Where Do The Warriors Go From Here?
At the beginning of the 2011-12 NBA season new head coach Mark Jackson proclaimed the goal of the Golden State Warriors was to make the playoffs and anything else would be a disappointment. The Warriors went on to win only 23 games and finish just two games out of last place in the Western Conference.
Despite the preseason proclamation from the coach, this was always going to be a bit of a rebuilding year for the Warriors.
After failing to secure center DeAndre Jordan in free agency – the L.A. Clippers matched the offer sheet he signed with Golden State as a restricted free agent – the team then spent the rest of its cap room on Kwame Brown. Brown missed the entire season due to injury, something that became a theme with the Warriors and ended with them starting five rookies in the last game of the season. Stephen Curry missed 40 games with ankle issues. David Lee missed nine games and had knee surgery. At the trade deadline the Warriors sent leading scorer Monta Ellis to Milwaukee in a deal to get center Andrew Bogut, who was already out for the year with injury.
The Warriors have nine players under contract for 2012-13, totaling $56.7 million. While that’s a little bit under the expected salary cap, cap holds will push them over the top – meaning they will only have the Mid-Level Exception and Bi-Annual Exception to spend on free agents. Those nine include their full starting lineup of Curry and Klay Thompson in the backcourt, David Lee and Dorrell Wright at the forward spots, and Bogut at center. Presuming Curry, Lee and Bogut are healthy to begin training camp in the fall that’s a lineup that can be very explosive. Defense, a focus of Coach Jackson, could still be an issue, but having a center like Bogut in the middle fixes a lot of issues.
The other four players under contract – Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins, Charles Jenkins and Jeremy Tyler – all can fill a role. Jefferson and Biedrins may be overpriced for what they bring to the table, but the reality is it would be very difficult to move them for anything of value. That’s a solid core.
Jackson is safe, for now. He tried to institute a radically different philosophy on his roster, one focusing on defense and hustle rather than trying to outscore the opponent. Considering the roster was constructed specifically to score, it’s not surprising there were issues. With the trade of Ellis for Bogut, Jackson now has a more traditional lineup to work with, focusing on Curry to initiate offense and Bogut to anchor the D.
Will Jackson, going into only his second year of coaching, be able to fully implement his ideas and see his players carry them out? There is no doubting Jackson’s basketball IQ and he managed okay with what he had in 2011-12, but there will be little margin for error in 2012-13. The move to the San Francisco waterfront is still many years off – beyond the contract of any player on the roster – but the franchise wants to start building a winning tradition to bring with them across the Bay. These Warriors are still rebuilding, but Jackson’s leash will gradually get shorter and shorter if they don’t produce results.
The Warriors are going to be busy on draft night. Barring the unexpected in the Draft Lottery, they will pick seventh and 30th in the first round (the Spurs pick for taking the contract of Jefferson for Stephen Jackson), plus 35th and 52nd in the second round. With nine players already under contract – again, a full starting lineup as well as good bench contributors – look for the Warriors to take the best players available each time. They could also try and package 30 and 35 to move up to the mid-20s if that interests someone.
At seven expect the Warriors to pick the best of what’s left from the group of Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones and Terrence Jones. All of them would become instant rotation players and add some depth to the frontcourt. They may go big again at 30, looking at whose left from Fab Melo, Arnett Moultrie and Andrew Nicholson.
In the second round expect for them to go for some guards that could provide depth behind Thompson, Curry and Jenkins. At 35 they choose from the likes of Jared Cunningham, Doron Lamb and John Jenkins. Later, players like Will Buford, Tu Holloway and J’Covan Brown would be solid picks.
The Warriors have just one key free agent in Brandon Rush. If they choose to issue him a Qualifying Offer and make him restricted, that will be for $4.4 million (higher than the initial QO of $4.1 million because he played over 1,610 minutes in 2011-12, thus getting a bump under the new CBA rules). They would like to keep him, but considering the majority of the minutes at the two will be going to Thompson they won’t break the bank. It’s entirely possible that, depending on the market, Rush could just sign the one-year, $4.4 million deal.
In free agency the Warriors should look for an athletic three who can play some defense and a veteran point guard with their exceptions. Leandro Barbosa would be a nice fit, though he is more of a two than a one. Jonny Flynn or Randy Foye could be solid choices to back up Curry. There aren’t a lot of options at the three, but Sam Young is a player the Warriors should take a look at and see how much he would cost. Another option that makes sense is a defensive power forward who can rebound. Lou Amundson would be a nice fit behind Lee.
One other noteworthy item is this summer the Warriors can lock up Stephen Curry long-term if they sign him to an extension to his rookie scale contract (he is eligible for restricted free agency in 2013). Considering his production when healthy and the fact he missed so many games, expect talks to happen but for the player to be looking for more than the team is willing to offer at this point in time. Had Curry played a full, healthy season in 2011-12 locking him up would be a no-brainer, but the missed games will lower what the team is willing to offer (normally this is how it works, but of course the Warriors could choose to do things differently and offer him top dollar anyway).
On paper the Warriors look like a team who could make a jump into playoff contention next year. They have talent, they have youth, they have the ability to fill their gaps – which don’t include needing a starter – with exceptions, and they have a coach who now has a year of experience. If Bogut and Curry can bounce back from their injuries these Warriors could have a lot of highs in 2012-13. If they once again struggle to stay healthy, things could get ugly.
What’s your take on the Warriors? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! Follow Jason Fleming on Twitter @jfleminghoops.