Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry received a level of praise throughout the 2012-13 season that is extremely rare for bench players.
Many considered Jack the heart and soul (almost always using that exact cliche) of the Golden State Warriors. Landry was labeled a "super sub", and while not quite as beloved as Jack, was viewed as a guy who had to be on the floor late in the game.
The fact is that these two players were still underrated by the masses in terms of importance to Golden State.
The Warriors had three major strengths in their starting lineup last season: A primary ball-handler who could score at will off the dribble (Stephen Curry), a big who was always scoring, rebounding or getting to the line (David Lee) and a wing player who could instantly change a game from the perimeter (Klay Thompson).
While all three of these things are important, most teams have at least three strengths of this magnitude.
What made Golden State so dangerous is that it never lacked these strengths.
In Jack, coach Mark Jackson had another primary ball-handler who could get a bucket whenever he wanted. In Landry, he had a power forward every bit as efficient, relentless on the glass and capable of getting to the line as Lee.
Curry backed up Thompson when Jack was in, and he was an even deadlier floor-spacer than Thompson was.
That lack of a drop off when dipping into the bench was rare, but the ability to play the exact same kind of game with the same strong points was unique in the entire NBA. It created a familiarity, cohesiveness and consistency that ultimately was the difference between a 47-35 season and a 35-47 year (at best).
So, with Jack and Landry both hitting the free agent market on July 1 and with the Warriors lacking the cap space to retain both of them, the future looked fairly murky.
Then the Warriors signed Andre Iguodala to a four-year, $48 million contract. The move forced them to renounce their rights to Jack and Landry, while also costing them a potential replacement for that lost production in Brandon Rush.
Iguodala is very good, but he's not a superstar. And any player who isn't a superstar is not worth downgrading from the NBA's best bench—which Jack, Landry and Rush would have likely composed—to one of the worst.
When Iguodala was added, the Warriors bench projected to look as follows: Harrison Barnes (or Klay Thompson), Draymond Green, Kent Bazemore, Kevin Murphy, Nemanja Nedovic and Festus Ezeli (for a couple months).
With only $2.8 million in cap space at the time, Golden State appeared to be in a bind.
Of course, anyone who doubted that general manager Bob Myers had a plan in place is not familiar with the resume of a man who is quickly becoming the NBA's best young executive.
First, Myers turned the Iguodala signing into a sign-and-trade, which allowed the club to retain its mid-level exception and its bi-annual exception. Then, in less than 24 hours, Myers built what should be an even stronger bench than he had last season.
The majority of the MLE was used to sign Marreese Speights. The 25-year-old PF will not be the offensive force Landry was, but he may in fact be a better overall bench player.
Speights has greater height and a superior wingspan to Landry, which helps to make him a substantially better defensive rebounder (career average of 6.1 DRB per-36 minutes versus 4.7 for Landry) and shot-blocker (1.2 BPG per 36, 0.7 for Landry).
His physicality and nasty edge make him a stronger defender than Landry, although he has a propensity to foul.
Offensively, he won't convert inside with the same killer efficiency that Landry did, but he has a much more potent mid-range jumper and is at least as capable of grabbing offensive boards.
Speights' ability to play center will allow the Warriors to feature offensive lineups without completely sacrificing their interior defense, which they were forced to do last season with Landry and Lee on the floor.
One day after the Speights signing, Myers used the rest of the MLE on Toney Douglas and the bi-annual exception to bring in Jermaine O'Neal.
O'Neal will be the team's backup center at least until Ezeli comes back, but the 34-year-old will not simply hand his minutes over upon Ezeli's return.
After two terrible seasons with the Boston Celtics, O'Neal seemed finished. But he revived himself with the Phoenix Suns last year, averaging more than 10 rebounds per-36 minutes for the first time in nine campaigns.
His 2.7 blocks per-36 minutes was the second-best average of his career, and his 15.9 points per 36 was only slightly below his career average.
His limited minutes in Oakland should help him continue his resurgence, and once Ezeli returns, Golden State will have the best duo of backup centers in the NBA.
In Douglas, the Warriors found their new backup PG.
Unlike the Speights signing, Golden State did not find a comparable replacement for Jack—but it didn't need to.
Douglas will not make plays for others, create his own shots or break down the defense like Jack. However, the presence of Iguodala gives the Warriors a secondary playmaker of Jack's caliber and more than makes up for the loss of Jack's penetration.
Douglas, meanwhile, is a better defender, turnover-creator and rebounder than Jack. He shoots the exact same percentage on threes for his career (.358), but he's played for teams where he's been asked to jack up triples. He could raise his percentage in a more selective shooting role with Golden State.
After factoring in Douglas and Iguodala, the only area where the loss of Jack would still hurt the Dubs is in his ability to create his own shot and consistently knock it down.
Barnes solves this problem.
There's a chance that Iguodala plays SG and Thompson comes off the bench, but in all likelihood Barnes will be the team's new sixth man.
Not only can the second-year forward create his own shot, but he'll create matchup nightmares that Jack did not.
Curry, Thompson and Iguodala will likely command the best wing defenders, meaning Barnes will draw smaller men while playing the 3. During the postseason last year, he demonstrated an ability to consistently punish teams for this by posting up, muscling by or shooting over his undersized counterpart.
When playing the 4, Barnes will either be left open for threes (which he will knock down) or draw a big man out of the lane, thus creating slashing lanes and offensive rebounding opportunities.
Let's not forget Green, who has lost 15 pounds this summer.
His defensive intensity, rebounding ability, basketball IQ and energy will now be the traits of a more dynamic, NBA-caliber athlete.
Bazemore should be better with a year of experience under his belt, and his presence gives the Warriors an excellent defensive sub at every position.
Golden State has replaced almost everything it lost from Jack and Landry on the offensive end while significantly upgrading on each player defensively.
When factoring in the versatility of Barnes and Speights as well as the vastly-improved depth, the 2013-14 Warriors will have an even better bench than they did in 2012-13.
Very few people would've ever thought that was a possibility, and absolutely no one would have considered it if you told them the team would lose Landry, Jack and Rush.
It may be time to stop doubting Myers and the Warriors.
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