What's Next for the Golden State Warriors?
They can relish in the fact that it took the eventual champions seven games to knock them out. Or that they were the only team other than the Miami Heat to beat them at least twice in the playoffs. A small victory, but it is quite impressive for a team that finished 20 games under .500 the prior season.
For the time being, Golden State should be enjoying the fact that it had such a successful season.
But what’s next?
The first thing on the schedule is the NBA draft. The Warriors currently have no draft picks in either round. That is not necessarily a bad thing.
Luckily, last season they held on to their first-round draft pick, with which they took Harrison Barnes. Barnes has the look of a superstar. Had he stayed at North Carolina one more year and entered this draft, Barnes likely would be a lock to go No. 1 overall.
Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli are also entering their second years, so no need to get back into the 2014 NBA draft.
The best plan on June 27 is to take Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry to whatever restaurant they want.
That potential pampering sheds light on the Warriors' biggest obstacle this offseason: the task of retaining Landry and Jack.
Ideally, the two would be back on a one-year deal—more on that later—but from their performances last season, each is going to field long-term offers. The Warriors hopefully will be able to sign both and keep the team's chemistry going.
That would result in going over the tax line. However, paying extra money does not appear to be something that will bother the Warriors' managing partner Joe Lacob and company.
If one or both leave, the first thing the Warriors need to do is replace them.
Point guard is the most pressing need.
Curry is one of the top guards in the league. However, his ankles can give at any turn, so putting minimal strain on them is as important as anything else. He is also terrific off the ball, so adding another playmaker will help the Warriors continue the dynamic they had last season.
If Jack bolts, whoever the new backup point becomes should be on a one-year deal. With all their current talent, the Warriors can still free up a lot of cap room soon, thanks in part to Curry’s new deal, which kicks in next season.
Golden State took a gamble giving him a $44 million extension prior to the start of the season, and it paid off significantly. He now looks terribly underpaid. The cap room they will save is tremendous.
For now, with Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson both returning for a combined $19 million, the Warriors owe $74.8 million in salary next season.
The good news is that Golden State will have just $24 million committed in the 2014 offseason and can go after a big-name free agent. With the ability to pay a superstar, which one of them wouldn’t strongly consider playing on a team with Curry, Barnes, Klay Thompson and David Lee?
Even if Jack and/or Landry leaves, signing one-rental players, such as Chris Kaman, Darren Collison, Shaun Livingston, Beno Udrih or Marreese Speights to add to their already-talented roster wouldn’t be the end of the world.
To that end, if the Warriors swing and miss this summer, during the upcoming season the contracts of Biedrins and Jefferson become valuable for any team looking to clear cap space. They can deal for a difference-maker midseason just by unloading one or both of them.
Although a new problem with their roster has arisen. Surgery on Ezeli's knee will keep him out for the next six to nine months.
With the always-shaky health of Andrew Bogut, Ezeli’s presence was vital. Now they just have Biedrins behind him.
There is a silver lining to Biedrins this year—he is playing for his NBA life in the final year of his deal and may recapture the form that earned him a $55 million contract. Stranger things have happened.
Nonetheless, his deal does expire, so no matter how he plays, this will be likely be his last year as a Warrior. What might ease the potential loss of Ezeli is the fact that Bogut will also be playing for a new contract. Don’t be surprised if he plays through pain this time around.
Jefferson? Well don’t hope for anything there.
Whatever transpires, Golden State now has to at least look at bringing in another center for insurance in case Bogut goes down for any length of time. Imagine if he misses three to four weeks, which is highly possible, and the Warriors were left with just Biedrins in the middle. It won’t matter how many shots the Splash Brothers sink; that is a recipe for a disaster.
That leaves point guard, power forward and now center as the Warriors' free-agency to-do list.
Settling the roster is first, but then there is the coaching staff to fill out.
The departure of Mike Malone is going to be a big loss. Everyone should be happy for him that he finally got a well-deserved shot at being a head coach in the NBA. Yes, it's for the Sacramento Kings, but still we wish him the best. Mark Jackson made huge strides as a head coach last season, but getting a veteran assistant would not hurt.
After the roster and coaching staff get assembled, the best way to keep what they have going is to have the youngsters improve. Having Thompson and Barnes invited to the Team USA minicamp should help their development. Their progress this summer and the recovery of Lee and everyone else are vital to keep things going.
From there, with a strong camp to enter the NBA season happy and healthy, there is no reason that the Warriors can’t continue to play like a top team.
It’s not going to be easy. An already-difficult Western Conference is only going to get stronger. As long as Curry’s ankles hold up, everyone else gets and stays healthy and the young players continue to develop into stars, the Warriors should have a stellar regular season and a better postseason—if that is even imaginable.
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