OAKLAND - Seventeen months ago, just inside the Golden State Warriors locker room in Oracle Arena, Patrick McCaw made a declaration that he'd like to be the best player to ever touch a basketball when he finished his career.
Naturally, the pursuit of that goal creates a conflict that prioritizes self in a team sport, especially when McCaw, a role player on a championship team, feels ready to take the step. For the last year - after turning down a two-year offer from the Warriors at the onset of the season - McCaw has taken a rollercoaster journey that's put him on three teams in six months.
Now a member of the Toronto Raptors, McCaw admits his pursuit towards goat status may have clouded his judgment on how to get there.
"I feel like that was part of it," McCaw told NBC Sports Bay Area Wednesday. "I felt like I had so many different thoughts and emotions that nobody could really tell me anything."
Three years ago, on makeshift in front of Oakland's Henry J. Kaiser building, Warriors guard Andre Iguodala, days after Golden State captured its second title in as many years, proclaimed McCaw would soon take his job. In the months leading to Iguodala's comments, the statement seemed like a safe bet. After Golden State traded for the right to draft McCaw 38th in the 2016 NBA Draft, he responded with a solid rookie season, starting 20 games. In Game 1 of a first-round series against the Portland Trailblazers, he scored 19 points starting in place of the injured Kevin Durant.
In the following season, McCaw showed flashes of his rookie magic, scoring 16 points, adding a career-high seven assits and four assists in a loss to the Kings. But inconsistent play and a late injury to his spine that nearly ended his career impeded his progress. With a team centered around a hall of fame core of Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, McCaw's minutes weren't likely to increase, leaving his goals in peril.
"I didn't feel like I would get to that level in Oakland." But that was just thinking from my own course, just for my own good. I was just like man, I want this, I want this."
Adding to McCaw's angst, the Warriors signed guard Nick Young to a one-year, $5.2 million contract less than a month after Iguodala's parade declaration. For much of his second season, the two battled for playing time. In the end, it was Young on the floor as the Warriors captured their second straight title, not McCaw. Worse, McCaw says the experience caused him to compare his situation to others around the league.
"Just seeing young guys in the league that weren't as good as me," McCaw said. "That they were shining and I felt I could be doing the same. I felt I was just as good as him and could be doing the same thing they were doing. I think that was my biggest thing like 'man, I could be doing what he's doing' that was the biggest thing."
Despite a subpar season, the Warriors extended a $1.7 million qualifying to McCaw weeks after the parade. But the 23-year old forward already had his mind made up, even after Golden State presented a two-year, $5.2 million offer in September, as the team opened training camp.
"Like late August before training camp started," McCaw said. "I was like 'there's no way I can go back.' I was in such a self-centered, self-absorbed state where I just wanted to transition into something different. There's nobody, there's no thing that could really change my mind."
McCaw's contract impasse dragged on until December, when McCaw signed a two-year, $6 million offer sheet with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Less than two weeks later, he was waived, making him unrestricted free agent, opening the door to sign with the Raptors.
His decision to go great lengths to leave the Warriors were puzzling. Hours after the Warriors clinched the title last season, McCaw said he'd like to remain on the team. More curious, he says the decision isolated him from his family and agent as he sought to find a situation that would yield more playing time. While most of his teammates disagreed with his approach, most made a point not to bring it up in conversations.
"Everybody has their own situations," Warriors forward Kevon Leonard said. "We're more than just basketball players. We talk about life, about friendships, we all have our own situations as far as contracts and free agency. We just try to catch up and talk about life."
"That's his business." Warriors big man Jordan Bell added. "Only you know how much you're worth and what your value is. That's not something I should put my opinion on. If he thinks he's worth a hundred mil, I can't tell him he's not worth a hundred mil if he think he's worth a hundred mil."
Even when Bell, whom the Warriors can extend a $1.8 million qualifying offer, sought McCaw's advice for a similar situation, his former teammate wouldn't talk free agency.
"I don't care about it," McCaw said. "Don't worry about it, your season play is what will get you paid."
Since signing with the Raptors, McCaw has gotten less playing time than his time Golden State, averaging just 2.7 points, 1.7 rebounds in 13 minutes. Worse, his older brother Jeffrey died under circumstances McCaw declined to share.
"It's been a lot to embrace losing somebody close to me [die], that's my brother, my oldest brother, my only brother," McCaw said. "I think I've been doing pretty fine with it not letting my emotions get in the way. Because losing somebody like that knowing you can't get them back. You try not to think about it but it's tough."
Entering the Finals - and his first matchup against his former team- McCaw contends he's learned a lot from last summer. With Game 1 less than 24 hours away, he doesn't want to go back to the mindset that forced him to leave the Bay Area, which caused a decision he wouldn't have made in hindsight.
"Thinking back on it, I can't even try to think like that no more," McCaw said. Where I'm at now, I probably would've done it a little differently. Being in the headspace I am now, I would have already signed in the summer."
I wouldn't say there's regret, I'm still alive, I'm still breathing," he added. "I still get that opportunity to play and who knows if it's back in Golden State, if it's back in Toronto, anything could possibly transpire."
As McCaw walked off the court in Toronto Wednesday, counting down the hours until his third straight NBA Finals appearance, being the greatest is still on his mind, even if it isn't attainable at the moment.
"That's still the goal," McCaw said. "I promise you that's still that goal. I may not be out there vocal with it but that's still the goal, trust me. It's going to happen. The cream always rises to the top. I'm taking a little detour right now but it's gonna be back on the road."