As the NBA playoff race starts to heat up, the Golden State Warriors are in a familiar place, hovering towards the bottom of the Western Conference standings. And some might have you believe it’s worse than it looks.
It's no secret that the Warriors have some serious front office issues that start with owner Chris Cohan. Warriors fans have been calling for the sale of the team for years, and it isn't hard to see why. Many people believe this team is one with no direction and no vision for the future. Consider this: the Warriors have the third worst record in the league, and going into next year (a year where everyone who's anyone is clearing cap space to sign one of the marquee free agents of the off season) the Warriors have over $53 million in guaranteed contracts, about $30 million to just 3 players.
The trade deadline came and went with the Warriors making zero moves, there seems to be a growing resentment from fans towards Don Nelson as the future coach of such a young team, and said team has been so marred by injuries that it has become nearly impossible to evaluate the young talent going forward.
However, in spite of all the dark story lines for the Dubs throughout the year, there have been a few bright spots, most of which center on the stellar play of Stephen Curry. The rookie point guard has exceeded expectations, and might be the best of the many great rookie guards to come out of the draft this past year. And though the team has an atrocious record, they haven't been getting blown out every game by any means; most of their games are close until the waning seconds. So there is some hope that this very young team will be able to figure out how to win sooner rather than later.
So with 20 or so games left in the season, it's time to start thinking about how to put the puzzle pieces together to create a competitive team together for next year. There are a few things that must be done by the start of the 2010-2011 season or this team will continue its recent trend.
1. The Warriors NEED a low post presence. Yes, Anthony Randolph is incredibly gifted and yes Biedrins has been very good in the past, but both get pushed around down low, and neither has any consistent low post move. The Warriors need a guy to get rebounds, block shots, and provide some points in the paint. Most importantly, the Warriors need someone who has great hands and can finish on a number with authority in a number of ways. Stephen Curry gift wraps passes to the bigs on the current squad and too often, they don't catch the pass, or miss the shot attempt underneath... or opt to pass the ball out and not even take the when their right at the rim!
In the upcoming draft, there are two guys in particular who I think can fill that bill in a year or two, Derrick Favors and Demarcus Cousins. Favors is a shot blocking machine and scouts rave about his size and athleticism that would be a perfect Pick n' roll combination with Curry for years to come. Cousins is a very polished big bodied PF/C who is having one of the most efficient years in recent memory, but might not be the ideal guy in Golden States run and gun system and has some makeup issues. Come draft day though, it will be awfully hard to ignore his production. Both of these players are freshman and will most likely have wonderful NBA careers, but if the Warriors, for whatever reason, don't draft them, they will have to address this problem via trade.
2. The warriors must make a decision on the Curry-Ellis back court. This is not to say the Warriors need to make a decision on one player or the other, but rather the decision of whether or not to build on them together. Obviously Curry is staying as you can tell by watching him that this kid has something special. But too many people are jumping to the conclusion that Monta needs to be shipped out of town because of this. It is a bit concerning that they haven't played more fluidly, and the infamous Monta "just can win together" fiasco couldn't have helped, but the bottom line is that Monta Ellis can do things that other basketball players just can't do. To trade him after such little time together (remember Curry didn't have create such a significant impact until late December/early January) seems a little reckless. He's the leading scorer and will only get better as he trusts his teammates more.
Having said that, trusting his teammates might just be the issue. I'm not in the locker room and I don't know what goes beyond closed doors. If Monta wants out or if he becomes a problem to the development of this team, then he should be moved. But all the Warriors send Monta his praise so perhaps everyone is exaggerating just a bit.
This may all be a mute point if the Warriors get a high lottery pick. If the Warriors draft John Wall or Evan Turner, they would definitely listen to Ellis offers.
3. The Warriors need to free up some cap space. I don't really care who it is but someone and maybe all three of the following players must go: Andris Biedrins, Corey Maggette and Monta Ellis. Obviously these are all great players when their game is on, but Ellis has his off nights, Biedrins seems like he is never on anymore, and Maggette’s contract is just too much for too long. My prediction is that Andris is shipped out during the off season, or at least that was my prediction pre-surgery. Now I'm not so sure. I am not ready to give up on Monta either. And I like Corey Maggette a lot, but ideally the Warriors will make some trades to free up some cash. You never know, the team is rumored to be for sale, and any prospective buyer would not want lots of money on the books.
4. The Warriors need some sort of defensive stopper at the wing position. Whether or not you think that Ellis and Curry can play together, nearly everyone agrees that the back court needs someone who can match up with the Kobe's and the Lebron's and the Wade's of the world. No one can stop those guys, but certainly people can slow them down... a little.
Raja Bell, currently on the Warriors roster but injured, is a guy who could fill that role nicely next year and would provide more veteran leadership to a young team. I' not so sure that he'll want to re-up with Golden State, but he is just the type of player the warriors need in the rotation so that they can level the playing field on defense.
Any way you slice it, this is a bad team and likely will be a bad team next year, but there is a talent on the Warriors' roster. It is conceivable, with the right moves, that this team could make a huge turnaround within one or two seasons. Just look at what Memphis and Oklahoma City did this year. Last year on draft day, there were lots of rumors that involved the Warriors, most of which involved Amare Stoudemire, but next year I think you'll see GM Larry Riley pull the trigger on some trades. One way or another, this team needs some changes, and I think the changes discussed above are some serious steps in the right direction.