The Golden State Warriors have gotten better during the offseason, but can we still consider them championship contenders if they strike out in the Kevin Love sweepstakes?
New head coach Steve Kerr admitted in early May to the San Jose Mercury News’ Tim Kawakami that he was in the hunt for a stretch 4, and then the Love option presented itself.
ShamSports tells us that Love’s contract expires at the conclusion of the 2015-16 campaign, but he can get out of his deal once the 2014-15 season expires.
Love has already told Minnesota he will opt out and then look into joining the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks or the Warriors. His interest in these clubs suggests he would re-sign if traded there before actually opting out of his contract.
Golden State naturally attempted to acquire arguably the top power forward in basketball, but it encountered a tough obstacle in trade discussions.
According to Stein, Minnesota wanted Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, David Lee and a first-round pick. The Warriors were unwilling to part with Thompson, which has been the main sticking point in the conversations.
It would appear as though Cleveland is the front-runner for Love.
Why focus all this attention on the perennial All-Star?
Love is one of the league’s most unique players because he has a skill set that has never been seen before. The Minnesota Timberwolves power forward is a dominant rebounder, good low-post player and lethal long-range threat. Last season, Love produced 2,010 points, 963 rebounds and 190 treys.
Basketball-Reference.com tells us no other player in league history has ever reached those thresholds.
Love would be a perfect fit alongside Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut. Defenses already struggle to contain Curry because of his ball-handling and sharpshooting, and the addition of Love to an already complicated equation would make Golden State one of the most potent offenses in the league.
Granted, Love has some warts. He’s a liability on defense because he doesn’t protect the rim or adequately rotate to open players. That’s less of an issue in Golden State because Bogut is a marvelous anchor on the back end.
He intimidates in the paint, splendidly defends two players while rotating and saves his teammates whenever they get beat. Essentially, Bogut is an almost perfect complement to Love.
Golden State would likely become a title contender with the disgruntled power forward, but is it possible that its additions have already put the team there?
New and Improved Dubs?
The Warriors added some interesting pieces during the offseason that should give the team an added boost.
Golden State brought in Shaun Livingston and brought back Brandon Rush to fortify the second unit, and that should help a Warriors squad that struggled to get points from its reserves last season.
Livingston and Rush aren’t great offensive players, but they bring particular skills that will change Golden State’s identity.
Livingston isn’t much of a shooter (48.3 percent field-goal percentage per 36 minutes last year), but he makes up for it with good playmaking. He averaged 4.5 assists per 36 minutes last season as a combo guard for the Brooklyn Nets.
That figure might not look like much, but it was the second-best (minimum of 60 games played) on a Nets team that relied on a lot of isolations. The Warriors will likely ask him to run the offense a bit more in an effort to get Curry flying off screens for open shots.
In addition, Livingston is a good post-up option against point guards because he stands 6’7’’. He uses his length coupled with a soft touch around the rim to elevate and score on the block whenever favorable matchups occur.
That same length should make the coaching staff salivate because it gives the Warriors a poor man’s version of Andre Iguodala.
Iguodala is a terrific defender and occasionally played the role of backup point guard for Golden State last season. He allowed Curry to occasionally play off the ball, but it took away from Iguodala’s ability to catch and finish.
He’s a better option when catching on the move while headed to the basket, where he’s a sensational finisher. Livingston’s arrival will recalibrate Iguodala’s role and put him in situations where he will excel.
Keep in mind, Brooklyn used Livingston on defense last season against some of the top scorers in the league, and he did a respectable job because of his height and ability to cut off angles. I expect him to defend high-caliber point guards while Curry switches on to a less threatening player.
Livingston’s presence means Golden State can play a hybrid lineup featuring Curry, Thompson, Iguodala and Bogut. Against the right opponent, that five-man unit might discombobulate teams with its combination of shooting and ball-handling from every player not named Bogut.
I’m also intrigued with the idea of Rush replacing either Thompson or Iguodala.
Rush struggled last season as a member of the Utah Jazz due to lack of conditioning after rehabbing a torn ACL, per Jody Genessy of the Salt Lake City Deseret News. He shot a putrid 33 percent from the field with Utah and wasn’t much of a commodity this summer.
Golden State knew better, though. Rush used to play for the Warriors pre-injury and averaged 13.4 points per 36 minutes on 50.4 percent shooting from the field and 44.8 percent from downtown in a Golden State uniform.
Rush held a workout for the Dubs, and the team felt good enough about it to sign him. Prior to blowing out his knee with the Warriors, Rush had evolved into a solid perimeter defender and three-point shooter. It’s possible Rush won’t regain his previous form, but if he’s fairly close to what he once was, the Warriors should be a better squad during the 2014-15 campaign.
Last season’s second-unit perimeter players weren’t particularly strong defenders and didn’t excel at stretching the floor. Barnes (34.7 percent), Kent Bazemore (25.6 percent) and Jordan Crawford (31.3 percent) weren’t threatening enough for teams to pay attention to them beyond the arc, and it hurt the Warriors offense.
Save for Barnes, they’re all gone.
It’s worth reminding everyone that Golden State took a very talented Los Angeles Clippers team to a seventh game in the first round of playoffs despite the fact Bogut sat out the postseason with a fractured rib.
Last year’s team was good, and it got better by adding two bench contributors and welcoming back Festus Ezeli. He was sidelined all of last season because of a knee injury. His return offsets the departure of Jermaine O’Neal, who’s been mulling retirement.
The Warriors are more talented heading into the 2014-15 campaign, but the question that remains has to do with coaching.
The Elephant in the Room
Kerr looks and sounds like someone who can coach, but I have no idea if he actually can.
Kerr played for Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, who possess a combined 16 championships. Kerr was part of three title celebrations in Chicago and two with the San Antonio Spurs, a clear sign that he recognizes championship-building habits when he sees them.
Can he build them, though?
That’s tough to say, but it’s possible the answer to that question might not matter. Remember, Mark Jackson got Golden State to consecutive postseason appearances for the first time in over 20 years despite some questionable actions as the team’s head coach.
Jackson passively took shots at his own staff and clashed with management. His in-game strategy often appeared to have more to do with motivational speeches than X’s and O’s. For instance, he’d consistently ride five-man bench units and constantly attack mismatches instead of running a fluid offense that produced high-percentage shots.
Jackson was resolute in his schemes and never adapted in the face of mounting evidence, suggesting some changes were needed. And if that doesn’t convince you something was afoot, Jackson was reluctant to practice, according to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski.
Think about that for a second.
Despite those obstacles, Golden State was respectable on offense (12th) and elite on defense (third). The Warriors won 51 games last season and pushed the Clippers to the brink with a head coach whose actions hindered the team on some front.
Thus, the path to title contention might require a few modest changes, which Kerr recognizes.
“I feel like this team won 51 games last year, so I don't feel the need to make dramatic changes,” said Kerr, according to the San Jose Mercury News’ Diamond Leung in mid-July. “This is more about tweaks and trying to get a little better and just trying to continue the upward trend that the team's been on the last couple of years.”
One of those tweaks will revolve around the team’s offense. “There’s some improvement to be made offensively,” the Warriors coach said to San Jose Mercury News’ Kawakami.
Kerr will likely ditch the isolations and implement a structure that results in players sharing the wealth a bit more.
“I think you’ll see a lot of ball movement; I think you’ll see the bigs utilized as passers on the elbows and on the block,” he added in his conversation with Kawakami. “I think you’ll see some Triangle [Offense] concepts.”
On a team loaded with shooters (Curry, Thompson and Rush), quality passers (Curry, Iguodala and Livingston) and pressure-release big men (Bogut, Draymond Green and Lee), the offense should thrive, provided it emphasizes the integration of all its parts.
Think of someone like Barnes, who struggled last season in an isolation-based philosophy. Asking him to simply catch and shoot or catch and finish will be a perfect evolution of his role. He will be freed up from the constraints of manufacturing his own offense in bench-heavy units.
To be fair, we don’t know for a fact that Kerr will abolish the five-man-reserve lineups, but it certainly seems like a good bet given its failures last season. The bench mob defended quite well but didn’t score enough to warrant the amount of minutes it received on a nightly basis.
Kerr appears flexible in his approach, which suggests he might try things here and there, but won’t get attached to a strategy if it isn’t leading to positive results. After all, he’s learned from some of the best coaches this league has produced.
In a telephone conversation with Kawakami in May, Kerr revealed that his offense will be influenced by the likes of Popovich, Jackson and Lenny Wilkens. This is a clear sign that Kerr is open to the idea of blending different ideas into one, which will help the Warriors.
One suspects he will succeed at getting his players to perform at a high level while remaining in sync with each other. There will be some growing pains along the way, but the Warriors will figure things out.
Warriors Are Coming
If the Warriors strike out on Love, have no fear. Curry and Co. will make a leap and become an elite team during the 2014-15 campaign.
The Dubs demonstrated over the last two years that they can compete in a brutal Western Conference for a postseason spot despite a lack of offensive sophistication. Golden State rode its defense and the shooting of its starting backcourt to 51 wins last year, and that team is about to look better.
It’s not just the fact that the Warriors added complementary pieces to the squad, but they also brought in someone with clever ideas to steer the ship. Kerr will keep the core defensive principles from last season and shore up the offense.
By vaulting the offensive efficiency into the league’s top 10, Golden State should become a club to be reckoned with. The three teams (Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Clippers) with the best records in the Western Conference last season all boasted a top-10 ranking in offensive and defensive efficiency.
The Spurs eliminated a Thunder team that took out the Clippers during the playoffs. San Antonio then went on to win the title. Thus, there’s something to be said about having a balanced team in both facets of the game.
This isn’t meant to imply that Golden State will be a lock to win the championship next season by improving its point production.
However, one has to admit the fact the Warriors took the Clippers to seven games without their best interior defender and an apparently subpar coach is an indication that Golden State has already arrived.
The team just needs the right push, and Kerr will give it to the Warriors.