With the year 2013 coming to a close, the Golden State Warriors are right where they need to be.
There is a sentiment that Mark Jackson’s group has underachieved through roughly the first quarter of the season, but that is a misconception more than anything.
Golden State came into the season picked by some to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. Indeed, Gary Payton shared those thoughts with NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper:
I think they’re going to be there [NBA Finals]," Payton said. "I think they have a good chance of going. Picking up Andre (Iguodala), that was a good pickup for them. I think if (Andrew) Bogut plays well, they’re going to have a great chance. I just really do believe that. And I think Mark Jackson’s doing a great job down there. I’m really proud of my city. That’s why I mention it. People always think about our city as being the crime city. But they don’t understand. We’ve got a lot of good people coming out of there doing great things in athletics and doing a lot of things that’s positive. We want these kids to understand that they can do the same thing and come out and just keep our generation going that’s coming out of that area.
However, the Warriors have spent parts of the season barely keeping their record above .500.
Thus, one can understand why some might believe that Golden State needs a trade to shake things up. However, it’s important to understand why the Warriors have not consistently played like one of the top teams in the west prior to entertaining any type of roster moves.
Jackson and company have been hit by injuries hard. Andre Iguodala, Jermaine O’Neal and Toney Douglas have all missed 10 games or more this season. Keep in mind, O’Neal is the team’s backup center while Iguodala is the team’s best perimeter defender and primary ball-handler when Stephen Curry heads to the sidelines. Douglas is the nominal second-unit point guard, but his role requires of him that he applies pressure defense more than anything.
The absence of these key components have been problematic for the Warriors this season.
Keep in mind, Festus Ezeli, the team’s initial reserve center, has not yet played a single minute this season. With that said, Golden State has gotten itself back on track with the return of Iguodala.
His time away from the team resulted in the offense taking a nosedive. It put added pressure on Klay Thompson and Curry to manufacture shots for themselves and their teammates, a responsibility with which they occasionally struggled.
With Iguodala back in the fold, Golden State regained its form. Indeed, with the high flyer on the hardwood, the Warriors outscore opponents by 10.2 points on average according to NBA.com.
For the sake of context, the Indiana Pacers are outscoring teams by 9.4 points (best mark in the league). In other words, the Warriors are every bit as good as the league’s top teams with the former Denver Nugget.
It’s worth noting that the injuries highlighted the Warriors’ lack of depth. Thus, there are moves the team can make to fortify a shaky bench.
Given that the Warriors need some relief at the center position, they might consider making a swap for Omer Asik of the Houston Rockets.
Golden State can give up Jermaine O’Neal, Marreese Speights and Nemanja Nedovic. This trade gives the Warriors a backup center and also gives the Rockets a stretch power forward in Speights.
Speights has struggled so far this season, but he is a jump-shooting big man who stretches the floor, which benefits Dwight Howard. Granted, Asik’s unwillingness to play behind Howard probably means that he would not enjoy backing up Andrew Bogut.
Matt Moore of CBS Sports has the details: "He [Asik] was immediately unhappy when Howard signed with the Rockets. He was a reserve in Chicago, and despite closing several games over even Joakim Noah, he wanted a bigger role."
Thus, perhaps this deal is less than ideal given that acquiring a malcontent might negatively affect team chemistry. Instead, Golden State management can swing a deal with the Chicago Bulls.
The move in question: Harrison Barnes and Marreese Speights for Taj Gibson. The exchange gives Golden State a rugged interior defender to backup David Lee and even occasionally play center.
Gibson is excellent at moving his feet and keeping players in front of him, which makes him a great pick-and-roll defender. Thus, his presence provides Golden State with depth and an athlete to actually take minutes away from Lee in late-game situations.
Chicago receives Barnes, which allows the Bulls to play hardball with Luol Deng in contract negotiations in the summer. To be fair, it appears as though the Bulls have already done just that with the former Duke Blue Devil.
Still, the acquisition of Barnes means Deng is no longer as indispensable. The former North Carolina Tar Heel can play alongside Jimmy Butler and replace some of Deng’s production.
Andrew Bynum and the Cleveland Cavaliers have reached a breaking point. The Cavs reportedly suspended him due to conduct detrimental to team and wish to be rid of him.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports has the story: "The Cleveland Cavaliers are determined to unload Andrew Bynum in a trade after their partnership with the former All-Star center has rapidly deteriorated, league sources told Yahoo Sports."
Some with the Cavs have wondered if he even wants to play basketball. In some of his darker moods, Bynum has talked about how the game no longer was fun for him -- and he was frustrated because he no longer can perform at the same high level as he did with the Lakers a few years ago.
Mind you, in the event that the Cavs were to buy out the remainder of Bynum’s contract, the Warriors could potentially offer him a deal for the veteran’s minimum and a backup role.
Granted, this appears quite unlikely. If Bynum was contemplating retirement when he was starting for Cleveland, it’s difficult to envision him accepting a reserve role on the Warriors. Still, the temptation to join a contender might be enticing.