As usual, the Golden State Warriors will go into next season with a high ceiling and a low basement. The good news is that both are higher than usual.
The bad news is that the organization has actually assembled a good amount of talent, so new ownership has made promises and a disappointing season this time around would be much more of a letdown than usual. As Warriors fans, we know that a good amount of talent doesn't guarantee anything, especially when they're wearing Warriors jerseys.
I'm going to talk about some of the worst-case scenarios for the Warriors this season that are actually likely to happen, starting with the draft.
As of right now, the Warriors have 10 players ready for next season, assuming they pick up the team option on Charles Jenkins and extend the qualifying offer on Brandon Rush. The team's salary cap is just over $56 million.
While they easily have space for four picks, with only one being lottery, they may be trying to trade away for a big-name small forward like Andre Iguodala.
With Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut only staying around for two more years, they need to leave cap and roster space to sign free agents, especially because the team still lacks frontcourt depth. That may not be solvable in the draft.
The point is, the team isn't going to solve all their problems with the draft, and they can't take on four picks unless the picks are going to do just that.
Obviously, no team can afford to draft poorly, but the Warriors really need to do well.
If they draft right or trade the picks successfully, or draft to trade successfully, they could be near locks for the playoffs. I'm a big proponent of trading their picks up for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. (If you aren't convinced, read this.)
However, if they do keep their picks, they need to draft wisely. With the No. 7 pick, there are a few people who they might have the option to take. Management says they want frontcourt depth or a starting small forward, but they claim they'll take the best player available and trade if they need to. So there's only so much bad they can do.
For example, if Bradley Beal or Damian Lillard are still available, they might take them and trade them.
The worst that management could do with the No. 7 pick is:
A) Draft a guard and plan to keep him.
B) Draft a player with little trade value and get stuck with them. The Warriors are willing to immediately trade the player they draft if he isn't a good fit. However, if they take a guy who other teams don't like, that opportunity may be lost.
C) Draft Jeremy Lamb and start him at small forward. Jeremy Lamb has the upside to be the No. 7 pick, but the last thing the Warriors need is another undersized wing. That's why they traded Monta Ellis.
D) Draft the wrong big man. The Warriors will need a big man who can play either post position and play good defense.
What they don't need is another undersized score-first project. Unfortunately, there have been a lot of rumors of them taking Jared Sullinger. Not only would they be taking a guy who doesn't fit, but they'd be dipping too low as far as talent and potential goes.
Tyler Zeller is in a similar category. Meyers Leonard is an acceptable stretch, but for this team, he still isn't worth the No. 7 overall pick in one of the best drafts in history.
Unless they trade down, the only big they should draft that has any chance of falling to No. 7 (Robinson doesn't) is Andre Drummond. But that is highly unlikely.
E) Draft Harrison Barnes and stick with him. I like Barnes, but the last thing the Warriors need is another spot-up shooter who can't create his own shot. If he falls that low, they may consider taking him for his trade value.
Still, for the future at the small forward position, the Warriors specifically need an athletic slasher. (If they can't draft MKG, they need to trade for one.)
It sounds like they should trade the pick or the player, unless a miracle occurs.
The Warriors are known to throw money at "future stars" who don't really work out.
Last season, they signed Kwame Brown for $7 million. Kwame Brown. $7 million dollars.
The mid-level exception is enough to sign a key cog, even two. If the Warriors do half-decent in the draft, they won't be far from being, at least, a playoff contender.
Assuming they acquire a starting small forward in the draft, reliable frontcourt depth will be a priority. While Andris Biedrins is much better off the bench than starting and Jeremy Tyler showed a bit of promise at the end of the season, the Warriors need a reliable guy who can back up either big.
If they find the right guy, they might even have some MLE left. With players like Jordan Hill, Omer Asik, Ian Mahinmi, Greg Stiemsma, Brian Scalabrine, (just kidding), and Darrell Arthur available, it would be a shame if the Warriors don't sign or sign-and-trade for a good backup big.
It would even be good if they re-signed Mickell Gladness, who looked good at the end of the year.
What I don't want to see is a "potential" guy at a position that the Warriors are fine at getting money for several years, like Randy Foye, Eddy Curry, Cartier Martin or Donte Greene.
The Warriors may end up having several options to start at small forward next year. They'll be able to choose between Richard Jefferson, Dorell Wright, Brandon Rush and whoever they get in the draft.
Between those three, I would start Dorell Wright. Brandon Rush is the best player, but he's more of a shooting guard, and he's best when providing energy at either wing position as a sixth man off the bench. Richard Jefferson isn't good enough.
If the Warriors can get the 2011 Dorell Wright back, they'll have one of the top 10 small forwards in the NBA. However, we have no way of knowing what he'll be like. At this point, the Warriors should start him, even if Rush gets more minutes.
Obviously, if they get a big name like Andre Iguodala or Rudy Gay, he'll start. If they get a high draft pick at the small forward position, he would start too.
But what if they draft a small forward with their No. 30 pick, or they end up with a different late first-round pick somehow? Then it's a tough decision that might be decided in training camp and the preseason.
The Warriors will have to see how Dorell Wright is doing and how much work their new guy has put in, whether it's Perry Jones III, Royce White, Moe Harkless, Quincy Miller or even Draymond Green.
Worst-case scenario: it's hard to say. If they start the wrong guy, they can change it quickly, but it may severely throw off team chemistry.
Both of Steph Curry's ankles might as well be made out of glass. As soon as one heals, the other one gets injured.
Unfortunately, ankle injuries are among the most difficult to fix.
Apparently his surgery went really well, but we don't know for sure. The worst-case scenario is that things with his ankles continue to get worse. If they do, his career will be severely threatened, and Curry will be well on his way to being a sad story.
Andrew Bogut is very similar to Stephen Curry in his tendency to get injured. He may never reach his full potential due to his injuries, but he's different in the sense that while Steph has similar recurring injuries, Andrew Bogut falls victim to weird incidents that lead to a variety of different injuries.
If weird accidents stop happening, he's rather durable. But he doesn't have much more time left before he plateaus or even declines, so he better get healthy fast.
He may end up being the most important player on the Warriors next year. I'm counting on him to make as big of a difference as any inside presence ever does, and the Warriors simply aren't a solid team without him.
Like Curry, the worst-case scenario is another season-ending, career-threatening injury.
Klay Thompson seemed to improve every game last season.
He quickly became one of the very best spot-up shooters in the NBA. His defense became less pathetic, as did his ball-handling, and his basketball I.Q. and confidence improved greatly. By the end of the year, he actually learned how to score using a pick or isolation opportunity.
However, this is where many players stop improving. If Thompson wants to be what the Warriors need, he may need to work out with a special trainer. I'm not convinced he has the athleticism to be an above-average defender or shot-creator, and those are the things he needs to be.
His worst-case scenario is that he doesn't get better.
Based on the end of the season, Charles Jenkins is ready to start in the NBA. Obviously we need more proof, but he's convinced me that he abruptly turned into a very solid backup point guard who can also take minutes at shooting guard.
If this was a fluke, which it feels like it must have been, and the Warriors rely on him to be a big bench contributor, they will have no backcourt depth. Simple enough.
David Lee played like an MVP this season—I don't know where people who say otherwise have been. Shooting over 50 percent from the field, averaging 20 and 10 and being the primary distributor on your team is an incredible feat, even if you are a terrible defensive player.
Lee was a leader on the court, and despite playing many of his minutes out of position as a center, he was one of the best high post scorers and rebounders in the NBA while also averaging three assists per game on a weak team.
If this continues next year and he legitimately averages 20 points and 10 rebounds per game on a good team (hopefully), he'll be one of the very best power forwards in the NBA, especially with Bogut cleaning up for him on defense.
It almost looks like he's become more skilled and more athletic every year. But he's 29-years-old, so this has to stop soon. The worst-case scenario is that his age rapidly begins to show and he gets burnt out.
The Warriors will need him to play like a superstar next year if they want to have any chance of making it to the second round.
In order for the Warriors to fire Mark Jackson with good reason, he better really screw up.
I know how most basketball fans don't actually look around, and continue to believe things a long time after they stop being true. For example, it took most of the season for "experts" to realize that Dirk Nowitzki is no longer the best power forward in the NBA, and that his Mavericks aren't contenders anymore. Or that Joe Johnson hasn't played like an All-Star since 2009.
What they also didn't fathom is that this year, until the Warriors traded Monta (anything after that was a joke of a season), the Warriors were a defense-first team. They actually were slightly above-average defensively, and they actually worked hard on that end of the court. In fact, they sacrificed some of their fast breaks in order to get back on defense in every situation, even when somebody gambled for a steal and missed.
The team's problem wasn't defense. Besides health, the reason the team was only playing .500 ball was rebounding. You can teach defense much more than you can teach rebounding.
The point is, in only a miniature training camp and a two-game preseason, Mark Jackson actually turned the Warriors into a defense-first team. Since then, they've added a guy who averages 2.6 blocks and upwards of 10 rebounds per game.
Mark Jackson did a lot with a little last season before the tank job, and even if they do hit some road bumps, this transitioning team needs a new, progressive coach who focuses on defense and fundamentals.
Mark Jackson doesn't have experience, but the Warriors shouldn't be looking for a deep playoff run this year, and every coach has to start somewhere.
I know people who don't do their homework on the Dubs may have their doubts, but all logic shows that if the Warriors stay healthy, they'd have to royally mess up to miss the playoffs, despite the talent in the West.
If you don't follow the Warriors a lot, it makes since that you wouldn't realize, for example, that when Steph Curry and David Lee alone are playing, the team plays above .500, and now you can throw arguably the third-best center in the NBA in the mix.
Still, I've seen some people put a healthy Suns team in the playoffs over a healthy Warriors team. How? I'm still bewildered and almost disgusted.
Anyway, the team has the third-best center in the NBA, a power forward who may average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, the best shooting tandem of guards in recent history, a rapidly improving bench and a lot more coming in the draft.
While I don't see how this team would lose the season to Steve Nash and a bunch of guys you couldn't pay me to pass to, I understand how people who don't watch the Warriors would leave them out of the playoffs.
But most experts have them in the playoffs, and if they stay healthy but don't make it, that would make for one of the most disappointing seasons of all time.
The Jazz currently own the Warriors' top six protected 2013 draft pick. If the Warriors don't make the playoffs, the only thing they could take away from the season would be a high pick.
If they don't even get that, then this season will have fallen to its worst-case scenario.