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NBA Season Preview: Golden State Warriors

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Last season: 26-56, which is kind of the record you end up with when you don’t play much defense. And Don Nelson had stopped caring about defense, or seemingly coaching half the time. But as much as that, it was an injury-ravaged season that kept the win total that low.

Head Coach: Keith Smart, who still wants this team running as fast as anyone in the league, but has set up some flex (think Jazz) half court sets. And he is going to hold guys accountable on defense. (Note to Warriors fans, defense is the thing played on the other half of the court where your team is not shooting. Just wanted to give you a reminder as you hadn’t seen it in years.)

Key Departures: Owner Chris Cohan — no player move the Warriors could have made is as big as this. Cohan had owned the Warriors 16 seasons and the team made it to the playoffs just once. Front office power plays took place while he watched seemingly uninterested. He was one of the few owners in the league you could compare to Donald Sterling (of the Clippers). Just him being out gives hope to Golden State fans.

Anthony Randolph seemed like a guy that should blow up in Don Nelson’s system — the Warriors hyped him like he would — but it never really happened. So he goes to the Knicks along with Kelenna Azubuike and Ronny Turiaf as part of the David Lee deal. It’s not a bad deal in that Lee brings some needed skills across the country with him, but giving up Randolph and Azubuike is a lot of potential out the door. But it’s time for a little of the old coaching axiom in Golden State — potential will get you fired. With Lee, you know what you get every night.

The real head scratcher of a summer move was sending Anthony Morrow to the Nets for a second round pick. Morrow is a lights-out shooter at an affordable price. How does that not fit in any system?

Also gone are Anthony Tolliver and Corey Maggette.

Key Additions: New owners Peter Guber and Joe Lacob (Lacob will be the front man). They may or may not be great owners — Lacob was part owner of the Celtics and saw how a first class organization works first hand, but he also said the Warriors would not spend over the luxury tax. Already they are making changes — Nellie is out, while they bring in gritty players that will actually rebound the ball (David Lee, Lou Amundson) which alone will bring a needed change to the roster. Bottom line — the new owners bring hope to a fan base that has wanted desperately to believe. Now, we all believe.

On the court, there is David Lee. The Warriors were a terrible, terrible rebounding team last season and David Lee will change that. Parts of his game may have gotten overhyped in New York, but not his work on the boards, where last season he grabbed 17.9 percent of the available rebounds when he was on the floor. He is particularly a beast on the defensive glass. Now, as for his defense, that will be a fun challenge for Smart.

Also in the door in Golden State are draft picks Ekpe Udoh (No. 6 overall) and Jeremy Lin (the fan favorite), plus Dorell Wright, Amundson, Rodney Carney, and even Dan Gadzuric.

Oh, and cool new uniforms.

Best case scenario: The Warriors start to figure out who they want to be, who fits with that, and the second half of the season they make a run at a playoff spot while keeping the cap space and flexibility they have to build in the future.

For that to happen: The Warriors just need to be smart about it. What that last paragraph really says is there is true hope for the future now, because the Warriors have some good pieces to start building around. And just watching something with a chance to grow that ownership will not uproot too early for no good reasons will go over huge with the loyal Warriors faithful.

Golden State has a lot of potential in the Stephen Curry/David Lee pick and roll. Lee is a very good roll-man — he sets a quality pick and last season shot 64 percent when he got the ball in that spot. He also picks up a fair amount of and-ones in that spot as he is strong enough to get off a good shot while rolling even if hit. Meanwhile Curry is an improving ball-handler on the pick-and-roll. You have to fight over the top of the pick or show hard on Curry — you have to respect his shot and cannot just let him get a clean look — and Curry is figuring out how to use that attention to set up others.

Like Monta Ellis, who is another great scorer and also a ball-handler that is solid as a pick-and-roll ball handler. Ellis just puts points on the board — not terribly efficiently last season, but he was asked to carry a lot of the Warriors offense.

There are questions if Ellis and Curry can play together, but two ball-handlers who can both be fantastic catch-and-shoot guys can work very well together — if they want to. It’s more about desire and ego than fit.

The Warriors also have a nice collection of role players. Reggie Williams is a personal favorite to watch and Smart will give him quality minutes. Andris Biedrins could be a strong center if he can stay healthy. Dorell Wright gives Golden State some nice athleticism on the wing. It’s just a matter of finding the direction for the team then seeing who fits.

More likely the Warriors will: Be better with flashes of really good, but struggle to win a lot in a very deep Western Conference. However, what is different is this time they will not self-destruct and rip apart whatever future there might have been. They will learn and build. In a year or two, they will be the team that makes the big leap forward, just not this season.

Prediction: 33-49, and by the end of the season a formed identity. That or Smart will be gone and a coach with an identity will be brought in.

Wall has to work for recognition among top NBA point guards

Washington Wizards guard John Wall dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Fresh off scoring 51 points against the Washington Wizards, reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry praised John Wall, who dropped a quiet 41 against the Warriors.

“He’s a top-tier point guard,” Curry said, “and it’s like that – not his caliber every night – but obviously at the point guard position you’re going to have some talent on the other side of the ball most nights.”

Wall has never played better in what is now a point-guard league.

It doesn’t stop with Curry. The talent pool includes Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, to name a few.

“I think I’m having a career year,” Wall said. “I can say I’m playing my best basketball, but not the way I want to play because it’s not equaling up to wins.”

Wall is an All-Star for the third time but gets lost in the packed field of “top-tier” point guards. His 20.1 points a game are sixth at the position, while his 9.9 assists are third behind only Sacramento’s Rajon Rondo and Westbrook.

But some nights there is just no denying his talents.

Like Tuesday at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Wall had 28 points and 17 assists to lead Washington past the Knicks. It was another showcase performance during a season that hasn’t gone the way he or the Wizards have wanted.

The Wizards will be a sub-.500 team and outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture at the All-Star break. Injuries to sidekick Bradley Beal and many others have hampered Washington this season.

But Wall is holding up his end and is playing like a top-five point guard.

He has an all-around game – the ability to beat defenders off the dribble, to spot up, pass, use his court vision and rebound. As Celtics coach Brad Stevens said recently, “you have to pick your poison” when defending Wall.

“Being able to shoot the ball off the pick and roll with great consistency – that’s what makes defenses choose what to do next,” Stevens said. “He’s been a great passer off the pick and roll.”

There’s no shortage of admiration around the league for Wall, who Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown deemed “the fastest guard in the NBA.” Brown compared Wall to a Maserati sports car and said the 25-year-old has improved because “you learn how to drive your Maserati better.”

Much of Wall’s game has improved in his six pro seasons since he was the first overall pick out of Kentucky in 2010.

“His speed is probably second to none in the NBA. … He’s a one-man fast break and it’s crazy because he logs so many minutes,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “His midrange jumper is also so much improved. You can tell he’s been working on his game a lot, and you like to see that from guys.”

Wall doesn’t get the headlines like Curry, Irving or even Thomas, of late. He has only scored the most points in a game he’s played in eight times this season, but Wall is the kind of player that teams have to game-plan against.

“You’ve got to build a wall against Wall,” Cavaliers star LeBron James said. “You let him play in open court one-on-one, he’s too fast, he’s too strong. He’s going to put your defense at bay.”

Opponents have tried to close off Wall’s drives to the basket and force him to take jump shots. At times, it has worked, like when the Trail Blazers limited him to 4 of 17 shooting in a victory last month.

“When you’re playing against an All-Star-caliber player like him, you work as hard as you can, you try and contain his penetration and hope he misses some jumpers,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said.

More often than not, Wall makes the most of his time and space. Even so, Washington coach Randy Wittman believes Curry should get more recognition than Wall because of team results.

“John’s body of work has been pretty good; he’s been recognized with that,” Wittman said. “You’ve got to go out and play, you’ve got to go out and win. Those are the two things in our league. You want recognition? Be a winner and play your butt off. That’s how you get recognition, and John’s gotten it.”

NBA writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report.

Report: “Al Horford is a legitimate possibility for the Celtics”

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The Boston Celtics have assets, a collection of good role players but lacking the true stars, the alpha, the No. 1 option that any team needs to really win in the NBA.

How about Al Horford?

The Hawks are testing the waters for Horford, and as you can see in the video above, Chirs Mannix of Comcast Sportsnet New England (as well as The Vertical at Yahoo Sports) sees a fit.

“I think Boston, Al Horford is a legitimate possibility for the Celtics. I think that is one of the guys across the league that Danny Ainge is the most excited about. He is a four man that would fit right into what Boston is trying to do. It would cost a lot of money to re-sign him in the offseason, but I think Boston is willing to play it, because they haven’t paid a lot of money for players in recent years.”

The question here, of course, is the cost going back. All sources around the league right now say the Hawks are asking for the moon (as Mannix mentions). The givens in this kind of deal would be David Lee‘s expiring contract (for salary reasons), and the Nets unprotected pick. But it’s going to take more. Jae Crowder? Marcus Smart? Avery Bradley? Kelly Olynyk? Isaiah Thomas? It’s going to take a couple of those guys on top of Lee and the pick.

But if you’re the Celtics, that’s the move — you have put together all these assets, now you need to consolidate them into a couple of stars. Horford’s good-at-everything will fit beautifully in Brad Stevens’s system.

Just something to keep your eyes on. Unless the Hawks decide not to move Horford at all. Which is still a possibility, they may not break this thing up.

Damian Lillard added to Team USA Olympic roster pool

Damian Lillard
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If you’re looking for a point guard who can flat-out score the rock, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many better than Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers’ guard is averaging 24.2 points and 7.3 assists per game, with an above-average true shooting percentage of 54.6 percent, and a very high usage rate of 30.9.

He’s the kind of guy who might have a place on the Team USA Roster.

Which is why USA Basketball has added him to the pool to be considered for the Rio Olympics summer. The reason for the change is both Lillard’s level of play this season, and the fact he called USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo to ask for a spot, as reported by Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

Lillard deserves consideration, but there are two key reasons he likely doesn’t make the team:

1) He is still a terrible defender.

2) The list of guards for the USA Roster is ridiculous: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Klay Thompson, John Wall, and Russell Westbrook. And now Lillard. That’s 10 guys for likely five spots. It’s hard to see Lillard making that cut.

But he deserves consideration.

Kings co-owner Shaq: Vivek Ranadivé told me George Karl would coach rest of season

Shaquille O'Neal
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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Kings general manager Vlade Divac said keeping George Karl as coach was right move “for now.”

How long is “for now”?

Shaquille O’Neal, a Kings minority owner, shares insight.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

This would mean a little more if Vivek Ranadivé weren’t prone to wild swings. Remember, the Kings said Tyrone Corbin would finish last season as coach before firing him for Karl.

Divac also said in November that Karl would coach the rest of the season, and that came up for debate fewer than three months later.

Shaq’s revelation is as likely to embarrass the Kings in a few weeks as it is to signal Karl’s job security.