Golden State Warriors: 5 Offseason Steps the Warriors Need to Take
"Wait until next year."
In sports, it's a saying that means: a) this season is over, b) there are reasons that this season is already over AND the organization has taken steps to make sure those reasons do not appear next season and c) renew your season tickets (or NBA league pass subscriptions) now, because next year will not be anything like this one.
At least, that's how most front offices hope that fans take that statement.
There's not always a lot to make them confident in making the statement (or to make fans confident in receiving the message), but when a team is eliminated with a third of the season left to play, there's not much else for an organization to say.
For the Golden State Warriors (and their loyal fanbase, who have heard those four words more times than they can count), though, these words do not appear as hollow and unfounded as usual.
There's a (rare) reason for optimism around this team, thanks in part to some roster moves to complement their move toward playing "winning basketball."
If the club makes the following tweaks over this summer, there should be more than just optimism at the end of the 2012-13 regular season.
5. Get Results in Vegas
For those who loved the Goodman/Drew league exhibitions of last summer, you're in luck.
The flashy, no-defense world that is basketball exhibitions returns to the desert after a one-year hiatus thanks to the NBA lockout.
The NBA Summer League from Las Vegas gives teams their first glance of their young players against NBA-caliber players as well as undrafted players a chance to impress any prospective employers.
Taking away anything from summer league is a delicate science—the record for points scored in a game is a three-way tie between Von Wafer, Marcus Banks and former Warrior Anthony Randolph—but for a team as young as the Warriors are, it could be a way for them to find some contributors for next season.
Klay Thompson has shown that he belongs in the NBA and the Warriors have rewarded him with the starting shooting guard role for at least next season.
But the rest of the Warriors rookies (Charles Jenkins, Jeremy Tyler and Chris Wright) have yet to prove whether or not they can be relied on on a nightly basis. Throw Mickell Gladness (recipient of a 10-day contract from Golden State on Thursday) and whichever players they add in this year's draft (the team holds at least three picks in the upcoming draft) in the mix, and the Warriors' Vegas scouts will have their hands full.
At the least, it should be a way for the current rookies to find some confidence after less-than-stellar rookie campaigns. And that, in itself, could be a big boost to next season's Dubs.
4. Re-Sign Brandon Rush
With $55 million already committed to next season's payroll, the Warriors will be about as active on the free-agent market as Andris Biedrins is on the offensive end of the floor.
The Warriors stole Rush from the Pacers just days before the season began. He's actually out-rebounded the forward, Lou Amundson, that he was traded for (3.7 to 3.2) while also chipping in with 8.5 points, 44.8 percent three-point shooting and some of the best perimeter defending that the Warriors have seen in years.
The Warriors hold a qualifying offer of $4 million on Rush for next season, meaning that they'll need to extend that offer to keep the former Jayhawk from becoming an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Given his ability to back up the shooting guard or small forward position (something that neither Richard Jefferson nor Dominic McGuire can offer), even this front office should see the importance of keeping Rush with the club.
The Warriors have seen the importance of bench production firsthand this season, and Rush has been the most consistent Dubstitute.
3. Find a Productive Big Man
The recently failed signing of now Portland Trailblazer J.J. Hickson highlighted two things about these Warriors.
First, they're two years away from being players on the free-agent market. With the aforementioned $55 million on next year's payroll and $48 million for 2013-14, the Warriors will struggle to find discounted, quality free agents.
Second, it showed that despite all of the productive moves the Warriors made at the deadline, they need an impact big for the bench in a bad way.
Before his promotion to the starting five, Ekpe Udoh anchored the front line of the Dubstitutes. He changed shots, he cleaned the glass and he even showed an ability to score in the post.
Of course, that played a large role in his promotion and subsequent significance in the Bogut trade.
As it stands now, the only big men on the Warriors bench are: Biedrins (who hasn't produced in a few years), Tyler (who hasn't found the minutes to showcase much of anything), Chris Wright (same situation as Tyler), McGuire (who wouldn't play power forward on any other NBA team), Gladness (who's possibly eight days away from not being a Warrior) and Kwame Brown (who's likely out of the Warriors price range).
Tyler or Wright could be the answer down the road, but both will enter next season largely as question marks. Look for the Warriors to address the position in the draft, but if the player is a late first or early second-round pick, they'll probably have as many question marks as Tyler and Wright.
2. Find a Starting Small Forward
After acquiring Andrew Bogut from the Milwaukee Bucks days before the trade deadline, the Warriors set four of their starting five for the next few seasons (Bogut, Thompson, Stephen Curry and David Lee).
The small forward position, however, remains very much in the air.
The incumbent, Dorell Wright, has been almost as unimpressive this season as he was impressive last year.
His scoring (10.2) and rebounding (4.8) are down from last year (16.4 and 5.3, respectively) and he's struggled to impact the game when his perimeter shot doesn't fall.
The NBA seems to have figured out Dorell Wright (make him put the ball on the floor) and his best value to the team next season may come from his expiring contract.
With Jefferson added to the fray that will likely include at least one, if not both, of Rush and McGuire, coach Mark Jackson will have options at the position.
The best-case scenario is that Jefferson instantly becomes 10 years younger. Assuming that doesn't happen, the next best case is that the Warriors tank themselves back in to the lottery and add a potential star in either UNC's Harrison Barnes or Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
If neither of the above happen, look for Jackson to give serious consideration to Rush (for his outside shot and defense) or McGuire (the best perimeter defender in a Warriors uniform in years) as his starting three.
1. Answer Questions Early in Jackson's First Training Camp
No matter what grade one assigns to Jackson's first season at the helm, it's hard to argue that he faced an uphill battle since his hiring.
Between inheriting a roster seemingly built to not play his brand of basketball to starting his coaching career with no summer league, a shortened training camp and a hectic, condensed schedule thanks to the NBA lockout, his chances at even relative success were slim.
So having his first true offseason (which is also the first full offseason for the new ownership), it's imperative that Jackson enters training camp with a game plan. Position battles and filling rotations cannot linger, because Jackson (or assistant Michael Malone) has so much coaching to do to implement his style of basketball.
On the court, it's possible that only two of this year's game one starters (Curry and Lee) will start next season's opener. The offense will transition from guard isolations to playing inside-out. Defense will continue to be the emphasis, but this roster should have guys who actually reflect that.
Off the court, the team leadership has changed as well. The veteran leadership of Lee will be bolstered by the presence of Bogut and Jefferson. There should be a new confidence as well in knowing that these players and this type of basketball has the full support of the front office—a stark contrast from the uneasiness around the endless Ellis/Curry debates.
Next year's Warriors will look nothing like this year's Warriors. And that could prove to be a very good thing.