wants to shout out Alfonzo McKinnie‘s defensive stops and Knight’s play with Kevin Porter Jr. injured. Thompson could have seen an opportunity to move on and leave the thugs-slugs issue behind.

To be fair, Thompson is not a public-relations expert. He’s a basketball player. Not understanding how to diffuse this controversy would hardly be some major offense. With prior scandal, Thompson served himself well by not talking about it. That kept the noise at bay.

But sports media was already widely discussing Beilein. Like it or not, this issue was in the forefront.

Which raises another question: How did it get there? Most Cleveland players who spoke publicly yesterday said Beilein’s use of the word “thugs” didn’t jar them in the moment. Only Sexton said otherwise, and he added he wasn’t alone.

“Everybody was shocked,” Sexton said.

Yet, Sexton also provided a defense of Beilein against the (absurd) argument that it’s inconceivable he’d use the word “slugs.”

“He says it all the time, so it’s all good,” Sexton said. “…He calls us slugs, because we move slow. But it’s good. We knew what he meant.”

Do all the Cavaliers know what Beilein meant, though? That remains an open question.

Cavaliers reportedly snap up Alfonzo McKinnie off waivers

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Going into training camp, Alfonzo McKinnie was expected to be the starting small forward for the Warriors this season.

However, injuries along the front line — Willie Cauley-Stein is out for weeks still, plus Kevon Looney and rookie Alen Smailagic are banged up — and some strong play from Marquise Chriss meant he was going to make the Warriors roster. With the team being hard capped after signing D'Angelo Russell this summer, the Warriors had no choice but to cut McKinnie.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have snapped him up off waivers.

This is a good move by the Cavaliers, a low-risk pickup — McKinnie is on a minimum contract — that could get them a 3&D wing on a young team. He played in 72 games for the Warriors last regular season plus got playoff minutes, and shot 35.6 percent from three. He’s long and athletic and a player both the Raptors and Warriors liked but had to move on from because of other roster situations.

For the Warriors, they will have Glenn Robinson III starting at the three with Alec Burks behind him. They could have really used McKennie.

Report: Warriors waiving Alfonzo McKinnie to keep Marquese Chriss

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The Warriors got D'Angelo Russell.

Now, they’re paying the price.

Russell is a young All-Star locked in the next four years, but acquiring him in a sign-and-trade hard-capped Golden State this season. Pressed against that line, the Warriors face tough decisions, including:

Should they keep unguaranteed Marquese Chriss (who had a vocal backing) or unguaranteed Alfonzo McKinnie (who was likely headed toward a rotation role)?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The Warriors had enough roster spots for both players. They just couldn’t afford both under the hard cap.

This puts a significant dent in Golden State’s depth at small forward. Glenn Robinson III will likely start after overtaking McKinnie, who entered the preseason as favorite to land that job. The backup options are grim. Alec Burks? He’s undersized, frequently injured and currently banged up. Jordan Poole? He’s even smaller and just a rookie.

But the Warriors also needed another big with Kevon Looney and Willie-Cauley Stein hurt. That’s where Chriss steps in.

The No. 8 pick just three years ago, Chriss struggled with the Suns, Rockets and Cavaliers. But he has looked better in Golden State and is just 22. He has the raw tools to develop into a helpful player.

With a minimum salary, McKinnie could get claimed on waivers by anyone. Many teams could use him – ironically, perhaps none more than the Warriors.

They might view themselves as a championship contender. They have Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. If Klay Thompson gets healthy by the playoffs, that’s an excellent trio. Russell could add value on the court or via trade.

But the hard cap and resulting depth problems are real a issue.

Report: ‘Important voice’ on Warriors urges GM to keep unguaranteed Marquese Chriss

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By acquiring D'Angelo Russell in a sign-and-trade, the Warriors hard-capped themselves for the rest of the season. That’s why Golden State signing Marquese Chriss to an unguaranteed contract seemingly carried little significance. For Chriss to make the regular-season roster, the Warriors would have to trade someone with a guaranteed salary or waive Alfonzo McKinnie, who might start at small forward.

But Chriss has drawn a backing.

Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic:

Not long after the Warriors’ first preseason game, there was a meeting somewhere in the bowels of Chase Center. It wasn’t a meeting, sources said, as much as it was a petition, a reiteration, an emphasis, to Warriors general manager Bob Myers. The request was simple in scope. Yet, it was also profound, considering it included an important voice in the locker room, considering it was about a player many have given up on.

The request? Get Marquese Chriss on this team.

Thompson doesn’t name that “important voice in the locker room,” but quotes Draymond Green:

“I think he’s been great all training camp,” Draymond Green said. “He’s been on a couple teams, and everybody has kind of written him off. But he’s been amazing in camp, and to me it looked like he’s figuring it out and he’s turning a corner.”

Green – who has touted his salary-cap savviness – should realize how difficult it’d be to keep Chriss.

Maybe another team would take No. 39 pick Alen Smailagic or No. 41 pick Eric Paschall off Golden State’s hands. But teams rarely throw away second-rounders so quickly.

Chriss was also available at the unguaranteed minimum for a reason. The No. 8 pick in the 2016 NBA draft, he has some raw tools. But he has been so undisciplined with the Suns, Rockets and Cavaliers.

In the Warriors’ preseason opener against the Lakers, Chriss had eight points, six rebounds and four assists in 14 minutes. That’s not enough to make much judgment, especially considering the far longer track record of dismal regular-season production. Perhaps, the 22-year-old Chriss has shown more signs of progress behind the scenes.

I still doubt Chriss makes the regular-season roster. If he doesn’t, we’ll see how that goes over with the “important voice in the locker room.”

If Chriss does make it, Golden State faces another interesting roster move to clear room.

Until they show otherwise, it’s too early to write off the Golden State Warriors

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This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

The Golden State Warriors will be without Klay Thompson to start the 2019-20 NBA season. They will also be without Kevin Durant in perpetuity. Which will be a bigger issue is cause for much debate.

Indeed, the Warriors won a record 73 regular season games before Durant arrived in 2016. Golden State was a budding dynasty before Durant arrived, and was thought to be a lock for the best team of all-time once he did.

Now things have changed.

Thompson, who tore his ACL in the 2019 NBA Finals, will not be with the team until 2020. He’s taking it slow, and he knows how important that is for his longevity. Meanwhile, there was some debate about Golden State’s fate without Thompson and without Durant. Will they be able to survive with just Curry? What is the athletic status of Draymond Green? And can a stable of below replacement-level players keep the Warriors in the championship hunt in 2020?

For starters, this team has proven time and time again they are not to be trifled with. Organizationally, the Warriors are the class of the league. Much like the San Antonio Spurs, it’s only smart to write them off once they actually miss the playoffs. We’ve been waiting for that from the Spurs since 1997; the Warriors since 2012.

And so here we are, with many hoping that Golden State’s maladies will prove fruitful for their teams in the Western Conference. That, dear reader, may very well be wise. While the road to the Finals may not be settled thanks to the Warriors’ injuries, the road to the playoffs looks much different.

Golden State will win less games this year than perhaps they ever have under Steve Kerr’s guidance. Westgate’s current win total for Golden State is set at 48.5. That would have been good enough to battle for the 8th seed out West last season. This year, without a singularly dominant team, it’s more reasonable for wins to be spread around. It’s also possible that the bottom of the playoff bracket in the Western Conference dips a bit, too.

So when we talk about writing off the Warriors, we have to talk about what “writing off” really means. The NBA is a league where narratives and motivation matters. The Warriors, banged up as they are, are a team that wants to prove that they can still win the way they did before, and without Durant.

Green will be leading that charge, but there will also be a strong push from Curry. Offensively, D’Angelo Russell should slot right into what they need. You should still expect to see those third quarter offensive onslaughts in 2019-20.

The only problem is that Golden State is working with a rotation that is also perhaps thinner than it’s ever been. The Warriors will be relying on guys like Willie Cauley-Stein, Alec Burks, Alfonzo McKinnie, and Glenn Robinson III.

That presents a real problem defensively, where the Warriors have shined. Yes, they returned players like Kevon Looney, and it’s really a system that works off of what green brings to the table. But there is an asymptote, we think, that Golden State will reach when it comes to plugging in just any old player. The Warriors won’t be as dominant on defense this season, and so scores may not be so disperate.

The system in San Francisco works. The culture works. And, let’s be honest, the veteran buyout market works. The talent on the Golden State Warriors is still largely made up of Hall of Famers. Those Hall of Famers are in their primes, and until we see them falter — or until some horror ethic injury befalls them — it’s unreasonable to write them off entirely.

Health, by the way, is a funny thing. We don’t know when this Golden State roster will have it. It’s almost guaranteed that Green will need to come in to the season in October in the kind of shape he left it in June. He can’t drag himself up and down the floor 25 pounds overweight the way he did all last year.

But if the Warriors have a modicum of good luck when it comes to the training room, they should be able to keep their heads above water. The rest of the NBA out West still has a lot of question marks. There are no guarantees for teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers, or Utah Jazz. That works to the Warriors’ advantage in the absence of both Thompson and Durant.

For now, in September, it’s much too early to write off Golden State. They may not be who they were in the past, but until they show us otherwise, they’re still the Warriors.