Ric Bucher spent 14 years as a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine and NBA sideline reporter and studio analyst for ESPN. He previously worked for the San Jose Mercury News and the Washington Post. He currently lives in Northern California, where he co-hosts a SiriusXM daily morning show on the Bleacher Report channel (Sirius 93/XM 208) and a solo show on NBA Radio (Sirius 207/XM 86) Monday afternoons.
Here's the short of it, and every team must make this decision: is Player X worth the concessions or accommodations necessary to make him successful? Does he make everyone else better, or does everyone have to adjust their roles to make him effective? When I suggested HB was exposed last year coming off the bench, it was as a player capable of making everyone better, of being a centerpiece. Mark gave him a chance to be that -- in part because he had such a weak bench he had no choice -- and HB wasn't up to it. Give Jackson Shaun Livingston as the back-up PG rather than last year's revolving door at the position -- which wasn't Mark's doing -- and perhaps it's a completely different story. Personally, I thought Jackson expected too much for HB and should've put Iguodala in that role but Jackson is old school in that he believes starting jobs should be earned not given and Iguodala simply deserved it over Barnes. Should Jackson have moved Iguodala to the bench because HB failed? Maybe, but that would've been a really hard sell to Iguodala and I'm sure Jackson believed that would be sending the wrong message to a developing player: that message being, 'We're going to start you because you struggled in your role off the bench.'
Kerr had the benefit of seeing HB fail as the leader of the bench to know that wouldn't work and prepared from Day One to convince Iguodala to do what Barnes could not. I always believed HB would play better surrounded by better players, but not every team has the luxury of doing what's best for a complementary player -- and make no mistake, that is what HB is. He could be a great one, but those are also the kind of players who are worth a certain price. He's in no way comparable to Klay Thompson, who has proved he can be a centerpiece and that a team can play through him in a multitude of ways offensively. Has nothing to do with personality and being quiet, considering Klay is as, or more, reserved than HB.
As for Jackson "accepting" Steph as a mediocre defender, he did no such thing. What he had was offensive talent nowhere near what Kerr had this year. Klay & Draymond came back as significantly better, more versatile players. Shaun Livingston & Barbosa gave them more firepower and ballhandling off the bench. Jackson needed Steph to do more offensively, so he eased his load defensively, as far as who he had to guard. Kerr didn't need to lean on him offensively nearly as much so he could ask more of him at the other end. (Even so, once Curry had to log heavier minutes and do more offensively, Kerr did much the same as Jackson as far as Steph's assignments.)
Hey Ric - I just discovered this bulletin board, and wanted to comment on something you posted a short while ago regarding Harrison Barnes, in reply to a question about his future with the Warriors. Normally, I find your insights quite sharp, but this is one where I think you missed when you described HB as being "exposed" last year coming off the bench. That's the quick & easy conclusion from poor seasonal statistics, but we're used to seeing you Big Green guys dig deeper.
First off, there's HB's personality: he's a super team-first guy. That's fantastic when part of a functional group of skilled players - he'll happily defer to the better option, or play whatever role benefits the team irrespective of personal glory. However, if inserted into a dysfunctional group, this charactertic becomes a drawback. Remember, Mark Jackson often subbed in the entire 2nd unit at once, which is tough for anyone, particularly a 21-2 year old introvert who is not the PG or center, and is surrounded by older players. Remember how players failed and changed throughout the season, from Toney Douglas to Jordan Crawford to Kent Bazemore and Nemanja Nedovic? HB never had a chance to establish any chemistry or even functionality. He hadn't even established his own game yet, and while Mark Jackson had a lot of positives as a coach, he put HB in a position where failure was more likely than success (Jackson also missed out by accepting Steph as a mediocre defender, and by questioning Bogut's toughness).
Granted, these are only 3 failings, but they are pretty huge, especially easy to see when a maestro like Kerr comes in and fixes all 3, plus knows how to deal with all the personalities.
So, the question regarding HB is: how is he going to fare in the future? Do you think Kerr is going to set him up (unwittingly) like Jackson did? I know you know the answer is no. So, those failings two seasons ago become moot. Even on a 2nd unit at this point, if that unit has guys like Iggy, Livingston, Barbosa, Ezeli, Lee, Speights, HB will find it easy to thrive because those guys have chemistry, and provide many options. Jackson tried to put way too many new guys together at once, made even worse by the fact they weren't very good and their talents didn't particularly complement each other.
HB is just 23, and his upside is just as great as Klay's was when he was 23 (even more IMO). Signing him to a long term deal will be at worst a smart move, and at best a brilliant move. HB is way too versatile to not have great value, even if he doesn't improve from here, which is almost impossible to imagine given his character and determination (quiet, but just like Steph, you can see it over time).
This is a classic case of context making a huge difference, and the old context is done and gone. Mark my words, players like HB don't come along very often, and in Kerr's system, he's a gold mine.
Shane -- I thought Steve Nash addressed any questions about percentages. What I appreciated about the shooters that I spoke with is that they didn't really care all that much about percentages being the difference in deciding who is better or best. Roles, rosters, styles of play all can have an impact on a player's FG percentage, inside or outside the arc. Sometimes you have to be able to simply understand what a great shooter should be able to do and then watch as he does or doesn't do it in a variety of circumstances. Glad you loved the piece; I enjoyed writing it.
Hi Ric- Loved the Is steph curry the greatest shooter ever article. There was some speculation about why Curry's numbers were below Nash's, but I thought there was an explanation that was missed? Looked at basketball reference, and (If I was reading the stats right) a much higher proportion of Curry's attempts are threes. Since threes are scored at a lower percentage then twos, the more threes you take, the harder it is to join the 50-40-90 club, independent of how good a shooter he is. Curry could have been shooting at a better clip for twos, threes and free throws, and still not made 50 40 90 club. Maybe I'm not getting something...
Thanks for the welcome Ric! Great piece on the '04 Lakers!
As for your second question, there are no historic NBA Finals matchups to be had. Blame the salary cap, the general mobility of star players and the decline of the more fabled franchises. Curry vs. LeBron is about as good as it gets for marquee matchups, although I believe a healthy Bulls' squad vs. the Warriors would've produced the most compelling basketball.
Glad you enjoyed the oral history on the Lakers; as far as I know, this and the KG one are the first that we've done. Based on the response, I'm sure they will not be the last.
The Warriors do have some decisions to make but the huge influx of TV revenue next summer is going to help a great deal. I would expect they will do whatever is necessary to keep Draymond; not convinced they feel the same way about HB, nor am I convinced they should. He has grown a great deal but he's the beneficiary of playing with a host of great players. He was exposed last season when asked to lead the second unit. It would be great if they found a way to keep him, but if they can't move Ig -- and I doubt they can -- then he's probably the first casualty of their success. Dealing him for a cheaper option who can contribute in the same way will be Bob Myers' challenge.
Ric, I liked your latest Oral History thing and I recall reading an excellent one a while back about KG. My question is - have you done any more and if so, why can I not easily access them on this site? If you haven't done any more then I must implore you to do some. As a non-American I'm out of the cultural loop and I only started watching B-Ball in 2005. So I need this stuff in my life.
And while I'm at it, a basic, vague and amateurish question - would a Warriors v Cavs NBA finals be the most unglamorous/small-market finals since....Rockets v Magic? Cavs seem like Miami-lite at this stage and the Warriors....well they're not what you would call a storied franchise. True Lebron v Curry is a great prospect but still...is anyone slightly underwhelmed by the lack of history, the lack of the Lakers, Celtics etc. I guess this is salary cap in full swing and I'm wondering if anyone is bothered. I'm not realluy concerned myself but what is the view generally? I just get the fairly 'on-message' ESPN coverage here and I don't care for wading through endless blogs.
Hey Ric, I've got a question about the Warriors offseason, which I think could be a lot more chaotic that people realize. They've got the obvious approaching free agency of Draymond, which will unquestionably be a max deal. However, the window for Harrison Barnes to get extended will also open. I think Barnes is a huge, underrated part of the future of this team: how many 22-year olds are two-way players, have ample playoff experience, and still have plenty of upside? He can guard FOUR positions on defense and is a 40% three point shooter, plus he can create offense when the opponent tries to hide someone on him. He's a major part of their switch-heavy defense too. I just think he's a part of Golden State's core.
GSW has Iguodala and David Lee's contracts on the books for 15-16. At what point to the conversations begin about moving BOTH to try to resign Draymond and Barnes? Everyone knows that they will explore Lee trades this summer, but Iggy's contract is a lot worse than people realize. He's big in that locker room, but he's declining every year. $12 million per for a declining 6th man is steep, especially for a team with future contract questions.
Should the Warriors look to extend Barnes (and Ezeli maybe?) this summer/fall? I think the Alec Burks contract in Utah really put a lot of players in position to make big money. If Burks is worth $42 million, I think Barnes will make at least $45 mil. If you start to add that up with a future Curry mega-max, Klay's max, Green's max, plus Bogut/Ezeli...it gets pricey fast. What do you think Golden State might do this offseason? Might they even trade Barnes? What do you think the Warriors offseason looks like.