While the primary function of the NBA postseason will always be to crown the best team, the ability to answer lingering questions is also a major factor going in. Whether they are questions that pertain to one particular game or the future is irrelevant; what matters is that the playoffs are the last opportunity for teams and players to receive closure.
The Golden State Warriors are no exception and face a litany of uncertainty heading into the postseason. Despite being on the verge of winning 50 games for the first time in 20 years, the Warriors seem to still be in a state of disarray, both in the front office and in the locker room.
Assistant coaches have fallen like flies around the wrath of head coach Mark Jackson, but is Jackson himself the issue? Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson will one day receive large contracts, but will they be contracts handed out by the Warriors? Andre Iguodala and David Lee are signed to big-money deals, but will they see the end of those deals in a Warriors uniform?
Questions, questions, questions, but the answers have proved to be highly elusive. Success or failure in the playoffs will likely play a major role in answering the majority of them.
Will Mark Jackson Stay or Go?
We often hear of the prodigious coaching pipeline that has flowed out of San Antonio from the tutelage of Gregg Popovich. His coaching tree is like a who’s who of NBA coaches. By the time Jackson is done in Golden State, he’s more likely to have a coaching weed field than any sort of tree.
It isn’t strange for teams to can assistant coaches who aren’t pulling their weight or just aren’t ready for coaching duties just yet. This was most likely the case with newly minted assistant Brian Scalabrine. But for two coaches to be canned? Just weeks before the start of the NBA playoffs?
Houston, the Warriors have a problem, and it isn’t the Rockets.
There have been rumors running wild that the front office is unhappy with Jackson, rumors which Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News claims to have confirmed by talking to the higher-ups:
Since then, those reports have been confirmed by everybody I've talked to, by the way. Jackson and several members of the team's front office are not very happy with each other right now and haven't been for months, that is not in much dispute.
And nobody thinks it's going away any time soon.
Reassigning Scalabrine was one thing, but getting rid of his top X-and-O guy, Darren Erman, according to Kawakami, does not bode well for the team’s chances against the top dogs in the West.
While Jackson still commands the respect of his players, it’s clear that management has not been sufficiently impressed by Jackson’s work this season, especially not with the talented roster it handed him.
It’s very possible that Jackson will be coaching for his job when the postseason begins, and if the Warriors’ run ends early and sour, that could mark the end of the Jackson era in Golden State.
Will Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson Earn New Paychecks?
Talk about two guys who couldn’t be on more opposite ends of the spectrum. Going into the season, Barnes was the hot, up-and-coming young star who was a sure bet to be a franchise player. Thompson was a one-dimensional offensive player, strictly a shooter from the outside, who could also lock down on defense when he needed to.
Fast forward to, well, today, and my, how the tables have turned. Not only has Barnes not morphed into a star, he’s eroded into a fringe rotation player. While Thompson is still primarily a three-point assassin and defender, he’s constantly adding little wrinkles to his game and has become a trusted crunch-time player.
If the Warriors could only pick one guy to extend, and that will most likely be the case when the time comes, Thompson’s resume stands out a bit more. As we all know, however, the NBA is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, and what you do in the playoffs can completely trump a strong or weak regular-season performance.
Barnes is still oozing of insatiable potential and is always just a few tweaks away, both mentally and in his game, from realizing it. The Warriors will have to choose between a player with a limitless ceiling and a seemingly bottomless floor and a man with the potential to carve out a Reggie Miller/Ray Allen-type career.
How these two perform in the playoffs will not only be a major factor in how far the Warriors advance, but also in which player they ultimately decide to build around.
Can the Warriors Afford to Keep Both Andre Iguodala and David Lee?
Both Iguodala and Lee make a lot of money, superstar-caliber money—that’s no secret. But neither Iguodala, nor Lee, is a true superstar. That is the problem the Warriors have backed themselves into. Two very good players are getting paid a bit too much, and that has severely hampered their flexibility.
We know what both players bring to the table—Iguodala is a defensive genius, a player with the ability to change a team’s identity every time he steps on the court. His offense has been problematic this season, though, to say the least.
Lee is the opposite, a truly brilliant and gifted offensive weapon with the defensive capabilities worthy of a true matador. El David Lee, torero extraordinaire!
Both of these players will play pivotal roles in the postseason; Iguodala will be required to stop destructive scorers like James Harden and Kevin Durant, and Lee will need to impose his will on the offensive end to help the Warriors keep up with the explosive scoring teams in the West.
Going forward, though, with Lee’s contract set to rise to the $15 million range and Iguodala’s maxing in the $12 million neighborhood, can the Warriors really hope to keep them both? Not if they’re going to be extending Thompson and/or Barnes.
Lee’s contract is set to expire a year sooner and can be a tasty, expiring treat for some team in the future. Iguodala will most likely not be going anywhere; his defense and leadership are too valuable for this young squad. Both players, however, can open up the eyes of the Warriors' front office by playing to their strengths and removing the expendable tags associated with their names.
The Warriors will have many decisions to make going forward, but Lee and Iguodala can make them a whole lot easier (or harder) based on their contributions.