TORONTO — You can see what the Toronto Raptors like in their newest addition, the well-traveled, former Golden State Warrior Patrick McCaw. This front office loves its long wings — loves athletic defenders that can be deployed at, and guard, a variety of positions. It loves upside — loves project players with untapped potential and unique physical attributes, such as the 6’7 McCaw’s 6’10 wingspan. And it loves high-character, quiet professionals — grinders who just want to leave drama behind, get in a gym, and lock the door behind them.
So you can see why the Raptors were one of the first teams to express interest in McCaw when he became a free agent earlier this week. And you can see why McCaw jumped at the opportunity to come to Toronto.
“It’s a great team, a great organization. They reached out to me and I felt like it was a great fit for me,” McCaw said Friday, after officially joining the Raptors on a rest-of-season deal. “I’ve been watching the team play all year. They get after it on both ends of the floor. They like guys who are long, can defend and play multiple positions, and I think I fit in well.”
McCaw’s 2019 has been an interesting one, if your interests include the minutia of NBA’s collective bargaining agreement and the bureaucratic structures through which the league’s owners control costs.
After earning $1.86-million while filling a complementary yet valuable role on Golden State’s back-to-back title-winning teams the last two seasons, McCaw refused a one-year, $1.71-million qualifying offer as a restricted free agent this past summer, and reportedly declined a two-year, $5.2-million offer from the Warriors in October, beginning a holdout that extended well into the current season.
The reason for McCaw’s decision is ultimately unknown. Some reports indicate McCaw sought a longer, more-lucrative contract from the Warriors. Others say McCaw felt his development was being hindered by his erratic playing time with Golden State, and that the best thing for his future would be a more consistent, involved role. McCaw will only elaborate so much.
“It was just a personal decision for me to move on,” McCaw said Friday. “I loved my time there. The whole organization — coaches, players — helped me grow and develop as a young man coming in at 21-years-old to the NBA. There was no better situation for me to learn and grow. There’s no bad blood. It’s nothing but love for Golden State and what they did for me.”
During the holdout, any NBA team could have offered McCaw a contract which the Warriors would have had the right to match. But that didn’t happen until late December, when the Cleveland Cavaliers extended him a non-guaranteed, two-year, $6-million offer sheet. The Warriors declined their option to match it and retain McCaw, so off he went to Cleveland, where he appeared in three games earlier this month.
But Monday was an important day for non-guaranteed players like McCaw. If teams retained those players past Monday, their deals would become guaranteed. If teams didn’t want to be on the hook for the remainder of the contract, they would have to waive the non-guaranteed player. And so, after playing only 53 minutes for the Cavaliers, McCaw was waived and released, becoming an unrestricted free agent.
That’s when the Raptors swooped in and signed McCaw for the remainder of the reason at the $786,000 league minimum for veteran players, replacing Lorenzo Brown, who the Raptors waived and released Monday. It was a shrewd bit of roster-fringe management for the Raptors, as they replaced the dependable yet limited Brown with a younger, higher-upside wing with championship experience in McCaw.
“He’s got some interesting background, that’s for sure. He’s played in some pretty big games and played pretty well. Pretty versatile type player,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “Seems like a nice kid, very good family, nice background. So, we’ll see.”
Controversy remains when it comes to McCaw’s exit from Golden State, which the NBA is said to be currently investigating at the request of the Warriors. If it’s found the Cavaliers signed and waived McCaw so quickly in order to help the player free himself of his restricted status, the move could be interpreted as salary cap circumvention and punished by the league. In that case, the Cavaliers would face a fine or even the loss of a draft pick.
Of course, the result of that investigation will have no bearing on McCaw, whose holdout gamble has seemingly paid off, or the Raptors, who will have the athletic defender at their disposal going forward.
McCaw’s brief NBA sample doesn’t tell you much, as he averaged only 16 minutes per night with the Warriors, picking up four points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 0.6 steals per game. He played to a minus-3.8 net rating and shot 41 per cent from the field in the 2017-18 season, but again, the sample’s small.
His performance, and therefore his playing time, was inconsistent throughout his sophomore season, as he bobbed in and out of Warriors head coach Steve Kerr’s rotations. A fractured left wrist held him out for 13 games at one point, and he finished the season with double-figures scoring in only three of his 57 games played.
His season was also hampered by a lumbosacral bone bruise suffered in a scary spill during a game in late March that resulted in McCaw being stretchered off the floor. He missed two months with the injury, finally returning for garbage time run during Game 6 of the Western Conference finals. He played a few minutes here and there in the NBA Finals, as the Warriors romped to a second-consecutive championship.
“It put everything into perspective — about basketball, about life in general. Looking back on it, it was one of the scariest moments of my life,” McCaw said of the freak injury. “Things could be a lot different for me right now. I’m just so appreciative that things went the right way for me.”
Between the wrist injury, the spine injury, and the holdout, McCaw has played only 15 games of NBA basketball since February 12, 2018. Now, 11 months later, he’ll try to wrest his career back on track with the Raptors.
“Everything kind of happened pretty fast. Going from patiently waiting for an offer sheet and it happening so quickly, getting that call, and I was just back working,” he said. “The past couple weeks have just been all over the place. But it’s exciting because I know I’m back working, I know I’m back getting the opportunity that I feel like I deserve.”
Of course, Toronto has plenty of wing depth as is, and barring injury or an excess of garbage time minutes, it’s unclear where McCaw’s playing time will come. It could make sense for him to spend some time with Raptors 905 in the foreseeable future, especially considering how little he’s played over the last year. But it remains to be seen how the Raptors plan to work McCaw in.
“Hopefully he can space and attack, and handle the ball — and he can defend. Those are the things he’s supposed to be able to do,” Nurse said. “I think he sees the game pretty well from what I’ve watched, film-wise. He’s a little bit of a risk-taker defensively, but that’s okay. We like that. So, we’ll just see. We’ll throw him in there, play the one, two, three — wherever he fits in.”
How the Raptors handle McCaw beyond this season will likewise be interesting to watch. He’ll be back in restricted free agency limbo with his new team this summer, and the Raptors will be able to retain his rights with a qualifying offer just like the Warriors did months ago. McCaw had the option to sit out the remainder of the season and become an unrestricted free agent after the NBA Finals. But clearly something incentivized him to sign with Toronto and forego that option.
“It’s exciting just to be back in the flow of the NBA,” he said. “Regardless of if it’s a day, if it’s a year — just being back in the atmosphere around coaches and players who know the game and can help you grow. And that’s all I’ve been waiting for these past couple months. So, it’s exciting I’ve gotten this opportunity. I’m ready to get to work.”