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Expectations & Timelines: The Curry Warriors

Calibrating expectations for your core coming out of a first promising playoff run is one of the most challenging tasks a franchise must confront.

There is considerable risk in falling in love with the potential of your own players, convincing yourself to do nothing major, while a trade of a key component for a finishing piece endangers the status quo.

The Chicago Bulls won two games in the first round of the 2006 NBA Playoffs against the eventual champion Miami Heat. Luol Deng was becoming one of the league’s best emerging jack of all trades at just 20 years old, while Ben Gordon was a promising 22-year-old individual scorer. Tyson Chandler fit with the roster in regards to his age, 23, but he appeared to be slowing in his development after his fifth NBA regular season and an awful playoff series against the Heat.

The Bulls were positively in love with Deng at that point and their bold move to instantly improve their playoff chances was to sign a 32-year-old Ben Wallace away from a division rival. Wallace had won Defensive Player of the Year in four of the previous five seasons, but while a $60 million commitment over four seasons while trading away Chandler did send the Bulls to the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2007, and to be in position to nearly trade for Kobe Bryant, it also compromised any chance of becoming a sustainable contender with that core.

The Bulls won just 33 games in 07-08 in a disastrous season in which they traded away Wallace and won the lottery to draft Derrick Rose.

The Golden State Warriors were in a similar position last offseason after taking the San Antonio Spurs to six games in the Western Conference Semifinals. But with David Lee’s 2016 expiring contract virtually untradeable and clogging up any potential cap space, Bob Myers had limited paths to improve the roster.

While the Warriors were also a longshot pursuer of Dwight Howard, a deal came together for the Warriors to clear enough cap space to sign Andre Iguodala by sending the contracts of Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson (brazenly acquired in order to own the pick that became Festus Ezeli) and Brandon Rush, along with first rounders in 2014 and 2017 to the Utah Jazz.

Iguodala became the Warriors’ version of Ben Wallace, an older player that would accelerate their timeline of contention while also shortening its potential shelf life. Iguodala has been outstanding this season, ranking third in the NBA in Real Plus-Minus, and vastly improving the Warriors’ perimeter defense. Iguodala is a huge net positive and his versatility allows the Warriors to simply play Stephen Curry on the weakest of the three opposing perimeter players. Iguodala has been remarkably healthy throughout his career and has the type of game that should age well similar to someone like Shawn Marion.

With the addition of Iguodala and nearly a full season from Andrew Bogut, the Warriors jumped from 14th in defensive efficiency to 4th while remaining flat on the offensive side of the ball. A team that gives more than 3,000 combined minutes to Lee and Curry that finishes in the top-5 clearly is talented and committed as a whole to that side of the court. The Warriors haven’t been this good on defense since their second season in San Francisco when they had Wilt Chamberlain and Nate Thurmond.

Title contenders typically are in the top-10 in both offense and defense while also possessing one or more true superstars. The legitimacy of the Warriors’ title expectations begins with Curry, as he has grown into that legitimate superstar over the past 18 months while also remaining remarkably healthy. Curry will receive a ton of MVP votes this season, including a third place nod from Zach Lowe. The NBA’s biggest truism is that a superstar is needed to win a championship and the Warriors have one right now in Curry.

But even if he’s generously considered the third most valuable player in the NBA right now, he’s still a clear step below LeBron James and Kevin Durant, two players that haven’t even been able to reach the Finals without everything being absolutely right around them.

Bogut and Lee are fine players individually, but the lack of athleticism with them on the floor together limits the capabilities on offense, especially with Curry working as a playmaker off the dribble. The Warriors don’t get a ton of high percentage shots at the rim in the halfcourt, making them overly reliant on outstanding perimeter shooting.

The long-term concerns with acquiring Iguodala are how it stunted the development of Harrison Barnes and their inability to improve the roster with the loss of draft picks and without cap space.

Barnes has been an unmitigated disappointment this season, lacking all confidence and production following a promising playoff performance when he looked like a deluxe small-ball power forward. Those issues that plagued him at North Carolina and caused his stock to drop returned in even a worse way.

Draymond Green has earned his way to being called the most valuable power forward on the Warriors’ roster this season with his excellent defense and versatility on offense. Coincidentally, Green was the 35th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.

The Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers and Indiana Pacers may be similar to the Warriors in their ability to change their roster in any meaningful way, but they all have two players that can make the overall impact of Curry, while the Warriors just have him and a bunch of very good but not great pieces.

Curry will become an unrestricted free agent in 2017 during the same offseason as Iguodala and Bogut. Those three players will be 29, 33 and 32, respectively, while Klay Thompson and Green will be 27. Lee (34) will almost certainly leave during the previous offseason and it is hard to conceive of Barnes still being around based on what we’ve seen over the past year.

That core strikes me as one that will consistently win between 45 and 55 regular games and win a playoff series here and there to top out in the Western Conference Semifinals in a good season. Without a drastic shakeup or an improbable run similar to the Mavericks in 2011 with all of those perfectly placed veterans around Dirk Nowitzki, the Warriors would be a very unlikely champion.

There’s a quote from Doc Rivers in Paul Flannery’s excellent piece that can be applied just as easily to the Warriors as the Clippers.

"The one thing that I found interesting in Boston [was] when we were losing, we were losing with a championship mindset. We're winning here without one and we have to get that mindset. It's not just the players, it's everyone. When we started winning in Boston, we just fell back into what they were. They knew. They had been about winning. Here we don't because we haven't. That will be a task."

Joe Lacob deserves credit for shifting the expectations for the Warriors, but he appears to be doing so at the expense of appropriate internal expectations.

Lacob’s history with being unrealistic in evaluating his team began when he promised a playoff berth for the Warriors in the 11-12 season that was kicked off with the Charlie Bell amnesty mistake and ended with the club tanking for Harrison Barnes.

With the Warriors in the middle of a stacked Western Conference this season, Lacob has made comments to suggest Mark Jackson has underachieved this season as head coach. While I have reservations about some of Jackson’s coaching strategies, he has his whole roster buying into him (very difficult in today’s NBA) and I can only see the Warriors as being two or three wins better over this regular season with a more widely regarded head coach like Tom Thibodeau or Rick Carlisle.

The Warriors' playoff chances now appear to be dead on arrival with Bogut out with a fractured rib. How that changes the calculus on Jackson and what the team needs to address this offseason further complicates the situation.

But the strongest attribute of Lacob as an owner seems to be his insistence on remaining in the ‘deal flow’ and that constant tinkering by Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson around Nowitzki is what eventually led to their 2011 title. Curry has a similarly unique and unguardable offensive game and that will be the Warriors' model for roster improvement for the remainder of his tenure.

2014 First Round Picks (Which Teams Own The Picks?)

While RealGM has an excellent database of the draft picks that have been traded between teams, I wanted to put together a summary more focused on the upcoming draft. For the sake of clarity, this version will only deal with the first round.

Atlanta Hawks- Have the right to swap their own pick with Brooklyn’s. At this point, it appears Atlanta will just keep their own and move on.

Boston Celtics- Have their own first and the less favorable of Atlanta and Brooklyn, likely Brooklyn right now. They have a future first from the Sixers as well, but it only goes this year if Philadelphia makes the playoffs. We all know that will not happen.

Brooklyn Nets- No matter what, they lose their pick without getting one in return.

Charlotte Bobcats- Their own first goes to Chicago as long as the Bobcats stay remotely on track (top-10 protected) but they pick up Portland’s unless the Blazers effectively lose out. The lingering question is Detroit- if the pick is 1-8, the Pistons keep it but if it’s 9th or worse it goes to Charlotte. My gut feeling is that once Detroit knows they will not make the playoffs we will see a push to the bottom reminiscent of the 2012 Warriors.

Chicago Bulls- Have their own pick and Charlotte’s unless the Bobcats collapse. The Sacramento pick they acquired in the Luol Deng trade is top-12 protected so it will not come this year.

Cleveland Cavaliers- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Dallas Mavericks- One of the more interesting situations in the league. By having top-20 protection on their pick (it goes to Oklahoma City if it falls 21-30 this year), the Mavs could lose their pick if they make the playoffs. Right now, the bottom seeds in the West look to be about even with the 3-4 spots in the East, so it could go either way.

Denver Nuggets- They keep the better of their pick and New York’s, sending the worse one to Orlando.

Detroit Pistons- Keep their pick if it is eighth or better, otherwise it goes to Charlotte. I fully expect them to understand the incentives and lose enough to retain it.

Golden State Warriors- Their first goes to Utah no matter what.

Houston Rockets- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Indiana Pacers- Their pick is going to Phoenix as a part of the Luis Scola trade from last summer.

Los Angeles Clippers- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Los Angeles Lakers- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Memphis Grizzlies- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Miami Heat- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Milwaukee Bucks- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Minnesota Timberwolves- The pick is top-13 protected, meaning they have to make the postseason or have the best record of any non-playoff team to send it to Phoenix. At this point, it looks like the pick will be No. 13 and thus the Wolves will keep it.

New Orleans Pelicans- Their pick goes to Philadelphia unless it lands in the top-five. It will be hard for the Pelicans to jump enough of the teams “ahead” of them, but they still have a shot of jumping them in the lottery itself.

New York Knicks- They lose their pick no matter what, though the destination could change.

Oklahoma City Thunder- They have their own pick and get Dallas’ first if it ends up between 21 and 30, certainly a possibility.

Orlando Magic- Retain their own pick and get the less favorable of Denver and New York’s selections. This could end up swinging on whether the Knicks can make the playoffs- if they do, the pick falls a few spots to No. 15.

Philadelphia 76ers- They keep their own pick as long as they miss the playoffs (just a formality at this point) and pick up one from New Orleans as long as it falls outside the top five.

Phoenix Suns- They have their own pick and Indiana’s on lock and appear likely to pick up Washington’s since the Wizards should make the playoffs. Minnesota’s pick has top-13 protection, so I expect the Suns to only end up with three this year.

Portland Trail Blazers- Their pick is going to Charlotte unless the Blazers have a truly epic collapse.

Sacramento Kings- Their pick has top-12 protection, so the Kings look like they will keep it even if they rattle off some late-season wins.

San Antonio Spurs- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Toronto Raptors- Have their own pick free and clear and no other first rounders.

Utah Jazz- They have both their own pick and Golden State’s.

Washington Wizards- They will send their pick to Phoenix barring a major letdown.

Grading The Deal: Warriors Trade For Steve Blake

On Wednesday, two divisional rivals made a deal when the Los Angeles Lakers sent veteran guard Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors for Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks.

For the Lakers, the trade accomplished the dual goals of putting them closer to getting out of the luxury tax and adding warm bodies that can audition for next year. Bazemore and Brooks are somewhat young (both will be 25 at the start of next season) and have the physical potential to play in the NBA.

The Nets thought enough of Brooks to draft him in the first round less than three years ago, but this will be his fourth team in three seasons having never posted a full season PER above 13.8.

Bazemore has the athleticism and effort to be a capable defender but showed in Golden State that he will need extensive coaching and development to have a ballhandler role at any point in an NBA career.

The big question for the Lakers comes with thinking about this trade in conjunction with the likely (and rumored) Jordan Hill salary dump that could follow on Deadline Day. Simply dumping both players by moving them into exceptions held by other teams would have barely put the Lakers entirely under the luxury tax and eliminated any chance of being hit with the repeater tax for a while assuming nothing crazy happens this summer. It appears at present that adding both Bazemore and Brooks means that the Lakers would have to make one additional move to get firmly under the tax which may lead to a leverage play from some other NBA team if they can perceive the need. Bazemore and Brooks are solid enough fliers but that risk puts the grade down a little.

Grade for the Lakers: B

The Warriors may have corrected their single biggest overall roster flaw for the rest of the season by trading for Blake. During the offseason, management never added a primary ballhandler to play with the bench unit and back up Stephen Curry. That gap left some extra responsibility for Andre Iguodala, which did not help him and the team over the first half of the season. In Blake, Golden State adds a talent that fills that role with the possible benefit of some minutes with Curry similar to Jarrett Jack’s role without any negative locker room consequences.

Additionally, including Bazemore and Brooks in the deal kept the franchise under the luxury tax and may keep them out of the repeater tax until the next CBA. In addition, I have much less concern that the Warriors will overpay Blake this summer (in years or dollars) since he turns 34 next week. He will not be the long-term answer at backup point guard but can be a strong placeholder for the time being.

Seeing Bazemore leave the team is a little bit sad because of his enthusiasm and simply awesome bench celebrations. However, he had the chance to earn a bigger role on this team when Bob Myers did not add a primary ballhandler this summer and he could not capitalize. I will not shed tears for a player who had the chance to earn a spot and could not take it when there are plenty who never even get that. He was fun to have on the team and hopefully will use this as motivation to become the best all-around player he can be and potentially stick around the league a while longer.

Grade for the Warriors: A-

The Harrison Barnes Dilemma For Golden State

Harrison Barnes’ play this season has turned one of the Warriors’ expected advantages into a weakness. If Barnes continues to struggle, the Warriors might have a tough time contending in the Western Conference, especially if they suffer another injury.

Constructing Better Golden State Rotations

The Warriors have a championship caliber core of players and a deeper rotation than we have seen because of how players have been used. A more cohesive and logical series of substitutions would make the team even more dangerous both now and in the playoffs.

Three Critical Days In December 2011

Considering how much has happened for the Warriors over the past 24 months, December of 2011 seems like an awfully long time ago when they signed DeAndre Jordan to an offer sheet, amnestied Charlie Bell and waived Jeremy Lin.

Grading The Deal: Warriors Upgrade Bench, Heat Save Money, Celtics Sell Low

The Warriors upgraded their bench with the addition of Joe Crawford and MarShon Brooks while not giving up any valued assets, while the Heat save a ton in luxury tax payments. The Celtics, however, may have sold low on both Crawford.

Klay Thompson Seamlessly Responds To Early Test Of Role

Not every 23-year-old rising star accepts his role being teetered. Astute and understanding, Klay Thompson held a calm demeanor as coaches debated the best course of action in camp, displaying exactly the type of self-starting and ego sacrifice the Warriors now integrate within their culture.

Draymond Green And The Fierce Urgency Of Now

While Draymond Green playing more minutes with Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut makes sense in the immediate, it also allows Golden State to use sub rotations that help keep the team afloat when Curry sits once Andre Iguodala returns.

The Process

Mark Jackson has unequivocally and unquestionably proven to be an excellent motivator and leader of men. While entirely correctable by adding in a quality assistant that Jackson listens to or by him gaining experience over time, right now the strategic deficiencies of the Warriors coaching staff are their ceiling.

Top-60 Players In NBA Today (Considering Everything)

The goal here is look at overall long-term value of players by considering age, contract, positional scarcity and of course overall quality, without factors like a player’s connection with a franchise or fit within a specific system.

2013-14 NBA Season Preview

While the Western Conference has six teams (Clippers, Thunder, Rockets, Grizzlies, Warriors) in its first tier, the Eastern Conference is a tier of one (Heat) with the Bulls, Pacers and Nets vying for the second tier.

Warriors' Rotations And Depth With Andre Iguodala

While concerns about changing the role of Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson in the offense could be well founded, swingman minutes will not be a problem whatsoever for the Warriors with Andre Iguodala and the overall benefits could be hugely significant moving forward.

What Iguodala Brings To The Warriors

The Warriors acquired one of the best defensive players in the NBA in Andre Iguodala, who also has a versatile offensive game that should make him easy to incorporate with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes.

The NBA's Mediocrity Treadmill Since 84-85

The treadmill is somehow both more and less common than some might think. While teams tend to fall within the 30-49 win range, as would be expected in such a competitive league, the dreaded never-ending stream of late lottery picks is uncommon.

Grading The Deal: Warriors Unload Expirings For Cap Space

The costs of this deal for the Warriors does generate some frustration because the reason they acquired Jefferson in the first place was to get the last pick in the first round in 2012 (now Festus Ezeli) and could have used the amnesty provision on Biedrins had they not squandered it on Charlie Bell in 2011.

2013 NBA Mock Draft (Final Edition)

Draft day has finally arrived and while everyone pines for the 2014 class already, this one has the chance to be sneaky good in the 'many quality starters' variety.

2013 NBA Mock Draft (Wednesday/Quality Of Opp. Edition)

In this mock, we include the PER of each player based on the quality of opponent. Even statistics in this context can only go so far, but helps move beyond the possibility of inflation against competition that isn't even close to being NBA caliber.

Examining The Warriors' Offseason

After a few successful drafts and the deft trade for Andrew Bogut, the Warriors find themselves in an incredibly good position, particularly relative to recent almost two decades of futility. With a few proactive moves, they can solidify a more consistent presence in the playoffs and possibly more if they utilize their 2014 cap flexibility to its maximum effect.

Choosing Destinations For The 2013 Free Agency Class

The 2013 free agency class won't stop everything the way 2010 did and 2014 will, but it is strong and deep with many different possible outcomes. Here is what the top-30 players 'should' do.

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