The Golden State Warriors are staring at one of the game's most ghastly combinations: title hopes and a second-round ceiling.
The Dubs have a success-starved fanbase, a dream-big front office and a win-now payroll. The only thing missing is a championship-caliber roster.
This team needs a splash, and not the kind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson can provide.
With internal pressure peaking, it's time to seek out external assistance. Significant external assistance.
As the calendar moves closer to the Feb. 20 trade deadline, the Warriors need to get their plant foot down and take a home-run hack at the trade market.
What Do They Have to Offer?
A little bit of everything, outside of draft considerations.
Golden State's defensive anchor and offensive mastermind are reportedly off-limits. Everything else can be had at the right price.
"Rival executives are of the belief that anyone not named Stephen Curry or Andrew Bogut is up for discussion," according to USA Today's Sam Amick.
If sellers are motivated by anything other than draft picks—Golden State has traded two of its next four first-round picks and all five of its next second-round selections—the Warriors will have something to scratch their itch.
Steady production? David Lee's sitting on a three-year stretch of 18-plus points and nine-plus rebounds. Upside? Thompson (24 years old) is a lights-out shooter (career 40.7 three-point percentage) and top-notch defender, Harrison Barnes (21) has Kobe Bryant-Tracy McGrady comparisons in his past and posters in his present, Draymond Green (23) can literally defend all five positions:
Salary cap relief? The Warriors have four trade exceptions at their disposal, one worth $9 million and another for $4 million, via Amick. These would allow a potential trade partner to shed salary, perhaps a significant amount, without having to take any back in return. For teams attempting to be free-agent buyers, that kind of financial flexibility is invaluable.
Golden State sits only $2.5 million below the luxury tax threshold, so there are perhaps some questions about how much payroll it would be willing to add. Still, Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob already said a luxury tax hit wouldn't preclude him from making an impactful move if it improved the team's chances of winning, via Sporting News' Sean Deveney:
I don’t want to pay the luxury tax, nobody wants to. That’s why it is a luxury tax, it is very punitive. But if it means winning vs. not winning, I choose winning. So that’s not an issue. At the end of the day, all the things we are talking about are important, but the fans care about one thing: Are you winning? Not the luxury tax. If I am not here to win, then I shouldn’t be here.
In other words, if a trade partner is searching for virtually anything, chances are Golden State has it and would be willing to part with it in the right deal.
The question then becomes how would that deal need to look.
What Do They Want?
Again, a little bit of everything.
The Warriors (31-22) have put some intriguing pieces together but not enough of them to paint a championship picture:
Golden State's starting five is statistically the best five-man unit in the business.
With Curry, Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Lee and Bogut on the floor, the Warriors are outscoring their opponents by 16.5 points per 100 possessions. That's easily the best of all five-man lineups with at least 200 minutes together this season, and one of only four with a net rating above plus-10.0.
Why, then, are the Warriors sitting as the Western Conference's No. 8 seed? Because the second unit has been atrocious.
How bad? Try 29th in scoring (24.1 points per game), 30th in field-goal percentage (39.1), 27th in three-point percentage (31.5) and 30th in efficiency (26.1), via Hoopsstats.com. Oh by the way, it also gives up 31.5 points a night. The Warriors are seeing a seven-plus-point net-loss in bench production on a nightly basis.
Barnes (10.4 points on 41.6 percent shooting) looks lost without the offensive safety nets he had around him as a starter last season. He's had trouble creating his own shot (56.6 percent of his field goals have been assisted) and isn't a threat if he can't get to the basket (36.5 percent shooting outside of three feet), via Basketball-Reference.com.
Jordan Crawford has brought the bad shot selection (38.6 field-goal percentage) that Warriors fans feared when this team acquired him in January, only it has come without any scoring punch (6.3 points) or playmaking ability (2.2 assists). Green (38.1 field-goal percentage) is a one-way contributor. Marreese Speights booms (nine games in double figures) or busts (15 games with two points or less) on a whim.
Coach Mark Jackson has two options, neither of which is attractive. He can either ride his starters too hard or hand over the keys to a group who doesn't know how to drive.
He's tried both and seen the pitfalls on either side. Upgrading the bench isn't a desire—it's a necessity.
The Warriors have reportedly kicked the tires on Boston Celtics forward Brandon Bass, via Deveney, but Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group said the talks have "little to no legs." Steve Kyler of BasketballInsiders.com said Golden State remains in the market for point guard depth and would like to find a draft pick if an available one is out there.
These are necessary moves, but ultimately window dressing. The Dubs need to aim higher.
Potential for Proven Production
The Warriors seem to be searching for an identity, and not just because what should be a top-shelf offense has been nothing more than mediocre (104.2 offensive rating, 12th overall).
They have win-now intentions, but seem hesitant about making any win-now moves.
"Our young core players—Curry, Klay and Barnes—a lot of teams like them because we're getting specific trade proposals on a daily basis about those players," Lacob told Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News. "We are not anxious nor are we likely to make a move involving those players."
That difference-maker doesn't arrive without Thompson or Barnes being shipped out in the process. Without any draft sweeteners to add to a transaction, at least one of the Warriors' young guns will need to serve as a facilitator.
Neither should be let go at a discounted rate. This has to be a blockbuster deal:
Kawakami floated the idea of sending Lee and Barnes to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Luol Deng and Dion Waiters—these would have to be two separate transactions since Deng was already traded once this season, but this would be the end result.
The thought process is Deng fills Golden State's stretch 4 void and Waiters adds a needed punch to the second-team offense. Deng is a battle-tested veteran who should be able to ease into this tight-knit group, while Waiters could be a scenery change away from making the kind of impact a former No. 4 pick should.
The Warriors could swing for the fences, a la last summer's Dwight Howard pursuit, and make a run at Carmelo Anthony. A source told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports that there's "no chance" the New York Knicks would trade their superstar, but it's hard to see through the smoke of that tire fire.
If the Knicks panic in light of Anthony's planned venture into free agency this offseason, perhaps there's a deal yet to be made.
Golden State needs to find someone capable of consistently creating his own offense. Anthony, the reigning scoring champ, does that in his sleep. Deng's a little more hit-or-miss in that regard, but his two-way versatility would be a welcome addition to any championship hopeful.
The Warriors can pursue one, both or neither of these players. They're not shopping for a name so much as they're looking for specific qualities.
Productive dribble penetration. Interior offense. The in-between game that's quickly become a dead zone in this attack.
Shrewd decision-making, savvy drafting and gutsy trade calls brought the Warriors this far and dropped them right on the championship doorstep.
Now's not the time to start second-guessing that aggressiveness. Golden State has to pull the trigger on the final blockbuster move needed to complete this journey.