One of the most important components of a successful team is self-evaluation. This concept permeates every facet of decision-making, from identifying needs for the offseason to lineup management during games. Unfortunately, the 2011-12 Warriors fail at this in every conceivable level and the continuance of this problem has helped dig the team into their current hole.
The Warriors’ role in the Jeremy Lin saga has been much discussed, including at RealGM. However, one underreported part of the story has been why the Warriors made the move. Since Lin was cut during the offseason, a few different rules applied to his departure.
First, it could not have been done for roster size purposes since those limits do not apply during that portion of the offseason. As such, the move was done for personnel evaluation and/or salary purposes. At first glance, that makes some sence because Golden State justified the move as one part of clearing the space to make an offer sheet for DeAndre Jordan. At first glance, Lin’s $762,195 salary goes a long way to making a better offer for the Clippers’ big man. The problem with this logic (which has not been discussed) is that since the Warriors were under the minimum number of roster spots, the NBA has a provision that a salary cap hold stays on the books for the minimum salary for each spot where there is not a player under contract. As such, the actual gain in salary flexibility for the Lin move is the difference between his salary and the cap hold: $272,015. That amount of money is pocket change in a contract offer, even to a notoriously frugal owner in Donald Sterling.
What’s more, the decision to waive Jeremy Lin came before the first team practice after a prolonged lockout that left players in dramatically different places physically due to the time off. The organization knew Lin was an extremely hard worker who was dedicated to making a career in the NBA. It would follow that an extended summer of time, clear knowledge of his correctable flaws, and a fierce desire to improve them would yield a better player than the one they saw on the court the previous season. So of course they coupled this hack job of a move on a contract the Clippers did not even wait a full week to match with delaying the signing of rookies Klay Thompson and Jeremy Tyler (both for cap hold purposes related to Jordan) while the team had a small window of practices to develop and analyze their talent.
Unsurprisingly, the Clippers matched the offer and the Warriors never used the minimal cap flexibility the Lin, Thompson, and Tyler decisions gave them since they are still under the salary cap (even after overpaying for Kwame Brown). The other problem here as it relates to management is that Warriors’ brass seems unwilling to have anyone take blame as being the person who made this decision- that may be one of the “benefits” of having too many cooks in the front office kitchen, yet it illuminates problems of accountability and leadership.
Over the course of the year, I have had a few conversations with Ekpe Udoh about how he sees himself and his role on the floor moving forward. In every single one of these conversations, Udoh has described himself as a natural power forward. This makes complete sense considering his build and skill-set even if the Warriors’ current talent does not really make it possible. Udoh has specifically talked about his troubles guarding big centers with strong back to the basket games, largely because those guys provide the greatest physical and skill challenge for someone without the size to combat their strengths.
So of course, Mark Jackson said after Wednesday’s loss to Memphis and Marc Gasol that Udoh is better guarding 5’s than 4’s. Beyond being completely wrong both in theory and in practice (while I do not like defensive metrics, centers guarded by Udoh have a two-point advantage in PER over PF’s), it poses major problems for roster management moving forward. Jackson further discussed the fact that he did not feel Andris Biedrins provided sufficient offense to keep him on the floor against Memphis, which poses additional questions for a team whose three best players are all strong offensive players and poor defenders.
Considering these issues along with the horrible timeout usage and incomprehensible lineup decisions discussed other times and other places, it has become abundantly clear that Mark Jackson is not ready to be a head coach in the NBA.
Building a Team
The Warriors are a fatally flawed team at any level of health. A team built around a core of Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis and David Lee needs a series of incredibly specific and logistically impossible pieces in order to function as anything other than a niche squad. Since Lee provides a fairly strong face-up game along with deplorable defense and supremely overrated rebounding (he stands at 58th among qualified players in Rebound Rate after finishing 56th last season), a team with him would need a true defensive anchor at center to make up for those shortcomings. Unfortunately, those are few and far between in today’s NBA and the team would still be susceptible to stretch 4’s since even Dwight Howard cannot guard a wide-open Channing Frye or Marreese Speights on threes and deep mid-range shots.
In the backcourt, both Ellis and Curry function more comfortably with the ball in their hands. Incidentally, Curry facilitates better offensive function either on and off the ball since he is a better creator for others than Ellis while also making smarter shots at a better rate. Even with all that, the team has spent two and a half seasons rejecting offers for each player despite the fact that both would benefit from a more logical partner in crime. What’s more, swapping either with a more cohesive compatriot would improve the team defense unless the trade was for Jimmer Fredette or Brook Lopez- it proves hard to conceive of a worse defensive foundation than Lee, Ellis and Curry.
On top of that, the Warriors have created a core that still needs a floor-stretcher since Ellis should not be taking three-point shots. As specific as the needs are at center next to Lee, the small forward spot could be almost as hard a spot to fill optimally.
The front office does deserve credit for picking up some nice pieces in Dominic McGuire and Nate Robinson off the scrap heap this season, even if the coaching staff continues to misuse them in different ways. However, adding rotation players for small salaries can only work as a short-term buffer unless it can be accomplished consistently since players who rise from that place quickly have the chance to get their big paycheck, as Warriors fans know well from C.J. Watson and Anthony Morrow in 2010. McGuire and Robinson should be much appreciated and all involved get props on their addition, yet they do little in the long-term to fix what is ailing the organization.
The Overall Problem: "Show me what you do and I'll tell you what you believe"
Over the last few weeks, I have struggled with finding the proper way to fit all of these flaws together. In my eyes, the problems stem from the absolute top: throughout the duration of their tenure, each and every major decision from the top has been about perception instead of on-court success. Giving away picks and players to overpay Lee (who the Knicks were never going to re-sign), the DeAndre Jordan Debacle, and obscene demands for Ellis in trades all fit this bill.
Think about the hiring of Mark Jackson- Joe Lacob gave a set of accurate and logical reasons why the team fired Keith Smart and then made a hire that flew in the face of most of it.
They let go Jeremy Lin and Reggie Williams while holding their two biggest rookies out of practice on a fly by night hope that the Clippers would not match a reasonable offer to Jordan, a big who the team would have had to sit at the end of games anyway because of his abysmal free throw shooting.
Their devotion to Lee and overvaluing of Ellis has cost the team numerous opportunities to retool while the sickening use of the amnesty provision on Charlie Bell cost the Warriors their biggest component piece in a potential rebuild at any point in the next few seasons.
All of these calls have left a team that forces the answering of a tough question: If it were theoretically possible to trade all of the players on a team, including European rights held, while retaining the current CBA rules and salary structure, what teams would you not trade the Warriors’ current squad for? My answer is two- Charlotte and Orlando (because Dwight Howard would leave). That’s it.
Throughout this entire string of short-sighted and flawed decisions, what kept on coming from the front office (and Mark Jackson since he was hired) has been that this team will be a playoff team and that will happen quickly. Never mind the fact that the roster is grotesquely constructed with very little flexibility in terms of salary or trade assets in a stacked conference where all of the teams better than the Warriors improved this offseason. Raising expectations is one thing, yet making important decisions with that frame of reference is a whole different kettle of fish.
Fom most accounts the two biggest decision-makers in the front office right now are the two people who should have the least say in the room- Lacob and Larry Riley. While both of them have their flashes, I would put infinitely more trust in either Jerry West or Bob Myers than either Lacob or Riley. Adding West and Myers were the two best decisions ownership has made since they took over the team, yet all accounts show them being in the conversation but not the final shot-callers. I sincerely doubt that boneheaded moves like fighting to keep the current core and using the amnesty on Charlie Bell would have happened if West controlled the room- each would be worse than any move made while he was the decision-maker in any of his previous stops.
The biggest loser in all of this is the same one it always seems to be with the Warriors: the fans. Seeing the team cheer raucously for positive things even when the team was down 15 in the first few minutes against the Grizzlies provided an unneeded reminder of how remarkable the Warriors faithful continue to be. Someone mentioned to me years ago their concept that part of the reason Golden State had been so bad for so long was that the fans were actually too good- by continuing to show up even when the team did not warrant it, they sent the message that cutting corners and producing an inferior product would not hurt the bottom line if the team were viewed as a business. While this gave Chris Cohan leeway to do what he did, I firmly believe that Joe Lacob and Peter Guber are doing what they think is best for the franchise even if artificially and incorrectly raising expectations is a fool’s errand in Warriorsland since the fans need to reason to be excited and enthusiastic about the team.
When all is said and done, it comes down to a quote most commonly attributed to Jerry Rubin: "Show me what you do and I'll tell you what you believe."
The best fans in the NBA deserve a quality team and a front office committed to putting the best possible product on the floor each and every night moving forward without focus on superficial things like pre-season buzz or who makes the All-Star team. Some may complain that the NBA continually tilts towards the big markets, yet I see teams in markets like Oklahoma City, Portland, San Antonio, Denver and Atlanta continue to stick at heights that would make Warriors fans happy beyond measure through proper management, honest talent evaluation and courage. Getting the small things right helps, though all the decision-makers should need to remember is one thing: $272,015.