From left: Jarrett Jack, David Lee, Carl Landry, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson
Howard because of the front office's aggressive pursuit of the superstar big man, Jack and Landry because of the choice between the two that Golden State will likely have to make and Lee because of his contract and the problems it creates regarding the rest aforementioned three players.
Beneath all the noise lies more foundational questions: What would be the ideal 2013-14 lineup? How would the minutes be distributed?
If Lee, Jack or Landry departs, how will it affect the rotation? What about if Howard is brought in?
With a breakdown of these potential lineups, we can achieve a greater level of clarity regarding what Golden State needs to focus on this summer.
The Simplest, Most Ideal Lineup
Forget for a minute the talk of adding Howard and losing Lee.
If Golden State simply brings back last season's roster and everyone gets and remains healthy (besides Festus Ezeli, who has very little chance of playing before New Year's), the Warriors lineup and minute distribution should look something like this:
Minutes add up to 240 (five positions x 48 minutes). Keep in mind that actual MPG averages add up to more than 240 as DNP do not factor in as zeros.
|SG/SF||Brandon Rush ||18|
The return of Rush is what really makes this lineup work.
Curry was the Warriors' MVP last season, but the 38 minutes he played each night took a toll on his weak ankles as the playoffs went deeper.
With Rush, the Warriors can afford to sit Curry more, as they'll have another three-point shooter and slasher to spread the floor with Jack at the point.
The growth of Barnes will also draw defensive attention, especially when he slides over to the 4 spot. This will in turn allow Lee to play fewer minutes and perhaps be more efficient during his time on the floor.
The flexibility here would be great, as the Warriors could feature a "small-ball" lineup of Curry-Thompson-Rush-Barnes-Bogut . This would be far superior to last season's small group, which had Jack instead of Rush and thus forced Curry and Thompson to play out of position.
Problems exist, but only if something goes wrong. For example, an injury to Bogut would crush this team, as Biedrins would have to take on the bulk of the minutes while the rest trickled down to everyone else.
Lee, Thompson, Jack and Landry would each be playing at least three fewer minutes than they did last season, which could lead to unrest. Of course, if the team wins, no one will complain.
Of course, this will not be possible if Golden State loses Jack or Landry.
The Sans Jack, Sans Landry Lineups
Let's first assume that the Warriors lose Jarrett Jack, retain Carl Landry and pick up a mediocre backup PG in free agency (an Earl Watson type).
|6th/PF||Carl Landry ||23|
|SG/SF||Brandon Rush ||20|
This would not be a disaster. Jack's 25 minutes would be primarily absorbed by Curry, Thompson and Barnes.
Curry and Thompson would still be getting more rest than last year, while Barnes could use the spike in playing time anyway. Landry would be happy, as he wouldn't lose the minutes he did in the first scenario.
The main issue would be that Curry's 36 minutes would all be played at PG. Even with a reduction in total minutes, Curry would exert the ankle more as the full-time floor general, while finding less opportunities to knock down shots off the ball.
The negative toll this would take on the health, shooting efficiency and effectiveness of Golden State's most important player are significant.
But would retaining Jack and losing Landry for a mediocre bench big be favorable?
|6th/PG||Jarrett Jack ||25|
|SG/SF||Brandon Rush ||20|
Draymond Green ||16|
First and foremost, this relieves the pressure from Curry. And while losing Landry hurts, replacing him with a lesser but bigger player would give the Warriors another option at center, cutting down on Biedrin's minutes.
The issue would obviously be at power forward. Without Landry, Golden State would need 18 minutes at PF night from a combination of Barnes and Green.
While the Warriors beat Denver with Barnes or Green at the 4 during the postseason, that success hinged on incredibly hot shooting from Jack, Curry, Thompson, Barnes and Green as a unit.
If those five didn't drain at a ridiculously higher percentage than they shot at during the regular season (and each of them did just that), the team's lack of size would have been far more costly.
This should immediately put to rest any notions of moving David Lee, as well.
Going through 82 games with two severely undersized, under-strengthed, under-experienced guys playing that much PF as opposed to the strong, experienced, efficient Landry might be even scarier than asking Curry to do more next season.
Which is part of the reason why the Howard talk is worth having.
The Dwight Howard Lineup
For the Warriors to acquire Dwight Howard, they would have to part with Andrew Bogut and either Klay Thompson or Harrison Barnes.
They simply don't have the cap room to sign Howard straight up, and the Los Angeles Lakers will have no motivation to help the Warriors with a sign-and-trade unless they get a young piece in return.
If forced to decide, the Warriors would likely part with Barnes, as he's less proven than Thompson, has yet to brandish an ultra-rare talent like Thompson's shooting and plays at a position where the Warriors have greater depth.
Richard Jefferson would likely be a part of the package as well, providing the Warriors with the instant cap relief to keep Jack and Landry and giving the Lakers an expiring contract.
|6th/PG||Jarrett Jack ||25|
|PF||Carl Landry ||20|
Draymond Green ||16|
This lineup has one clear advantage this lineup has over all the others: It could give the Warriors a championship.
Howard carried the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009 and the Eastern Conference Finals by dominating the game defensively and controlling the glass like no other.
The Magic surrounded him with shooters and the defensive attention Howard drew as well as the second chances he provided gave these shooters ample room.
Now, imagine if those shooters were Curry and Thompson.
Then, imagine if Rush was the third shooting option and Lee was the bailout. The Warriors offense may simply be too good to stop with Howard, and that's not even thinking about what the defense would look like.
Suffice it to say that Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, and giving Barnes' minutes to Rush, Bazemore and Green would only help the perimeter D.
Okay, was that fun? Consider this your alarm clock beeping.
While the dream of Howard in Oakland is an exciting one, the reality may end resembling that of a nightmare.
The Warriors' biggest strength as a team last season was chemistry and effort level. Some may brush that off and say "who needs that when you have a super-human center?" but the fact is that Golden State's roster is built of guys wired to play only one way: extremely hard and with extreme positivity.
Look up "hustle player" and next to it will be a picture of Draymond Green, Carl Landry and David Lee (not to mention Mark Jackson). Then look up "locker-room leader" and you'll again see Lee, this time with Jarrett Jack and Stephen Curry, and with Jackson pictured on a pull-out two-page spread.
I'd love a dictionary that actually had that.
Point being, Howard is not like this. He is extremely physically gifted, but he only competes hard when things are going his way. And his way means he's getting minutes, getting the ball, getting whatever else he wants from the coach and winning.
He doesn't lead the locker room either. He makes more money than everyone else and complains more as well.
He brings a ton of media attention, but he also diverts attention from other players.
The fact is that signing Dwight Howard would give the Warriors a chance at becoming a perennial title-favorite, but there's a greater chance that he becomes a force as destructive as his game is to opponents.
This team and its front office have been building the right way with the right kind of people for too long and created something too special to throw it all away on Howard.
So, Where's that Clarity You Promised?
After a breakdown of the potential Golden State lineups for 2013-14, the ideal scenario is to retain everyone and add no one, at least no one major.
While the Howard lineup looks the best on your computer screen, the game isn't played within your browser.
The loss of Landry would create very different problems than the loss of Jack, but one thing becomes clear with each of these two scenarios: Keep them both if at all possible. And keep David Lee.
When the 2013-14 preseason and season rolls around, minutes will be fought for and earned. For now, looking at hypothetical rotations such as the ones I've provided is the most rational way to move forward.