Ranking the Biggest Offseason Priorities for Golden State Warriors
The upcoming offseason will be an interesting one for the Golden State Warriors.
Of course, all offseasons are interesting for the fanbase of any particular team. And when compared to the offseasons of Warriors past, this one may in fact be relatively dull.
For one, Golden State does not have a draft pick.
Of the Warriors' five free agents-to-be, only Jarrett Jack does not have a player option to remain for one more season. Considering that three of the other four free agents—Brandon Rush, Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson—are either coming off of severe injuries or near the ends of their careers, they are all but guaranteed to stay.
Even if Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry (the other potential free agent) leave, the Warriors will only have a bench spot or two to fill. This summer will be nothing like last, when the Warriors added seven new players, including two new starters and an almost entirely new bench.
This will, however, be a unique offseason. Golden State will, for the first time in decades, attempt to fine-tune a roster. To make better what's already good. To subtly add without subtracting.
As much as the Warriors have going for them right now, the future appears to pack even more promise.
Of course, the future has a tendency to glow brightly. Actual success once the future becomes the present takes serious work.
Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes are all 25 years old or younger, and all three have unbelievable potential.
Curry is the most developed of the bunch, as he has become an NBA superstar. Even so, he has such rare ability handling the ball, passing the ball, shooting the ball and moving off the ball that he is nowhere close to his ceiling yet.
Thompson avoided a sophomore slump last season, showing that he's a diligent worker and is capable of adapting his game faster than opposing players and teams can adapt to him. If his work ethic remains the same, he could be one of the most lethal two-way shooting guards in the game.
Barnes had a solid rookie season, but it was a season in which the promise he showed far outweighed his actual level of production. This was in large part due to the fact that Barnes was playing for a team with so many players more established than himself that his minutes were limited, as were the number of plays run for him.
This postseason, Barnes has had his number called far more often. This is mostly a result of David Lee's absence, but also because defenses have focused so much attention on Curry and Thompson. Barnes has responded by emerging as a dangerous, borderline dominant isolation scorer on mismatches.
How hard these three work this offseason will play a huge role in determining whether this team will again finish in the 47-win ballpark or if they'll rise to an elite level.
Prepare for Regression
Progression must be demanded from Curry, Thompson and Barnes, as regressions are possible from players such as Jarrett Jack (if he re-signs) and David Lee.
Jack will be 30 next year, and he played what was likely the best basketball of his NBA career for the first four months of this season. Due to Jack's incredible play, the Warriors got out to a sizzling start despite early struggles from Thompson and Curry.
Jack's shooting percentages and assist numbers regressed as the season went on, and his poor decision-making became more visible as a result. Still, Jack has hit clutch shots all season long and has been the run-stopper and run-starter this Golden State team has needed.
The Warriors cannot count on another first half like Jack had this year and would be unwise to assume his clutch shooting will continue.
Lee will also be 30 next season, and after leading the NBA in double-doubles in 2012-13, he really doesn't have anywhere to go but down.
That isn't to say Lee will struggle, he is just very unlikely to improve. His biggest weaknesses are his lack of agility, leaping ability and strength, and all three tend to get worse with age. Compounding this is the fact that Lee will almost certainly have surgery this offseason to repair his torn hip flexor.
The Warriors' expected win-loss record based on their scoring differential in 2012-13 was 44-38. That means that every clutch shot from Jack and every monster game from Lee was necessary to make the Warriors the No. 6 seed that they are.
If these two regress, the Warriors need to improve elsewhere.
Golden State's bench does not need to be reshuffled due to lack of production. On the contrary, few teams have the strength in numbers the Warriors do.
This, however, could create its own problems.
Consider how many minutes there are to go around for an NBA bench. There are 240 minutes (48 minutes times five spots on the floor) available. About 77 of those went to Golden State's bench this season.
An improved Harrison Barnes and a healthy Andrew Bogut are likely to eat up the extra minutes Stephen Curry sits next season to keep his body fresh or David Lee sits due to a slightly reduced role.
At most, Golden State's bench will have 80 minutes to work with. As the roster stands now, this will not work.
Upcoming free agents Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry combined for 53 minutes this year, and neither will return to Oakland if they suspect a reduction.
If they both return and again play 53 minutes, this will leave only 27 for Brandon Rush, Festus Ezeli, Draymond Green and garbage-time players. Ezeli will need at least 10 of those minutes as the backup center, leaving only 17 for Rush and Green.
Considering that Rush, if healthy, will expect more than 17 minutes and Green cannot and should not play negative minutes, this simply will not work.
To solve this problem, Golden State has no choice but to get rid of one player who played significant minutes this season. Considering that Jack and Landry are the team's two free agents who played significant minutes this year, one of these two may have to go.
The Warriors will not have a transaction-heavy offseason.
In 2012-13, they made the playoffs for the first time in six seasons despite their biggest acquisition, Andrew Bogut, missing 50 games. In the playoffs, they lost their All-Star power forward in David Lee, yet they are currently in a heated battle with the San Antonio Spurs for a spot in the conference finals.
Considering how young they are (the eighth-youngest team in the NBA), this type of success in the face of adversity puts this Warriors roster in a position to thrive for years to come.
Their biggest obstacle appears to be health.
Not only did Bogut miss 50 games this season, but even upon his return, he was also not as effective as he could have been.
Stephen Curry has played through the postseason incredibly beat up, with both of his ankles bothering him as well as his hamstring.
These two, along with the injured Lee, are perhaps the three most developed Warriors on the court and the team's leaders both on and off of it. No matter how much Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, Festus Ezeli and others grow, the success of the 2013-14 Warriors will hinge on the health of these three.
While other teams will bid on Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Josh Smith and Andre Iguodala this summer, Golden State must focus on everyone who's already in the fold and making sure they are as best prepared as possible.
Simply having Curry, Bogut and Lee 100 percent healthy for opening day will be a home run of an offseason for Golden State.