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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.

Notes From The 2014 Nike Hoop Summit

Five bigs could conceivably become the first five picks of the 2015 NBA Draft. All five of them (Jahlil Okafor, Myles Turner, Karl Towns Jr., Trey Lyles and Cliff Alexander) have been here this week in Portland at the Nike Hoop Summit and all five have radically divergent styles.

Okafor: The highly polished and graceful post scorer.

Turner: The raw athlete with the length to become a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

Towns: The two-way, multi-dimensional seven-footer.

Lyles: The classic face-up power forward.

Alexander: The bruising hard hat big.

While Alexander has the least amount of talent and upside by a comfortable margin, the other four are remarkably close in terms of talent and how someone ranks them is an indicator of what they value most and least from a big.

Jahlil Okafor continues to look like the most skilled post prospect we’ve seen in years, with a blend of advanced footwork and quickness in spin moves to lose his defender. Okafor almost plays like an ice hockey player in the smoothness of his movements, yet he rarely leaves the ground unless he’s right at the rim and that is more length than lift.

Okafor lacks verticality in the post and not having a reliable jump hook is a liability when he goes to work against a defender as long and athletic as Turner or Towns.

Okafor won’t impact the game too significantly unless he’s the focal point of a team’s halfcourt offense. The World Select Team played a pressing halfcourt zone, which didn’t allow Okafor to get to work until late in the second quarter when they switched to man.

For most of the game, Okafor looked far more ordinary than I’ve seen him on other occasions. 

Myles Turner looks stronger and is also one inch taller since I last saw him in August. He is active on defense and a disruptor to anyone coming into the lane.

Turner is an injury concern due to how awkward he runs and lacks fluidity in his movements. Turner left the game in the second half with an injured ankle.

Turner already has a respectable jumper and hit one in the game just inside the three-point line, but it is doubtful he ever becomes a significant scorer.

Karl Towns had a better looking shot during the practice sessions than nearly anyone on the USA roster. He has the type of range on his jumper that most bigs don’t develop into very late in his career. Towns has the potential to be the best all-around big of this group because he projects as having the capacity to develop every critical aspect of his game.

Towns doesn’t have the athleticism of Turner or skill level of Okafor, but he can be a more active version of a healthy Andrew Bynum, who coincidentally went to the same high school in New Jersey. Similar to Bynum, his lack of seriousness in his approach to the game is concerning. Some players are capable of maximizing their potential regardless, but the fear that he plateaus in his development is legitimate.

Trey Lyles has the complete toolbox for a face-up big. He’s smooth and has a sophisticated game in the 10-20 feet range in the halfcourt. Lyles was more confident and aggressive here than he was at adidas Nations, but he still tends to disappear and has lapses of playing too soft.

Cliff Alexander is not especially skilled or athletic, but does all a lot of little things like boxing out, setting a big screen, etc., that add up to an effective big in aggregate.

Even though Alexander the best rebounder right now of the group, I’m far less bullish on him, but I also believe bigs with his type of skill-set are far less valuable.

Most of the perimeter prospects are not quite at the same level at this point, though Emmanuel Mudiay, Stanley Johnson and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk have been the most intriguing over the course of the week.

Emmanuel Mudiay was the best perimeter shooter of the week, which is particularly scary since he’s one of the biggest and strongest point guards with truly elite talent to emerge in recent years.

Mudiay can lose his man with ease off the dribble with sudden bursts of quickness and power that has some Dwyane Wade to it, but he too often dribbles sloppily into a black hole in the halfcourt and that part of his game will need to mature significantly in order for him to become an NBA starter.

Mudiay will play for Larry Brown at SMU and he’s absolutely capable and talented enough to play his way up draft boards all the way to No. 1 if he shows improved decision-making.

Mudiay had 12 points in the first half and dictated play for the World Select team, before finishing with a game-high 20 points. Mudiay had the most consistently impactful performance in the game and has the intangibles to become a franchise player.

Stanley Johnson is fearless going to the basket with the physicality of a football player. He was the toughest and most active player on the USA roster and is impossible to guard when he’s hitting from three because of how good he is driving the lane.

Johnson had a frustrating game, however, going 1-for-6 from the field.

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk was a late addition to the roster and it was the first time nearly everyone has seen the 16-year-old out of Ukraine. Mykhailiuk appeared out of his element physically at times, but the purity of his shot and natural instinct were always there.

He turned the ball over on his first touch of the game curling around a screen, but had a nice assist on his next touch.

Mykhailiuk struggled badly with his three-point shot attempts in the first half as the speed of the game.

Mykhailiuk is a legitimate 6’6 and he already is an impressive athlete for his age. Mykhailiuk can dunk with ease on an alley-oop to himself off the backboard and his quickness in creating for himself off the dribble may become his most special ability.

Other Notes

Justise Winslow & Kelly Oubre: These two southpaw wings are extraordinarily similar on the superficial levels. They’re about the same the same height and have similar skill-sets, though Winslow is a little stronger. Both are physically more mature than most of the other players. Oubre has a better perimeter shot but appears prone to mental lapses and erratic misses, while Winslow is extremely serious and will clearly maximize his potential with his work ethic.

Winslow has enough skill and athleticism to convert on most of the opportunities his high motor creates.

With the possible exception of Tyus Jones, both players had the best games of any of the USA players with Winslow scoring 16 and Oubre finishing with 14.

Damien Inglis: One of the better perimeter shooters during the practice sessions, Inglis is an extremely long 6’8 due to his 7’3 wingspan. Inglis should become a useful 3 & D rotation player and has enough length and a wide frame to add strength to play small ball 4.

Inglis had good vision on a first quarter drive, finding Towns for an easy dunk. His playing time and usage was limited with Mudiay dominating the ball in the first half, but had a nice run in the second half.

Tyus Jones: A pure point guard with all of the leadership qualities you want from the position, Jones will undoubtedly have an outstanding college career at Duke. In terms of his NBA potential, it is difficult to gauge how special his skills are because he’ll need to be in order to become a start at that level due to his modest physical profile.

Jones is all runners and drive & kicks without a reliable jumper or sufficient athleticism to get to the rim.

Jones had a particularly strong second half with several key assists and steals to help USA pull away on their way to the 84-73 win.

Theo Pinson: Consistently a disruptor on the perimeter on both sides of the floor with his motor and length. The erratic nature of his game is alternately a benefit and detriment.

Jamal Murray: He picked his spots well with a strong shooting performance, hitting a pair of top of the arc three-pointers in the first half. There’s a lot of Leandro Barbosa in his game.

Clint Capela: The only player from this game that will be in the 2014 NBA Draft, Capela had two moments of impressive play for every seven frustrating ones throughout the week. Big project but he could certainly develop into a rotation big.

On Sloan: GM's Tell Riveting Tales Of Front-Office Dynamics; Will Silver Take The Wheel?

At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference last week, both Daryl Morey and Bob Myers mentioned Danny Ainge as one of the executives around the league with whom they most enjoy negotiating and dealing. Myers described Ainge as affable and often casual, at times floating trade proposals that are quickly shot down, which may elicit a lighthearted chuckle from Ainge.

Morey said he also likes the approach of Mitch Kupchak, who starts off any discussion by clearly setting forth each the main pillars of what he's hoping to accomplish, and makes a straightforward inquiry as to whether his counterpart has the objectives and pieces to make a deal that would be mutually beneficial.

And Morey relayed how easy it is to work with his former protégé Sam Hinkie, who has executed a daring plan to rebuild the 76ers since taking over as the head of basketball operations in Philadelphia. The two can have very brief conversations along the lines of 'You are looking to do this, I'm looking to do this, there's no match, goodbye.'

Goodwill and collegiality may be the exception rather than the rule.  Myers said there is a great deal of distrust and dislike among certain team executives around the league.  

Morey observed that there is a widespread tendency among basketball decision-makers to hew closely to trades and signings that are safe.  The prevailing mood is to make low-risk moves that won't blow up in anybody's face looking back a year or two or three down the line.

Recounting the behind-the-scenes maneuvering in the heated environment of the summer of 2010, Morey credits Sachin Gupta, who has since joined Hinkie in the Sixers’ front office, for broaching the idea of the Rockets capitalizing on an opportunity to become perhaps the only team willing to take on salary as several teams aggressively looked to dump contracts for a chance to sign LeBron James or any of the other max-contract players in that free-agency class.

The New York Knicks were one such team, and, with a great sense of urgency, immediately engaged Houston in an attempt to shed the contract of Jared Jeffries. When those talks went nowhere, Houston did a deal with the Sacramento Kings to acquire Kevin Martin. But after that trade was agreed to, Morey realized that there was still a scenario under which a variation of the Knicks trade could be built into the existing framework. It had to be hurried before the two-team trade became official.

Morey called back Geoff Petrie and assured him that their deal was firm, then communicated that the Rockets still had interest in doing an additional deal with the Knicks that would keep the principals in the Houston-Sacramento trade intact. Petrie was amenable to the idea and Morey reconnected with the Knicks. With the impending Sacramento trade imposing a natural deadline to get something done, the deal happened when the Knicks agreed to send Jordan Hill, a first-round pick and a first-round pick swap right to Houston which would absorb Jeffries. A three-way trade was pieced together in two distinct segments.

It was during this same panel discussion that Morey revealed that he rushed to text Mark Cuban in attempt to pry away Dirk Nowitzki after Myers and the Warriors had made their move to acquire Andre Iguodala this past off-season.

Urged along by his hands-on owner Joe Lacob, Myers made a series of what he considered extreme long-shot attempts to put together a move for Iguodala, efforts that eventually came to fruition when the Utah Jazz, in exchange for a package of draft picks, agreed to take on the salary the Warriors needed to shed in order to make room for Iguodala.

Golden State had already taken itself out of the running for Howard but Morey nervously saw the chips falling into place for a deep roster that could surround Howard and attract him to Oakland. Morey quickly tried to refortify his own position by seeing if Mark Cuban would part with Nowitzki since the Mavericks had already lost the opportunity to sign Howard.

What Morey didn't know is that Howard's camp had already notified Cuban that the Rockets had won the Dwight sweepstakes and Howard was on his way to Houston. The purpose of Morey's texts must be gloating, Cuban concluded. Although Morey stated that this confusion was soon cleared up, Cuban continued to say publicly in the days following that Morey had tried to rub it in.

While both Morey and Myers described their respective owners as activist, closely involved in the player personnel decision-making process, this description was clearly not intended as a relative comparison to Cuban.


* * *

New NBA commissioner Adam Silver revealed that his initial reaction to "The Draft Wheel" proposal presented by Celtics' executive Mike Zarren was one of great enthusiasm.

The Wheel would simply rotate teams in order of selections 1-30 so that each team would draft consecutively from every position in the first round over a 30-year span.

Silver viewed it as a brilliantly simple solution to the problems of the current system, which may unintentionally incentivize some teams to lose as many games as possible in order to improve their draft position. The Wheel would also deliver welcome certainty to GM's and their staffs, making every future pick known to every team for purposes of making trades and planning payroll.

Then Silver decided to "socialize" the idea by circulating it among his team owners, some of whom raised the concern that such a system could result in draft prospects skipping a year of eligibility in order to steer themselves away from or toward certain teams.

Silver said the league will continue to study the principles and possible unintended consequences of The Wheel more closely.  While acknowledging some shortcomings in the current system (after all, why else would he be interested by any alternative?), Silver at the same time defended the status quo. He repeated his definition of "tanking": a team's coach or management actively instructing that team to lose any particular ballgame or otherwise taking game-specific steps to cause a loss (i.e., throwing a game). Let's call this tanking in the first degree, and nobody has accused any NBA team of this offense.

In fact, we all know that there's another kind of tanking and one that more than a couple of teams are illustrating with real-life examples this season. A day earlier, Bryan Colangelo sat on the same stage at the Boston conference and expressly confessed to undertaking this alternative form of tanking as the head of basketball operations in Toronto (i.e., fielding a purposefully weak roster in order to maximize chances of a high lottery pick). Let's call this tanking in the second degree.

Silver questioned whether in fact the numbers would support the effectiveness of tanking as a strategy – implying that attempts to engineer a poor season in order to more dramatically improve a team’s roster through the draft have not been shown to be successful. That may well be true. But that speaks more to the wisdom of the alleged practice rather than its existence.

In the end, Silver cited the public “chatter” on the subject as a concern in and of itself. Officers of the court call this the appearance of impropriety, and it’s clear that the very perception of tanking in the second degree is taking hold, which has become a problem of its own for the NBA. It’s a fair bet that Silver also privately understands that teams are in fact committing the act of tanking in the second degree.

Whichever degree of tanking one’s concerned with, The Wheel would make it a thing of the past.

Notes From 2013 Adidas Nations

Jahlil Okafor, Kevon Looney and Stanley Johnson were the most impressive prospects of adidas Nations, but Theo Pinson, D'Angelo Russell, Myles Turner and Reid Travis were the ones to grind their way to the championship.

Grading The Deal: Pistons Sign Josh Smith

The NBA is clearly going more and more in the direction of smallball, but without the pieces to do it as effectively as teams like the Heat and Golden State Warriors, the Pistons will have more success in building a counter to the trend around Josh Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

Grading The Deal: Dwight Howard Chooses Houston

Daryl Morey and the Rockets have acquired two top-10 players in James Harden and Dwight Howard in nine months to culminate a series of moves that has no real precedent in the NBA. Also receiving grades in this edition is Dwight himself and the Lakers.

Grading The Deal: Raptors Unload Bargnani On Knicks

Andrea Bargnani had been on the trade block for months, bridging the tenures of Bryan Colangelo to Masai Ujiri. In the GM seat for less than a month, Ujiri not only traded Bargnani but managed to pick up a few draft assets in the process to a Knicks' team limited in how to improve.

Grading The Deal: 76ers Start Over With Trade Of Holiday For Noel, 2014 Pick

The 76ers and Pelicans completed a draft night trade that will have ramifications for years as their two general managers revealed their very different strategies on how to rebuild.

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.

2013 NBA Mock Draft (Draft Week Edition)

Entering draft week in a draft universally labeled as weak preceding the best draft of the decade, few people are talking themselves into falling in love with any specific player as fervently as usual.

Grading The Deal: Dwight To Lakers In Most Important NBA Trade In Over 30 Years

There is no doubt the Lakers, 76ers and Nuggets improved significantly with the four-team Dwight Howard trade, but here's why the future of the Magic is immediately more promising as well.

Grading The Deal: Steve Nash To The Lakers

The impact of Steve Nash on the Lakers will be enormous, in terms of title contention, Kobe's pursuit of the all-time scoring title and also what happens with Dwight Howard.

2012 NBA Mock Draft, Version 4.0 (Draft-Day Edition)

The Andre Drummond/Perry Jones effect on this draft before we make sense of picks seven through 30 just hours before a flood of draft-day trades shreds every mock.

2012 NBA Mock Draft, Version 3.0

The 2012 NBA Draft is a week away and nothing is certain beyond Anthony Davis going to the Hornets with the first overall pick even though several scenarios are beginning to crystalize.

2012 NBA Mock Draft, Version 2.0 (Post-Lottery Edition)

Anthony Davis will become a member of the Hornets, but the draft is extremely fluid behind him with teams needing several weeks to sort through their unusual number of options even to the Bobcats at number two.

2012 NBA Mock Draft, Version 1.0 (Pre-Lottery Edition)

While every team in the lottery can bring their Anthony Davis jersey if they win the first overall pick, the gap between Thomas Robinson, Bradley Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Andre Drummond is extremely narrow for me and highly intriguing.

Reviewing The 2012 McDonald's All-American Game

Shabazz Muhammad deservedly won the MVP award, but Alex Poythress had the most surprisingly outstanding game. How did the other players distinguish themselves?

Grading The Deal: Warriors, Bucks Swap Ellis, Udoh For Bogut

The Warriors and Bucks made a significant trade to kick off deadline week that is fraught with risk for only medium potential rewards.

Crazy Center Cash

If you're a seven-footer with any type of coordination, you will die a very wealthy man. This hasn't changed in the 2011 offseason and will not be changing in the future.

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