Steph Curry put on a SHOW tonight to keep the Warriors West Group C hopes alive ? 35 PTS | 6 REB | 7 3PM Their fourth NBA In-Season Tournament game is Tuesday, 11/28 vs. SAC on TNT ?

During NBA free agency this past July, several Golden State Warriors decision-makers made pitches to journeyman forward Dario Saric that could be distilled to the same four words: “We need you. Badly.

After ping-ponging among four teams in seven years, Saric, 29, appreciated being wanted. There was just one problem: The Warriors could only offer him a one-year minimum contract worth $2 million, an 80% pay cut from his most recent salary with the Suns and Thunder.

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“The money matters, sure,” said Saric, who has quickly become a key rotation player for Golden State. “More than anything, though, I was just looking for an opportunity.”

Since the 76ers billed him as a franchise-saver almost a decade ago, Saric has heard a lot about what he isn’t: an elite athlete, a great defender, a go-to option. But when the Warriors courted him in free agency, they were more interested in all Saric could provide a dormant dynasty.

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At 6-foot-10, 225 pounds, with a smooth shooting motion and high basketball IQ, he is the type of big floor spacer that Golden State had lacked for a while. By simply limiting mistakes, rolling hard to the rim, finding open shooters and hitting the occasional jumper, Saric has emerged as one of the NBA’s best bargains.

Despite averaging his most minutes in four years, his 0.9 turnover-per-game rate is the lowest of his career. Saric’s 6.3 rebounds per game rank second on the Warriors. And aside from perennial MVP candidate Stephen Curry, he is the team’s only player with multiple 20-point games this season.

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“We were shocked that we got him on the minimum,” said head coach Steve Kerr, who has started Saric three in the Warriors’ 15 games. “He’s been one of our best players, and one of our most consistent players night in and night out.”

Added center Kevon Looney: “Playing against him in the past throughout my whole career, I know how good he was. I know how tough he is, and how good of a playmaker he is. … He’s been a real bright spot for us.”

Few can fault Kerr and Looney for not understanding why Saric’s market value was so low this past summer. After Phoenix dealt him to Oklahoma City in February, he was an underrated factor behind the Thunder’s sped-up rebuild, shooting 39.1% from 3-point range and mentoring younger teammates.

But as Saric waited out free agency in his hometown of Šibenik, Croatia, his best offers barely rose above the minimum. This was yet another letdown in a career rife with them. After failing to fulfill his pre-draft hype in two-plus seasons in Philadelphia, the 2014 lottery pick was packaged in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota, where he struggled adjusting to a reduced role.

Just 68 games later, the Timberwolves unloaded Saric to the Suns on draft night. Finally free to showcase his versatility, he felt at home enough to sign a three-year, $27 million extension with Phoenix in November 2020. By the time Saric suited up for Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals, he figured he had what he’d wanted: a team that valued him, a role that suited his strengths and a shot at a title.

Then, late in the first quarter, he chased down a loose ball, found an open Jae Crowder along the wing and felt a pop in his right knee. An MRI exam would confirm Saric’s worst fear: torn ACL.

As he watched his teammates squander a 2-0 series lead over the Bucks to fall in six games, Saric wondered: What if he had stayed healthy? Could he have helped lift the Suns to their first NBA championship?

“And that wasn’t even the hardest part,” Saric said. “All my teammates left a couple days later, and I was left rehabbing on my own in Phoenix. That’s when reality really set in. I was like, ‘Man, why me? ’ ”

Saric missed the entire next season. When he finally returned in October 2022 from a 470-day hiatus between games, he was noticeably slower.

By the time the Suns flipped him to the Thunder at the trade deadline for forward Darius Bazley, Saric had career-low averages in points (5.8), steals (0.4), blocks (0.1) and minutes (14.4). A solid 20-game stint in Oklahoma City wouldn’t be enough to resuscitate his free-agency stock. At least, not in the eyes of teams other than the Warriors.

As soon as free agency opened, Golden State general manager Mike Dunleavy contacted Saric’s agent, Jared Mucha. The Warriors considered Saric worthy of at least a taxpayer mid-level exception, Dunleavy told Mucha, but the new collective bargaining agreement left high-spending teams like Golden State with only minimum contracts. No one else available on a minimum rivaled Saric on the Warriors’ board.

YouTube breakdowns of the team’s offense confirmed for Saric what Mucha had told him: This was the best option basketball-wise. The question, though, was the money. A former NBA Rookie of the Year runner-up, Saric had a tough time accepting that he couldn’t land a far bigger contract.

“I had offers on the table for slightly more than the minimum,” said Saric, who didn’t agree to sign with Golden State until eight days into free agency. “But ultimately, the Warriors just made too much sense. Their playing style fit me. Also, Mike (Dunleavy), Steve (Kerr) and (former Suns teammate) Chris (Paul) recruited me. That meant a lot.”

Saric earned his famous nickname, “the Homie,” by being the consummate teammate. But if anyone still doubted his loyalty to the Warriors, they needed only to watch him sprint to Klay Thompson’s defense last week when Thompson’s shoving match with Timberwolves forward Jaden McDaniels escalated into a full-blown melee.

This looked personal for Saric, who has been open about the fact he doesn’t think he got a fair chance in Minnesota.

“It’s nice to be wanted,” Saric said. “The Warriors show me that love e

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