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Warriors’ Quinn Cook is making a push to stick around for the playoffs

Stephen Curry’s injury could open the door for the two-way player

The Atlanta Hawks waived Quinn Cook just before the NBA season was about to begin. After going to the G League, the journeyman is starting at point guard for the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors while Stephen Curry is sidelined.

Cook has worked to dramatically change his fortunes in a matter of months. The two-way player is fighting for a playoff roster spot with the Warriors.

“I’ve never wanted to quit, as much as I was told no,” Cook said. “I never was going to give up on my dream. It was just more motivation for me. I just wanted to keep pushing.”

Nothing has come easy for Cook since he starred at Duke University.

The 2011 McDonald’s All-American averaged 16 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2 assists as a senior with the Blue Devils during the 2014-15 season. The Washington, D.C., native, however, was not selected in the 2015 NBA draft.

Cook was invited to training camp with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2015 but was waived before the season began. He played for the Cavs’ D-League affiliate Canton Charge, where he was the 2016 D-League Rookie of the Year after averaging 19.6 points and 5.4 assists and nailing a team-high 86 3-pointers. The New Orleans Pelicans cut him in training camp in 2016.

Cook finally made it to the NBA when he signed a 10-day contract with the Dallas Mavericks on Feb 26, 2017, but they didn’t re-sign him after his contract expired. He spent most of the 2016-17 season playing for D-League Canton but finished the season playing on two 10-day contracts with the Pelicans and scored 22 points against the Warriors. The Pelicans, however, waived Cook on July 25 after he played for their summer league team.

“I dominated summer league, and then they signed [Rajon] Rondo, Darius Miller, and then it was a numbers game. They released me,” Cook said.

Cook said he had a couple of options to sign professionally overseas last offseason, but he didn’t take them seriously because he “knew he was an NBA player.” He said he was also offered about 10 two-way contracts with NBA teams before training camp this season, including one from the Warriors that he seriously considered. Two-way contracts, which are new this season, allow a player to be part of a G League team and its parent NBA club. By signing a two-way contract for either one year or two years, a player can spend up to 45 days with the NBA team.

To get back to the NBA without a training camp invite, Cook believed a two-way deal was a good option.

“It gives guys another opportunity to keep their dream alive,” Cook said. “To still be on an NBA roster and spend time up with an NBA [team]. I don’t want to say you get lost overseas, because obviously guys go overseas and can come back and can still get in the NBA. But I think how the NBA uses the G League, sending guys, drafting and stashing players, assigning players … and now with the two-way, so many eyes are on the G League and it gives you an opportunity to audition for 30 NBA teams on a nightly basis.”

Cook ended up signing with the Hawks, who offered a non-guaranteed two-year contract. The deal would become fully guaranteed if he was still on the team two days before the start of the regular season. Atlanta, however, waived him Oct. 13, to Cook’s chagrin.

“I was mad. I was just wondering why, because I felt I performed well in practice and pickup when I was there,” Cook said. “I thought it was finally my time to get an opportunity and stability for a season in the NBA. When they let me go, I was definitely mad, but more motivated. I’d been down this lane before. This was nothing new.”

As soon as Cook was waived, the Warriors were among the NBA teams that immediately showed interest in signing him to a two-way deal. Cook accepted Golden State’s offer and headed to the beach at Santa Cruz, California, to play for its G League team. Part of the attraction of going to Santa Cruz was that Cook believed the Warriors had a “track record” of using guys in the G League.

Cook’s goal was to prove he could be a leader with Santa Cruz. The 6-foot-2, 179-pounder also proved he could be intimidating offensively as he averaged a team-high 25.3 points and 8.1 assists in 29 G League games this season.

“It meant a lot to me that [the Warriors] still wanted me to come. … There was no hesitation,” Cook said. “Two-way or not, I just wanted to be a part of the organization.”

Cook had been up and down with the Warriors during the first half of the season, playing sparingly while averaging 2.9 points and 1.5 assists in 11 games before the NBA All-Star break. He acknowledged he was tentative trying to get others involved initially and worked to learn the Warriors’ system after not being in training camp.

“When you play for Golden State, everybody is paying attention,” Cook said. “It was definitely different. I just wanted to make the right plays and not step on any toes.”

With Curry sidelined with ankle and knee injuries recently, Cook’s role with the reigning champs suddenly heightened as a starter getting major minutes. Curry, coach Steve Kerr and other members of the Warriors impressed on Cook to be aggressive offensively like he was in the G League, and he listened.

With Curry out with an ankle injury, Cook had a breakthrough game, with 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting and five 3-pointers, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in 40 minutes on March 16 against the Sacramento Kings. Cook followed the next day with 28 points, a scoring record for a two-way player, and five 3-pointers against the Phoenix Suns. Cook averaged 21.5 points, 3.2 made 3-pointers and 3.2 assists in four games from March 14-19.

Cook credited the “constant support and confidence” from the Warriors’ coaching staff and his teammates.

“My coaches and teammates let me know, ‘We know what you can do. We brought you here for a reason. We need you to be this guy,’ ” Cook said. “They were giving me confidence every single day. Coach Kerr would get mad at me when I didn’t shoot. Draymond [Green], Kevin [Durant], all those guys would get mad at me when I didn’t shoot. To have guys like that give you confidence, you could do nothing but get better. I just was lucky to have those guys believe in me.”

Curry describes Cook as an NBA player.

“He’s on this team for a reason, and he has an amazing opportunity to really show what he was about in helping a team accomplish a goal,” Curry said. “To not be passive when he is out there on the court. Not be anybody else. Be aggressive. Be a scorer. Be a playmaker and do what they brought him here for.

“At that point, he can be proud of himself and what he is about. I try to encourage that mindset as much as I can. … He has been playing amazing. I’m sure that will continue throughout the rest of the regular season and whatever happens after that.”

While Kerr had previously said that Cook would not be on the playoff roster, Cook’s play and Curry’s health might change that.

Curry returned from his ankle injury last Friday against the Hawks, but that didn’t last long, as he suffered a knee strain. The two-time NBA MVP is expected to miss the first round of the playoffs, according to Kerr. A source told The Undefeated that the injury-plagued Warriors are seriously considering signing Cook for the remainder of the season. Doing so would mean the Warriors would have to cut a player on their 15-man roster. Cook’s agent, Jim Tanner, told The Undefeated on Monday that the Warriors have not talked to him about signing his client for the rest of the season.

Cook is “staying in the moment” and not dwelling on what the Warriors’ ultimate verdict will be. He added that if he didn’t make the playoff roster, his goal would be to keep pushing his teammates in practice to help them get ready.

“I haven’t heard anything. We haven’t discussed anything,” Cook said. “I’m only controlling what I can control. I can’t control that. All I can do is keep being a great teammate and pushing guys in practice. If I have to play extended minutes, just keep playing consistent. We’re just focused on getting guys healthy, finishing the season strong and just locking into getting a great playoff run.

“I’ve [worried] before when I’ve tried to make teams. When you start thinking ahead and about what can happen, for me, I don’t play as well. I just like to stay in the moment and control what I can control. When you start thinking hypothetically, you don’t perform as well. I’m just staying in the moment, man.”

The Warriors have nine regular-season games left, with the finale on April 10. The decision whether to keep Cook could be made just before the postseason, when Curry is re-evaluated. And if Cook isn’t signed for the playoffs, the 25-year-old hopes that he has proved himself worthy of a guaranteed contract in the NBA next season.

“I just wanted to show that I truly belong at this level as an NBA player, no questions asked,” Cook said.

Said Kerr: “He’s going to be in this league for a long time. Hopefully, with us.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.