With a new head coach in Steve Kerr and a roster that appears to be on the brink of substantial playoff success, the Golden State Warriors might just be one move away from having the rest of the West under their thumb.
The Warriors may have big dreams for this offseason's acquisition, and with a star player like Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love possibly available via trade, it's pretty easy to connect the dots.
Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com recently reported on Golden State's interest:
Sources say that the Warriors, in particular, have emerged as a top contender for Love should Minnesota relent and decide to trade him. The Warriors don't have a stash of draft picks to offer the Wolves like Phoenix or the Boston Celtics could offer, but Golden State could assemble a trade package featuring the likes of forwards Harrison Barnes and David Lee.
The issue here, though, isn't necessarily about where Love wants to play. If he were a free agent, it would be different. He could choose Golden State over every other team if they had the cap space to sign him.
Instead, at least until the 2015 offseason, it's more about what Minnesota wants in a deal for Love. And while there are some intriguing pieces on the roster that could be used to acquire Love, Golden State might not be willing to part with the necessary assets. Here's Rusty Simmons of The San Francisco Chronicle with more:
"You know we'll be aggressive," one Warriors source said, asking for anonymity because NBA brass isn't allowed to comment on players under contract with other teams. "We usually get our guy."
A move for Love could involve some of the team's biggest names.
The Warriors don't want to include Klay Thompson in the deal, don't have a 2014 pick and can't offer their 2015 top choice until after June 26.
Working off the assumption that the Warriors don't want to deal Klay Thompson and don't have enough draft picks or attractive personnel to attain Love via trade, how can they go about improving the roster?
It's going to be awfully difficult to add a big piece, for certain, but a few smaller moves could help tremendously.
Let's start with a assessment of what Golden State has to work with. The projected salary cap for the 2014-15 season is supposed to come in right around $65 million, which would leave very little room for Warriors general manager Bob Myers to play with.
As it currently stands, the Warriors have 11 players on salary next year for roughly $64.8 million (including Draymond Green, who is non-guaranteed but will be picked up).
Basically, the Warriors will have the ability to sign veterans at the minimum and use their mid-level and biannual exceptions, but you can rule out a major star signing outright without some major cap-clearing moves.
The biggest issues Golden State had last season were with the bench, so solidifying the second unit can certainly be addressed through free agency. With the mid-level exception, players like C.J. Miles, Devin Harris, Patty Mills, Jodie Meeks, Shawn Marion, James Johnson, Jordan Hill, Jason Smith and Spencer Hawes could all be targeted with either a portion or the full mid-level.
Of that group, Harris might make the most sense as a backup point guard who could also play off the ball, a la Jarrett Jack.
Veteran minimum additions could include players Al Harrington, Drew Gooden, Matt Bonner, John Salmons and Luke Ridnour. None of these players would be big difference-makers, of course, and with limited roster spots available, this route might not make sense.
Remember, though, that no help will be coming in the draft. The Warriors don't have a pick in the first or second round this year because of prior trades.
While the Warriors could very well trade for a pick or possibly buy one, as it stands now, the core of the roster is pretty much set.
What Golden State has to decide is if this roster, as currently constructed under a first-year head coach, can really compete for a title. If the answer is yes, then smaller moves will suffice. But if there's any doubt, and there should be, then the Warriors should explore the trade market.
Deciding who is expendable and who isn't will be the first step in that process. It's safe to say that Stephen Curry is virtually untouchable, and Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala would require a severe overpay.
Thompson is a great three-point shooter and a nice defender, but he shouldn't be viewed as a "must-keep" player. That's particularly true since this will be his last year on his rookie deal. "Three and D" guys are valuable, no doubt, but at what cost?
Really though, it's David Lee that should be shopped first and foremost. The power forward position is where the Warriors could most easily upgrade, even if it's not with Kevin Love.
It's hard to tell if there's much of a market for Lee's services given his deal that will pay him over $30 million in the next two seasons, but shedding that salary and finding a more productive defensive player at the 4 could take Golden State to the next level.
The Warriors already have the makings of a truly elite defense with Thompson, Iguodala, Green and Bogut all on the floor, but Lee is a weak link that brings the whole team down. Simply swapping Green for Lee should make the Warriors much more dangerous defensively, and if Green can become a better three-point shooter, the offensive disparity shouldn't be all that large.
While Lee is still a good post threat and excellent passer, Green's quickness, athleticism and ball-handling could add a new element.
Truly, this could be an addition-by-subtraction move without even factoring in what the Warriors could get back in return for Lee.
Ideally, two players would come in the trade to help bolster the depth, with one being a backup point guard and the other a third big man.
For example, a deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers for Anderson Varejao and Jarrett Jack would make some sense for both teams. A sign-and-trade deal for Washington Wizards free-agent big man Marcin Gortat and Andre Miller might work as well, or maybe a similar deal for Sacramento Kings guard Isaiah Thomas and Jason Thompson.
The only issue there is that Golden State may not be able to grease the wheel much, as they owe first-round picks to Utah this year and in 2017.
Still, when there's a will, there's a way. If Golden State wants to make major changes to the roster, floating Thompson and moving hard to deal Lee are probably the best ways to do it. Otherwise, it's going to be all about making value signings in free agency.