Combining the 21-point defeat in Oakland at the hand of the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 11 and the referee-decided loss to the Lakers the next night, it appears clear that the Golden State Warriors have neither the top-end talent nor the respect necessary to win four straight playoff series this year.
But does Golden State have the core in place to one day win an NBA Title?
The question may be impossible to answer as the terms are difficult to define. For example, what is a "core?"
Most NBA powerhouses have a fairly clear power structure: Leader, core players, role players, depth players. Oftentimes, that second tier of "core" players consists of three pieces.
Elite teams may have clear cores, but gray areas emerge as the quality of team drops off.
Golden State clearly has two standout stars: Stephen Curry and David Lee. Consider, however, that even superior core players such as the ones in Miami, San Antonio and Oklahoma City still have greater strength in numbers.
In simpler terms, it's wishful thinking to believe that Curry and Lee could outplay Parker and Duncan in a series, but it's preposterous to believe that the Curry and Lee could outplay Parker, Duncan and Ginobili.
The Warriors, not yet being—and not yet expected to be—an NBA powerhouse, don't need to worry too much about lacking that clear trifecta.
Moving forward, however, they do need to begin thinking about who that third guy is. Right now, it's impossible to say.
Andrew Bogut is certainly paid like the third core player (well, he's paid like the first) and was acquired for the team's then-leader in Monta Ellis.
However, Bogut's inability to stay healthy and make a consistent offensive impact makes him an inconsistent role player to a great supporting player at best.
Klay Thompson is third on the team in scoring, but does so in a far less efficient manner than several of his teammates. Beyond that, he doesn't dominate any aspect of the game besides outside shooting.
He can still make an impact defensively and is an improved penetrator and finisher, but is still a quintessential complimentary guy.
Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack are really the most practical options: They are respectively third and fourth on the team in Player Efficiency Rating, just behind Curry and Lee. Each scores roughly as much as Thompson per minute with far greater efficiency. Landry is the team's best offensive rebounder and low-post scorer, while Jack is arguably the best distributor on the team.
Still, both guy's candidacy for "core player" is immediately destroyed when realizing that neither is even the team's best player at their respective positions and are both defensive liabilities.
If the Warriors are to compete for a championship next season without dramatically changing their roster, their best bet is taking the route that the Detroit Pistons took in 2004, the Dallas Mavericks took in 2011 and that the Denver Nuggets are attempting to take in 2013: winning with superior role players and depth.
That isn't out of the realm of possibility for this club, but several things need to go right.
First, the Warriors must figure out a way to retain Landry and Jack, both free agents. This will require Landry accepting his $4 million player option and Jack accepting the Mid-Level Exception price of $5 million, likely less than he would earn on the open market.
The Warriors then must hope that Brandon Rush recovers fully from the torn ACL and MCL that kept him out of all but two games this season and that Bogut's body will allow him to stay on the court and make a consistent impact.
Finally, Harrison Barnes must make major strides during his sophomore season. The Warriors will need him to be more aggressive both offensively and on the glass, as well as more consistent with his jump shot.
If Golden State gets major contributions from Barnes and Bogut, they'll have as good a starting five as any team in the league. Plus if Jack and Landry re-sign and Rush comes back strong, they'll have the bench unit to match.
Combine that with a great group of depth players—Draymond Green, Festus Ezeli, Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Kent Bazemore—along with the subtle strides that Thompson and Curry are expected to make and playoff experience from this season, and Golden State should contend for a championship next year.
If these things don't happen and the Warriors don't become elite, the contracts of Bogut, Biedrins, Jefferson, Landry and Rush all come off the books after next season. With over $40 million opening up in cap space, Golden State will certainly have a chance to augment their core during that summer.
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