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Coach's Corner: Warriors' Change Of Tempo Style, The Triangle's True Difficulty

Every Monday we’ll check take a quick dive into some of the more interesting X’s and O’s related topics from the previous week.

Warriors Pushing the Pace

With so many skilled and uniquely talented offensive players, it's a shame that many Golden State Warriors' games under Mark Jackson were so hard to watch. Too many offensive possessions encouraged their stars to embrace the 1-on-1 motto of the 1990s era of the NBA, making some trips down the floor a mind-numbing slog lacking creativity, cohesion and unselfish play.

Steve Kerr was hired to to fix these issues (among other things) and while there’s noted improvement in their halfcourt sets, one of the biggest changes evident in Golden State’s first few preseason games is in their transition attack. Golden State wasn’t exactly a slow paced under Jackson, finishing 6th in pace according to ESPN’s advanced metrics, and the tempo under Kerr thus far suggests they’ll be near the top 5 of the league once more. The biggest surprise isn’t so that they’re running, but how they’re doing it.

Despite the presence of Kerr and lead assistant Alvin Gentry, a duo that worked together during the tail end of the Steve Nash years in Phoenix, the Warriors are taking a very balanced approach to pushing the pace. Instead of casting Stephen Curry as the lead in a point guard-centric production similar to how Mike D’Antoni, and later Gentry, used for Nash with the Suns, Kerr and Gentry have created an equal opportunity fast break.

Any player -- from Andrew Bogut to Curry -- apparently has the freedom to “rip-and-run”, or grab a rebound and push the ball upcourt as quickly as possible. It’s an interesting tactic because it takes the ball out of the hands of the team’s best playmaker (Curry) and has players like Draymond Green and Klay Thompson breaking out ahead of the pack trying to make plays before the defense is set.

But the Warriors are unique in that their entire starting five and nine-tenths of their possible rotation are equipped to handle the ball and push it upcourt (David Lee and Bogut being such skilled bigs is the difference maker). It’s led to some interesting developments, like Green dribbling free throw line to free throw line and sinking a jumper, but overall has seemed to produce a bevy of open shots early in the clock. It can also certainly be argued that without the rebounder trying to find a guard for an outlet, it allows the Warriors to play slightly faster.

Given how the old-school thought and new-school approach suggest getting the ball into the hands of a single playmaker and letting him make all the choices, this new approach is certainly an interesting development. But the thought from Kerr and Gentry must be that they don’t want Curry to be Nash. Having worked closely with both now, the two coaches may have realized the little things that Nash did well in Phoenix -- like throw the ball ahead quickly (called an advance pass) and probe the defense specifically to look for trailing shooters -- aren’t really what Curry is best at. Curry is primarily looking to dribble down and look for his own shot. And taking the ball out of Curry’s hands also means he’s free to just sprint down the floor and move to an open spot behind the arc during a time while the defense is scattered.

Still, the prospect of Curry assuming the Nash role in the D’Antoni, up-tempo, spread pick-and-roll system is a pretty interesting alternative. Should this equal opportunity approach start leading to bad shots or routinely waste precious seconds on the shot clock as the wrong players consistently fail to penetrate the heart of the defense, it might prompt a change in approach. 

A Three-Sided Mistake

There have been so many words written about the Triangle Offense these days that it seems trite to mention it here. But in watching the New York Knicks play the Boston Celtics last week, it’s impossible not to see the offense operate and muse about it’s place in basketball. Obviously, last Wednesday’s loss to the Celtics is just one game, an extremely meaningless one at that and the very first under new head coach Derek Fisher. It’s beyond unfair to judge the offenses impact on this particular team, but what really caught my attention is even how it looked when it was run correctly.

One of the biggest misnomers about the Triangle is that it’s an offense that caters to perimeter stars like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and now, potentially, Carmelo Anthony. The truth is the offense -- which originated in the 1940s under Sam Barry to give you some perspective -- is actually designed for post players, traditionally big men. Even the original strongside triangle that is the offense’s signature look came about to give a team two angles to enter the ball into a posting big man (basically, if the post player was denied a pass from the wing with a three-quarters coverage, the ball could move to the corner man who would have the proper angle to enter the ball). The Triangle can stake a claim that “anyone can post” in the offense, but when it comes to the Knicks, there are arguably two players that could generate the great scoring opportunities from posting up -- Amar’e Stoudamire and Anthony. Watching Samuel Dalembert trying to channel his inner-Olajuwan is certainly enjoyable to watch, but it doesn’t lend itself to winning games.

The other side of it is that the definition of “great scoring opportunities” has changed pretty drastically over even just the last decade. The invasion of analytics has sharpened the thought process of both teams, media and a more connected fan base. Nowadays it’s pretty universal that free throws, layups and 3’s (in that order) are the most productive shot attempts per possession.

You know what a common result out of the ball movement in the Triangle is? A mid-range jumper coming out of the two-man game on the weakside. Now a few times the Knicks worked the offense to perfection and generated a layup to a cutting big man (Once off the greatest play label in pro sports, the “blind pig”, which is basically no-look drop pass to a player cutting backdoor. Oh, and the video’s associated with the Triangle Offense and the Blind Pig on Youtube are, unfortunately, wrong). It’s just very hard to engineer the high-value looks teams want out of that offense unless they are routinely hitting on cuts to the basket, which teams are not routinely getting against quality opponents.

Now that doesn’t mean the offense is necessarily doomed to failure or be bad for Anthony. Jordan and Bryant clearly operated just fine in it during their heydays (but it’s also probably important to point out that great players are typically great in any system, it’s the lesser players in the league that are most reliant on schemes to maximize their skill sets). But the bottom line is the Triangle has some solid concepts, but seems increasingly ill-suited for today’s NBA. But perhaps Derek Fisher and the Knicks will prove that assumption wrong. 

Top-5 Non-National Teams For 14-15

While we are still about a few weeks away from regular season NBA basketball, it seems like a fair time to start thinking about the teams and storylines that could dominate the landscape for the upcoming season. After years of writing the Non-National Games of the Week column for RealGM, I have a sense of what teams will be on my NNGW radar to start the year. My non-national teams have to have entertainment value on a game to game basis and fascinating pieces in the form of young talent or new additions. Each of these squads fits that bill and there were a few tough omissions as well.

While I have removed teams with heavy national profiles from consideration for this column in other years, I made every team eligible this season and none of the chosen six play even thirty games on ESPN/ABC, TNT and NBATV.

Honorable Mention. Philadelphia 76ers: They will be absolutely terrible but Nerlens Noel made enough plays in Summer League to make Philly the early leader for my first quarter Eastern Time Zone team.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves: Unlike the Sixers, most of Minnesota’s fun young players should get at least some playing time this season and the team should be somewhat competitive. Andrew Wiggins and Gorgui Dieng have larger roles to play, but both Anthony Bennett and Zach LaVine should get enough burn to make the Wolves worth paying attention to. Plus, any team with Ricky Rubio gets my attention, at least for now.

4. Phoenix Suns: The Suns came out of nowhere and ended up being my favorite League Pass team on the aggregate last season. They were fun to watch and played games of importance despite eventually missing the playoffs. While there are numerous factors which may lead to a more deflating campaign, Jeff Hornacek’s squad deserves this spot based on their large overall continuity.

3. Golden State Warriors: After deciding to keep their roster largely together despite some compelling offers that I am still not over, the Warriors did change their head coach and should have a much more effective and engaging offense to show for it. I also hope we get to see more of Draymond Green playing with Stephen Curry as well as a potential rejuvenation for Harrison Barnes after a wholly disappointing sophomore season.

2. New Orleans Pelicans: An absolutely huge test year for Anthony Davis. The Brow got muscle behind him in the form of one of the best defensive Centers in the entire league in Omer Asik. The full-strength Pelicans will be intensely fun to watch and give us a much better idea of what the next few seasons in New Orleans will look like. Plus, the three-headed PF/C monster of Davis, Asik, and Ryan Anderson causes matchup problems in each iteration and we may also see some minutes with all three sharing the court, which could lead to my favorite potential situation of the entire 14-15 season: Anthony Davis guarding Small Forwards. If Monty Williams puts Davis on Kevin Durant for 5+ minutes during some game, it would be must-see TV for basketball fans.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Amazingly, the Cavs get the #1 spot on this list for a second year in a row. Let’s hope it turns out better for them this time around. This year’s Cavaliers are the great experiment of this NBA season because their three best players were all better offensively than defensively last year and their only true rim protector on the roster has quite the injury history. Add in the intrigue relating to who starts at shooting guard and figuring out the SF/PF rotation and you have a team worth watching in both big and small moments.

On Warriors' Big 3 Possibility In 2016

I was inspired by a piece from Tim Kawakami to do a walkthrough of how I think about a situation like the Golden State Warriors adding a max player in the summer of 2016.

Like Tim, I will use a conservative estimate of a $75 million salary cap for that 2016-17 season, though I will throw in some figures of how it would work with a $80 million cap that could be closer to what we actually see two summers from now.

The Non-Negotiables

When looking that far in the future, I strip the entire salary structure down and start with only the mandatory pieces. If we are talking about Golden State and a max player in 2016, that means just Stephen Curry and the max player. We know Curry’s 16-17 salary, but the other guy’s is a mystery right now. Fortunately, if that other player is Kevin Durant we can work it out.

The most Kevin Durant can be paid for the 16-17 season is the larger of 30% of the salary cap (calculated slightly differently than the actual salary cap) and 105% of his salary from the previous season. Even at a conservative $75 million salary cap, Durant would make more under the 30% calculation.

At a $75 million salary cap, the Warriors would have to carry $40.39 million or less in non-Curry salary to sign Kevin Durant with cap space. At an $80 million cap, this number jumps to about $43.89 million. For reference, LeBron’s max is about $4 million higher than Durant’s due to his greater amount of NBA experience.

The Money on the Books

That remaining $40.39 million or so can come from any source but must include everything if the Warriors are to sign a max player using cap space. That means on the books salaries as well as cap holds to pending free agents and clearing the space would also mean no trade exceptions and the much smaller Room Mid-Level Exception.

At present, the Warriors have about $30 million committed to Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and Nemanja Nedovic for that season. It should be noted that Nedovic’s contract is a team option and Livingston’s contract is reportedly about half-guaranteed, so there would be a little wiggle room if either is still in the equation at that point.

The players not counted that the Warriors would presumably want to retain include 2015 restricted free agents Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Their combined price tag is larger than the $10 million remaining (there’s a chance each of them gets that much, though I expect Thompson to get much more and Green less) so that means Bob Myers would need to make some choices. When you add in Harrison Barnes hitting restricted free agency that summer the situation gets even more challenging.

Both Iguodala and Bogut will be expiring contracts that season and we know that teams will be clearing cap space with reckless abandon to acquire a star or two so there could be interest in either or both should they age reasonably. Depending on the salary they get, either Thompson or Green could price himself out of a spot on that 2016 Warriors team as well. If the Warriors want to sign someone to a max deal using cap space, at least one and likely two of Bogut, Iguodala, Thompson and Green will need to go.

The Bigger Swings

As I said before, you can see that $40.39 million for players beyond Curry and Durant in a series of different ways: it could be retaining existing  players either currently on their deals or signing new ones soon, adding new players via free agency or trades, or some combination of the two.

By far my favorite possibilities for Golden State in 2016 come from using that $40.39 million more aggressively. The Warriors have an elite player locked up to a below-market contract and should be close to a new arena and presumably a larger revenue stream from that and their local TV deal which expires at the end of the upcoming season. Furthermore, I sincerely doubt we see a hard cap in the new CBA so playing the free agency game for a soft cap and heavy luxury tax payments makes the most sense. Plus, building a strong core then makes it a near certainty that Stephen Curry would stick around when he hits unrestricted free agency the following year.

If they could clear the money, the Warriors could actually sign two max players even at the higher 35% salary slot and still keep Curry. Doing so would require some major sacrifices at some point since the team has so many other assets. Fortunately, the fact that other teams will be clearing the decks too means that Golden State would not have to be particularly proactive unless someone’s contract looks substantially worse two summers from now. That said, we have no idea how willing other franchises would be to enable a team to have a core of Stephen Curry and two of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah, Marc Gasol, Al Horford and Goran Dragic. That said, each individual piece holds value right now so the sales pitch would be much easier. This approach worked reasonably well for the Rockets with Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik even though the end result may not have been to their liking.

This concept of a core with three max players also helps explain why moving Klay Thompson to get Kevin Love makes so much sense if Love is willing to commit to staying long-term. Even if Love takes the most money he can, the Warriors could still open up another max slot in 2016 without too much trouble as long as the league does not play some serious hanky panky with the new TV deal and the cap. We know right now that Thompson will command a massive salary on his next contract and a team with one of the best young players in the sport should be able to command someone better than Thompson to be the No. 2 or even No. 3 player, as good as Thompson could become. While the Warriors have a strong team right now, a foundation of three All-Stars in their mid to late twenties would be legitimately special regardless of what other teams around the league can manage that summer.

Bob Myers and the rest of the Warriors’ front office have some major decisions to make but the combination of Stephen Curry’s below market contract and the expanding salary cap create some genuinely compelling options.

The Law Of Small Numbers

While taking a quick glance at the market for Kevin Love around draft day could have led to confidence for the Warriors, any concept that letting the string play out would be to their advantage would be deeply misguided.

Why Sign-And-Trades Sometimes Aren't Possible For The Incumbent Team

Teams on the giving end of potential sign-and-trades rarely are unable to participate, but the Nets were unable to with Shaun Livingston's deal with the Warriors.

The Third Way

While a drastic path like stripping enough cap space to sign two max contract players to join Stephen Curry would be possible, it also carries gigantic downside risk since the Warriors are already a good team.

Previewing The Warriors' Offseason Cap Situation

Now that the Warriors’ season is over, we can start to figure out what the offseason could hold in terms of on-court personnel. Having a clear understanding of the starting point for the summer makes a huge difference, especially given the NBA’s soft salary cap system.

On Mark Jackson's Future With The Warriors

Even if Mark Jackson stands as the greatest limiting factor on this Golden State team, Warriors' front office should understand and appreciate both how lucky that makes them and how insanely difficult that can be to improve.

You Can Never Have Enough Tall Shooters

The Pacers are one of the biggest teams in the NBA, with a 7’2 Goliath standing in front of the rim next to another 6’9 bruiser and three of the longest and most athletic perimeter players in the NBA in front of them. They were built to beat the Heat, a team full of slashers, but they have no answer for an Atlanta offense that plays five out.

RealGM's Playoff Predictions

All eight RealGM writers predict the Heat along with either the Thunder or Spurs to reach The Finals.

The Western Conference At The Deadline

The Western Conference is highly competitive this season, but that didn't carry over to a deadline in which Steve Blake was the most important acquisition after the Rockets were unable to cash in their Omer Asik chip.

Stephen Curry Arrives Late To NBA Elite, But Could Have Long Peak Like Nash

Like Steve Nash, a player he often compared to in terms of style and production, Stephen Curry is a relatively old first-time All-Star. Whether Curry ever wins an MVP, or leads the Warriors to the appearance in the Finals that alluded Nash is of course yet to be seen, but he's certainly capable of surpassing Nash's peak production.

375 Days

February 19, 2015 may seem like a long way away and in NBA circles it feels like an eternity at present, but it should hold significant importance for those who care about the Warriors, because the basketball world will know how serious and competent their ownership group will be for the foreseeable future.

Seth Curry Developing In D-League

Seth Curry is more aggressive off ball screens and has been excelling in pick-and-rolls that he would see in the NBA. At Duke, Curry saw most of his time at shooting guard, but he’s the primary ball handler in Santa Cruz while averaging 36.9 minutes per contest.

30 Rapid-Fire Questions For Each Team's Front Office

The following 30 questions are the biggest issues facing each NBA front office as the 13-14 regular season begins.

Top-Five 2nd-Favorite Teams

In an NBA so rich with talent and intriguing storylines, how can you limit yourself to just one team? These five squads deserve second billing in your hearts and remote-holding hands.

Observations From Warriors' Media Day

The vibe at media day for the Warriors certainly felt different this year, which makes sense considering the resounding success of last season that made the team relevant in a different way than it had been since the "We Believe" team in 2007.

30-Team Offseason Rundown

Great drafts for the Rockets, 76ers, Nets, Warriors, Hawks and Grizzlies headline this complete rundown of the 2013 offseason.

Filling Out The Warriors' Roster

With the core of the Warriors set, Bob Myers can add a wide variety of different salaries whether those players are currently free agents or signed on other teams.

Two Cap Paths For Warriors To Acquire Iguodala

After giving up two first round picks to dump massive salary in order to bring in Andre Iguodala, the Warriors actually have the chance to utilize two majorly different methods to build their team the rest of this summer.

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