In the NBA, tough decisions must be made.
Sometimes it’s a front office deciding to go in another direction with a trade or release. Other times, it’s a coach having to pull a guy out of the active rotation. Most of the time, however, it’s a player figuring out the next move to benefit his career.
Patrick McCaw appeared to have two choices: Accept the Golden State Warriors’ reported two-year, $5.2 million contract offer or take the organization’s one-year, $1.7 million qualifying offer to stick around and earn some money in the summer of 2019.
Surprisingly enough, McCaw picked the option nobody expected him to. He turned down not only the contract offer, but the qualifying offer as well, leaving guaranteed money on the table to remain a restricted free agent.
The Cleveland Cavaliers officially signed McCaw to a two-year, $6 million offer sheet, with non-guaranteed money, on Friday. With 48 hours to match afterward, the Warriors decided against it, allowing him to move on and get started in Cleveland.
Sporting a fresh haircut, a wine-and-gold jersey and a new number, McCaw has no regrets about how he handled the situation.
“I feel great. I bet on myself and I stayed positive,” McCaw said after his first practice with the Cavaliers. “A lot of guys in my position being 22, 23 years old probably would never take that chance just because they don’t know what the outcome could possibly be.
“And I know I had injuries and things like that last season. I’ve just been continuing to work and get better and constantly make strides within myself. That’s all it’s been. Just focusing on myself, getting better within myself and telling myself I can be great at this game.”
It’s hard to see why McCaw would pick this path, one that goes from an assured salary with a championship franchise to an injury-ridden, eight-win team comprised of a bunch of guards and an uncertain future.
Perhaps it goes back to the debate between what to prioritize.
One player may prefer winning a title regardless of role, whereas another might desire a greater challenge individually to achieve something more special. McCaw probably belongs to the latter line of thinking, though, he didn’t reveal why he didn’t want to return to the Bay Area.
“That’s a tough question,” McCaw said. “I loved playing in Golden State. My teammates, coaches…It was nothing really…nothing really stands out to me to say I didn’t want to go back. I think it was just a personal thing where I was just like, I think it was just time for me to move on and for a new opportunity within myself.
“It was nothing against Golden State, front office, coaches, players, the environment – it had nothing to do with any of that. It was just a personal thing and I just wanted a new opportunity to move on. And I can’t say any other thing but it was just all me.”
McCaw’s new head coach in Cleveland, Larry Drew, guesses that the decision is mostly about a chance to showcase his talents in a different way.
“It just tells me that this kid wants to play,” Drew said. “He wants to show people what he’s capable of. And certainly, to turn down going back to where you’ve had success, team success, just tells me this kid really wants to get into a situation where he can play, where he can show who he is.
“And I totally get that, I totally understand that. I’m really surprised that he’s been out this long because I think he’s a company guy. I think he’s about team. And certainly, he’s about winning.”
In just one day, Drew is already impressed. McCaw got up and down the floor well in his first live practice this season.
McCaw has done his part to stay in shape and game-ready, working on his shot and conditioning with his father, so keeping up wasn’t too difficult.
“I was kinda more running off excitement,” McCaw said. “Just to get back on the floor again and being back in this type of environment, it was a thrill for me. I just was so happy that I got to practice today and be around my new teammates and coaches. It was fun.
“It’s been an everyday grind for me. I haven’t been this long away from the game, but I’ve just been studying, staying positive within myself and building that confidence. When my number, my opportunity presents itself, I’ll be ready.”
Drew also saw him do a few defensive things that the team has had troubles with doing thus far, and that is the first and foremost part of McCaw’s game that the Cavaliers are raving over the most.
They are more than happy to use to the 6-foot-7 swingman’s length to their advantage, whether it be his deflections, steals or pressuring a matchup on the ball.
“He really gets down in a stance,” Drew said. “You can’t play with the ball in front of him. He’s got a knack for coming up with it.”
Basketball Insiders asked both Drew and McCaw about the 23-year-old’s natural position. The coach had more of a clear answer than the player.
“That’s a good question,” Drew said. “I don’t know what his natural position is. I think he has the ability to play three positions. I think he handles the ball well enough, he makes good enough decisions as a one or a two. He really defends well on the ball.
“As far as being a three, I think some matchups he can play some three. I don’t know if that’ll be a natural position for him because he’s not very big, but there are players like him. And he kinda reminds me of a Corey Brewer-type guy that you can move around and play in different spots. They may not look strong, but they have that wiry strength. And I think that’s who he is. So he’ll be able to move around and I believe play three positions.”
McCaw tends to agree with Drew on his assessment, though, he finds it even simpler than that.
“I just consider myself a basketball player,” McCaw said.
So how does this basketball player fit with the Cavaliers?
Sticking with the defensive end, Drew admitted McCaw could be assigned to lock down teams’ perimeter threats, as well as scoring point guards—an area that Cleveland has adjusted to in recent weeks with Alec Burks playing that role.
McCaw’s foot speed allows him to move stride for stride with whomever he’s matched up with, so it’s an easy decision. But defense isn’t the only aspect of his game to praise.
“He brings an energy,” Drew said. “I wouldn’t say that it’s something we don’t have, but it’s something that we certainly can add to. His energy, the way he moves without the basketball. He kinda slithers through the lane a lot.”
Drew is also pleased with how quickly McCaw has processed Cleveland’s playbook in such a brief amount of time. The primary focus at the start will be to get acclimated with what the team wants to do. The sooner he picks things up, the sooner he’ll pick up playing time.
While it’ll be a “cram” session over the next few days, Drew doesn’t want to run McCaw into the ground. It will be a gradual process of getting him comfortable in a fresh, healthy environment.
McCaw is absolutely fine with that and embraces his new lease on NBA life.
“I think just, right now, getting a feel,” McCaw said of his role. “Picking the coaches’ brains, teammates’ brains, seeing how guys play and getting a feel for everybody. And I think within that time, I’ll start to catch a rhythm and start to see what guys like to do and what they don’t like to do and I’ll just fit right in.”
The mix of young players and veterans excites McCaw, who can’t wait to make himself acquainted with both groups in the locker room.
He’ll ask a ton of questions to the guys who have been there, done that to get their perspective. As for those with less experience, it’ll be easier for him to relate being almost at the same level. After all, this is only McCaw’s third season of professional ball.
McCaw’s first two campaigns resulted in championship gold. This one, in all likelihood, won’t even come close to that.
But he is okay with it because that part of his life is over and done with. It’s on to a new city with different goals and aspirations.
Following months upon months of no phone calls, McCaw got a bite. He has the floor he desires with the Cavaliers. Year three is finally here, and it’s full speed ahead.
“I can’t really look back on the past two months and how I handled the whole situation,” McCaw said. “I can only continue to focus on now and the future, and that’s all I’m waiting for.”