After the Golden State Warriors failed to hold on to another second half lead against a member of the league's elite—this time, Kobe Bryant and the L.A. Lakers—the Bay Area faithful are beginning to wonder: Can this team win meaningful games as currently constructed?
The good feelings from ownership and coaching changes over the offseason and new faces in the starting lineup are gone. Reality is this: the Golden State Warriors have the league's 10th-worst winning percentage, an abysmal .395.
With new coach Keith Smart looking more and more like his predecessor--more fast-paced offense, generous defense, short leash with younger players and reserves--Don Nelson, the Warriors cannot simply hope that an upgrade or two to the second unit will push this team into the postseason.
After all, with two of the top five league leaders in minutes played (Monta Ellis, first, with 41.1 and Dorell Wright, fifth, with 39.1), any key reserves brought in might not see the floor enough to be the difference maker this team needs.
While many Warriors fans are quickly hitting the panic button, the team may be better off holding on to the lone untouchable player as recent as this past offseason.
While Curry has not been spectacular this season, he's still shown in moments that he can be the player the Warriors have been dreaming of ever since he fell into their laps as the seventh selection in the 2009 NBA draft.
It's not even that Curry has regressed at all this season, in fact his numbers are nearly identical from last season, save for a drop in rebounds, minutes and field goal percentage. It's just that he has yet to take the step that fans anticipated him making at this point.
Look no further than Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings and Sacramento's Tyreke Evans, the reigning rookie of the year, as evidence of this: growing pains and inconsistency combine with jaw-dropping plays to form a young point guard in the NBA.
In my opinion, you hold on to Curry unless you can bring back a star big man (i.e., more than Zach Randolph) and a pick, while unloading either David Lee's contract or Andris Biedrins' contract.
Here is all the evidence supporting keeping Ellis in Oakland:
"Offensively, he’s complete. He can shoot the ball well, which is something he’s really improved on. He can get to the rim, obviously, and he has a mid-range game as well. So he’s really a complete offensive player."
"When Monta became a shooter, besides being a driver, it elevated his game in a way which he became unstoppable on certain nights. His speed and quickness to the hoop is remarkable."
Who were the sources for these praises of the superstar guard? None other than Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson, respectively.
Ellis has moved into the league's elite on the offensive end of the floor. He is not the problem with this team's offense. This Warriors team will not improve if Ellis slows down for his teammates; his teammates need to catch up to him.
Save for a trade that brings a top-20 player—and not a rent-a-Carmelo type of deal—while providing financial relief, Ellis should be a Warrior for the rest of this season and plenty more to come.
This is where the talk gets interesting.
If the NBA's Most Valuable Player award was based on monetary value, Dorell Wright would already have the trophy—rookie contracts being excluded of course, Blake Griffin's been slightly more effective.
Wright has been flat out sensational for the Warriors this season and, in my opinion, their second best player overall. He's the best perimeter shooter on the NBA's best three-point shooting team, while ranking in the top three in points, rebounds and blocks.
So why does the trade talk get interesting here? The answer is two-fold.
First, his trade value will never be higher and may help the Warriors bring in a difference-maker--Andre Iguodala or Gerald Wallace perhaps--without forcing the team to unload Curry or Ellis.
Second, if the Warriors do move Curry or Ellis for multiple players, Wright could help this team even more as a legitimate sixth man that Smart has trust in. Moving Wright to the bench would also give the team a real small forward on the second unit, allowing Vladimir Radmanovic and Reggie Williams to focus on their natural positions.
David Lee's value to the Warriors is hard to understate.
The Warriors are not a great team with Lee (14-15). But in the nine games Lee has missed--thanks in large part to a piece of Wilson Chandler's tooth—they have been awful (1-8).
Everyone knows that Lee is a tenacious worker on the glass. But he's also shown an underrated passing ability. And when his midrange jumper is falling, the Warriors offense can beat defenses in so many ways.
But it's hard not to think that Lee was a perfect fit for Nelson's Warriors. While he passionately battles for rebounds, that same effort is not exuded in his on-ball defense. The Warriors lack of a shot blocker in the starting five makes his defensive faults that much more noticeable.
At the same time, it will not be easy to unload Lee. Not only was he the organization's prized coup in their offseason, but he also comes with a six year, $80 million contract and turns 28 in April.
If paired with Ellis or Curry, the Warriors could be the latest team to partake in the year of the super trades (maybe Danny Granger and fillers). If paired with just expirings, it will be hard to bring back equal value without swapping bad contracts.
Flash back to the summer of 2008. The former first round pick of the Warriors had just finished his third season in the league and had increased his scoring and rebounding numbers each year.
The Warriors offered their blossoming big man a six year contract worth over $60 million, and when Biedrins increased his totals the next season—averaging a double-double for the first time in his career—it appeared the team had struck gold, locking down the hardest position to find in the NBA.
Fast forward to 2011 and things have really changed. Since that impressive 2008-09 campaign, Biedrins has struggled to get back to the same level. Injuries and spats with former coach Nelson resulted in a disappointing 2009-10 season.
Unfortunately, a healthy—healthier at least—Biedrins has still struggled to find that double-double ability.
Now the team is stuck paying over $10 million per season to a big man who's an average rebounder, and has not contributed much else.
The Warriors would love to unload this contract and might have the expiring contracts and valuable pieces—Brandan Wright, anyone?—for another team hoping for a Biedrins resurrection.
Biedrins has been the weakest link in an otherwise effective starting five. But with his contract and play, expect limited returns if the team is able to find a taker.