Stephen Curry is part of a golden future for the Golden State Warriors.
This is no longer the Golden State Warriors you grew up with.
Times have changed, finally, for a franchise that for so long has drowned in mediocrity.
The Warriors aren’t decorated with championships. The team’s retired jerseys belong to the distant past, mostly from an era of the 60s and 70s that precedes the current Golden State fan’s memory.
As far as recent history goes, Hall of Famer Chris Mullin’s jersey hangs from his time in the '80s and '90s though even his playoff games capped at 33 through just five short postseason appearances with the Warriors.
But, suddenly, the franchise has turned quicker than a Stephen Curry ankle.
Golden State drove further into the postseason this year than they have since 1977, ultimately falling to the San Antonio Spurs in six games of the Western Conference semifinals.
The Warriors need to continue with what worked this past season.
With a young nucleus led by Curry, the NBA’s early-round playoff darling, the Warriors are settling into a 2013-14 season that could take an even longer step forward for this once-lost franchise.
Especially if these bold—but all plausible—predictions come true.
Calling Stephen Curry a superstar is no longer bold.
Suggesting that he can remain healthy for an entire season might be though.
The reality is that Curry is a one of the best scoring guards in the NBA and the 25-year-old's ankles are paper thin. In 2012-13, Curry rolled his ankles multiple times in the regular season and playoffs, but he sat out only four games the entire year.
He’s tougher than he’s given credit for.
Coming off his best professional season, Curry set a regular-season record with 272 three-pointers and averaged 22.9 points and 6.9 assists.
The Bay Area’s newest favorite NBA player led the Warriors deeper into the postseason than they’d been since 1977 by averaging 23.4 points and 8.1 assists. He averaged 3.5 three-pointers per game in the playoffs.
Heading into next season, Curry should hit repeat; his shot isn't going away.
The ankles may continue to be an issue, but his resilience in playing through pain provides proof that next season should be no worse than the last. The injuries may be nagging and frustrating, but they weren't overwhelmingly limiting until the rough timing of the conference semifinals.
Curry arrived as a superstar, the center of a young supporting cast that will allow him to grow even more as a scorer and all-around playmaker.
The mighty stage of the NBA playoffs wasn't too overwhelming for the Warriors' 20-year-old rookie.
Harrison Barnes was the best rookie in the postseason—even if he was the highest-picked talent left standing—revealing the type of growth that only a playoff series can provide.
But in the playoffs, when Warriors All-Star David Lee suffered a torn right hip flexor, Barnes stepped into the power forward position and reintroduced himself to the basketball nation. All the promise that followed him to North Carolina poured out.
Against the San Antonio Spurs, Barnes scored 26 points and 25 points in Game 4 and 5, respectively. For the playoffs, he averaged 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds while his minutes increased to 38.4 minutes per game.
With respect to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Barnes eventually becomes the biggest superstar of the three.
His 6'8", 210-pound frame is paired with the most athleticism on the roster. When he attacks the rim, as Pekovic can attest, he comes with superstar force.
His three-point shot appeared flat early in the season but developed more of a shooter’s arc as the year progressed. If Barnes is able to further develop his long-range accuracy, it will open up his drives and give the Warriors an additional perimeter threat.
Barnes’ three-point percentage hit a low for the season in 16 games in March at 30 percent (averaging 0.4-of-.1.4 per game), but he shot 41 percent (0.6-of-1.5) in April. In the playoffs, he took more three-point shots at 1.6-of-4.3 (36.5 percent).
If he adds a consistent shot and continues to attack the rim, Barnes’ will reveal himself to be a star in 2013-14.
Jarrett Jack will be back.
He wants to be back, per his quote to Bay Area News Group's Marcus Thompson after the Warriors were eliminated by the Spurs:
I hope so, man. Obviously there are other things that go into seeing if that works—we all know this is a business at the end of the day. If I could do it, if I could rearrange it, I would definitely be back at this same locker.
The Warriors need him back too.
Golden State paid Jack $5.4 million for one year after receiving him in a three-team trade that involved former Warrior swingman Dorell Wright. Jack was a steal for general manager Bob Myers. The 29-year-old averaged 12.9 points and 5.6 assists in 29.7 minutes per game off the bench.
The Warriors are Jack's fifth team, and he seems to have found a home as a positive veteran voice inside the Warriors' locker room. In the playoffs, Jack shot 50.6 percent for 17.2 points and 4.7 assists per game.
What makes Jack even more valuable is what he means to Curry. Jack finished the majority of Warriors games handling the ball at point guard, allowing Curry to move through screens to his spots around the arc.
Jack assisted to Curry on 98 baskets this season, the most of any other Warrior.
Looking at salary cap space for next season, if Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush exercise their player options, the team will be just beneath the anticipated luxury tax line of around $70 million.
Whether or not Jack returns will depend partially on what happens with Carl Landry. Landry has a $4 million player option, and he can certainly be paid more by opting to become an unrestricted free agent. Weighing team chemistry against a more lucrative contract is making this a difficult decision for the veteran forward.
If Landry were to return, the Warriors would already be over the luxury tax line and opting to keep Jack becomes a bigger decision as the new collective bargaining agreement nails teams over the mark.
However, if Landry doesn't return as expected, the Warriors could re-sign Jack in the $6 million range over multiple years. With the return of Rush, who averaged 9.8 points on 50 percent shooting in 26.4 minutes per game for the Warriors in 2011-12, the Warriors would have incredible backcourt depth.
The frontcourt would become thinner, but a full season from a healthy Andrew Bogut would offset that. Trades to create more salary space is another option for the Warriors to explore.
But Jack was vital to the Warriors success this past season, and he created the perfect change-up to Curry. He should return for 2013-14.
There was talk in the playoffs that David Lee impinges on the Warriors success.
But this begs two critical questions:
1. What are you going to do with him?
2. What are you going to do without him?
In other words, Golden State would have a hard time moving Lee. The 30-year-old makes $13.8 million next season, $15 million in 2014 and $15.49 million in 2015-16.
While it is certainly possible to trade an All-Star coming off an All-NBA third team honor and an 18.5-point and 11.2-rebound season, Lee's salary under the new collective bargaining agreement would find limited trade partners—at least of teams that could return anything of value for a Warriors team looking to contend again next season.
And what would you do without him?
Sure, Golden State looked good in a small sample size without Lee, but try going a full season without an active rebounder who also works well on the pick-and-roll to ease the defensive pressure that targets Curry.
He's not stealing shots at 51.9 percent shooting.
Lee is a valuable piece to the chemistry of this team. Moving him is a a step toward trying to recreate the magic with a different formula. The Warriors need to stick as closely as possible with what worked this past season.
The continued growth of the youngsters, accompanied by the health and consistency of a guy like Lee, helps ensure that the Warriors contend again next season.
Klay Thompson is equally important. It may be tempting to trade the team's other shooter for a package of veteran talent. But he should not be moved.
Thompson averaged 16.6 points and shot 40.1 percent (2.6-of-6.4) from three-point range. His shooting pairs well with Curry, as displayed in the postseason, and Thompson can defend the wing.
As enticing as it may seem to package Lee and Thompson for a big-name prize, the Warriors should be cautious about tinkering too much with what worked in 2012-13.
Andrew Bogut hasn’t been healthy since he was traded to the Warriors from the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Monta Ellis during the 2011-12 season.
He wasn’t healthy before then either.
The last time the seven-footer played more than 70 games in a season was in 2007-08. His down time in recent years has been due mostly to a severe elbow injury and an ankle that ultimately needed microfracture surgery following the trade to the Warriors.
Bogut has now played just 44 regular-season games plus 12 postseason games in the past two years.
In 2012-13, the 28-year-old didn't play until Jan. 28, and he ended up playing 32 games, averaging 5.8 points and 7.7 rebounds in 24.6 minutes per game.
But in the playoffs, even while grimacing from ankle pain that at one point needed a pain-killing injection, Bogut was the enforcer the Warriors needed.
On high screens, Bogut delivered blows that opened up shooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. He battled inside with the likes of the Denver Nuggets' Kenneth Faried and the San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan. He protected the rim for the Warriors who previously relied heavily on rookie center Festus Ezeli.
Next season, Bogut has a chance to be healthy in a contract season. But after watching him struggle to run up and down the floor in the postseason, it's hard to imagine he can ever regain his early-career form.
He won't necessarily have to, though. Bogut may be limited in minutes and games depending on his health heading into next season, but he should be an overall boost to a Warriors team that could lose Carl Landry to free agency.
If Bogut can play for the majority of the season, though, he will be an incredible value to Golden State's interior play.
He won't be an All-Star, but he will have an important role in 2013-14.
The Warriors never own the Golden State, but next season all that will change.
A look at the field:
2. The close by Sacramento Kings will likely remain irrelevant as new ownership builds back a competitive roster.
But the state will belong to the Warriors, the team with the most long-term structure in place, led by a coach who has proven capable of driving success.
Following this season, the contracts of Andrew Bogut, Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson expire, leaving an added $24 million for the Warriors. With a young core and some salary space, the Warriors could be California's top team for years to come.
Next year is the start, but the team is also building into one of the top teams in the conference.
A quick glance around the West places the Warriors close in talent to fellow contending teams. If the young core develops as planned, the Warriors will rise to the ranks of teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies and the equally-growing Houston Rockets.