ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Golden State Warriors

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Last season: The Warriors ultimately overachieved when all was said and done in 2013, getting to the second round of the playoffs and taking the eventual Western Conference champion Spurs to six games before their season was ended. For a sixth seed entering the playoffs with just 47 wins and having to go through the team that finished with the best home record in the league in the Denver Nuggets, it was a bold step forward for a club full of young talent.

Signature highlight from last season: It’s tempting to give Harrison Barnes the nod here for his incredible dunk over the Timberwolves’ Nikola Pekovic, but Stephen Curry’s breakout season was the main reason for his team’s unexpected level of success. As a result, enjoy the 54 points Curry dropped on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, even though the scoring barrage came in a losing effort.

Key player changes: Golden State landed a big-name free agent in Andre Iguodala, who would appear to be a perfect addition to the club on both ends of the floor. But they lost a couple of key role players in the process.

  • IN: Iguodala, who the team signed to a four-year, $48 million free agent contract. Marreese Speights was signed to a three-year deal in the offseason, Jermaine O’Neal and Toney Douglas are in place on one-year deals, and Nemanja Nedovic was Golden State’s first round pick in this summer’s draft.
  • OUT: Jarrett Jack is gone, signed by the Cavaliers in free agency. Carl Landry signed a multi-year deal with the Kings, and seldom-used Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins, and Brandon Rush were all traded to the Jazz in a salary dump to clear enough cap space to land Iguodala.

Keys to the Warriors season:

1) Integrating Iguodala: Andre Iguodala is an interesting player, in that he’s one of the more well-respected wings around the league who can impact the game more on the defensive end of the floor than with his scoring. The Warriors were good but not great in both categories last season — 10th in the league in offensive efficiency, 13th in defensive efficiency. Iguodala should help in both areas, and whether he or Harrison Barnes is the one relegated to the second unit, the team should see an immediate impact made by both players in their new roles.

2) Replacing the depth that’s departed: Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry both left in free agency after playing key roles for the Warriors a season ago off the bench. Jack was often times on the floor playing crunch-time minutes in three-guard lineups alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. He averaged almost 30 minutes per game, and it’s unclear at this point how those minutes will be distributed this season. Landry, meanwhile, played all 82 last year and averaged 10.8 points and six rebounds in 23.2 minutes per contest.

Barnes or Iguodala anchoring the second unit will replace a good portion of that production, but there’s still a void that needs to be filled there if the Warriors are going to exceed what they achieved last year. Kent Bazemore and Draymond Green may be pressed into greater roles, and whether or not they’re ready for them may partially determine how the team fares.

3) Curry making the leap to superstar: There’s no question that Curry is coming off of a breakout season, taking the crown as the game’s purest shooter with very little resistance. He averaged close to seven assists per game, too, but may have to up his production in that category even more for his team to continue to thrive, while cutting down on the turnovers as head coach Mark Jackson suggested this offseason.

Curry is poised to make the projected leap, and if he does so as expected, the Warriors’ unique collection of talent will be even more trouble for teams to stop.

Why you should watch: The aforementioned Curry is becoming a must-see player, and he along with Klay Thompson make for one of the more exciting backcourts in the league from a long-range shooting perspective.

Prediction: It took 56 wins a season ago just to make it to fifth in the Western Conference by the time the playoffs began, and if that’s the case again, it’s tough to see the Warriors finishing much higher than the sixth spot they earned last year. But this season more than most, playoff seeding won’t matter all that much in the West, where the top six teams can all make a strong preseason case as to why they should be favored to finish at or near the top of the standings.

Golden State has some interesting pieces in place, but there are questions surrounding Iguodala’s fit and whether or not they’ll be able to replace the bench production that was lost. A playoff berth seems like a lock; beyond that, we’ll have to wait and see.

Report: Nerlens Noel hires Rich Paul as agent, looking for big deal from Mavericks

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It’s been a rough year for restricted free agents (and plenty of unrestricted ones). After NBA teams spent like drunken sailors on shore leave last summer, this time around — with the cap not rising as much as had been expected — the market got tight quickly, and few questionable contracts were handed out. A year ago the Brooklyn Nets were making the Miami Heat pay big to retain Tyler Johnson and the Trail Blazers pay big to keep Allen Crabbe. This year teams were not biting the same way on restricted free agents.

Which left guys like Nerlens Noel, who expected to be maxed out by the Mavericks (or someone), still looking for a deal. Noel was frustrated enough to switch agents, picking up Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, according to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.

Paul is LeBron James‘ agent, and in recent years has done well getting Tristan Thompson and Eric Bledsoe good contracts as extensions to their rookie deals. In both cases, he showed a fearlessness in holding out longer and being willing to push the envelope. That had to appeal to Noel.

But it doesn’t change the underlying dynamics at play — and not just with Noel. Paul also represents restricted free agents this summer Shabazz Muhammad — who has yet to sign a deal — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had to take a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million (well below his max). Throw in Noel’s injury history, and teams were not eager to jump in with a big offer for the athletic big man.

At this point, no team has the money to offer Noel a max contract right now — the Bulls have the most available money at $17.3 million, the Sixers and Suns have about $15 million and $14 million. Noel’s max is $24.7 million a year. Dallas is playing hardball because they can — without another offer on the table, Noel’s only real threat is to sign the qualifying offer (about $6 million) and play the season for that, then become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That’s possible, but a guy with Noe’s history of injuries may want to be careful betting on himself like that.

With Paul in the negotiations, expect them to drag out. That’s about the only sure thing.

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.