ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Golden State Warriors

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Last season: The Warriors continued their ascent under Mark Jackson – going from 23-43 to 47-35 to 51-31. Then, they fired Jackson.

Arguably, the team took a step back because it didn’t win a playoff series after upsetting the Nuggets the year prior. However, the Warriors – without an injured Andrew Bogut – pushed the Clippers, a better team than the 2012-13 Nuggets, to seven games in the first round. I’d argue Golden State improved, but so did the Western Conference.

Off the court, it was a weird year. Jackson had assistant coach Brian Scalabrine reassigned and then fired assistant Darren Erman. Questions swirled throughout the season, including during the playoffs, about Jackson’s own job security. That’s a lot of turmoil for a winning team.

Signature highlight from last season: The Warriors had more than their share of thrilling game-winning jumpers last season. I can’t pick just one two three four five, so I went with six:

Key offseason moves:

Keys to the Warriors season:

Steve Kerr hitting the ground running: On the court, the Warriors were doing well under Jackson.

Was he getting the most from the team? Maybe not, especially offensively. But the bar is high, and the players are largely the same with some small improvements on the bench.

All the pressure is on Kerr, who has no coaching experience.

Even an average offensive coach should help on that end, where Golden State ranked a surprisingly low 12th in points per possession last season. But it will be challenging for Kerr to improve the elite defense – and overall picture.

Relying on a starting lineup that works: Golden State’s starting lineup – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut – posted the best net-rating among the NBA’s 30 most-used lineups. Only the Trail Blazers’ starters return in tact with more playing time together last year.

The Warriors’ starters have developed chemistry. They’ve performed well. And they’re all back.

Stick with what works.

Developing and implementing a bench: On the downside of having such a well-used starting lineup is the reserves often played only with each other, and those hockey-style line changes sometimes yielded negative results.

The talent is there to better integrate the bench players with the starters and find lineups that work.

Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes are reliably solid reserve options. Signing Livingston, though he’s injured, should help. Signing Rush and Barbosa could help. If Festus Ezeli gets healthy, he’s another piece.

The Warriors can become more complete.

Forgetting about Kevin Love: The Warriors seemed to be in position to trade for Kevin Love this summer by trading Klay Thompson, but they didn’t pull the trigger. Undoubtedly, there will be times Love excels in Cleveland, and everyone around Golden State – including in the locker room – wonders whether that was a mistake. It’s human nature.

But the Warriors can’t let them overwhelm what could be a very positive season.

Klay Thompson building off a great summer: Thompson, 24, is the only Warrior starter under 26. If that already-strong unit is going to progress, the pressure is on him more than anyone to elevate his game. It’s even higher considering Golden State kept him rather than trading for Love.

Thompson excelled, especially defensively, with Team USA this summer, and that could be a breakthrough for him. He’s at least in the conversation as the NBA’s best two-way shooting guard.

Whether or not Thompson gets an extension before the Oct. 31 deadline, the Warriors have put a lot of faith in him.

Why you should watch: Stephen Curry will retire as the best shooter of all time. He probably hasn’t earned that title quite yet, but he’s on track. He can pull up from anywhere on the court – and often does.

This team has so many skilled players, and when its offense is humming – which didn’t happen enough last season – it’s really a thing of beauty.

As last season showed, the Warriors have a high defensive ceiling, as Mark Jackson put even Curry and Lee in position to succeed. I don’t expect to see that repeated, but if it happens, Golden State’s defense is a fun watch for basketball junkies.

Prediction: 46-36. Maybe Steve Kerr makes the Warriors better in the long run – maybe. But I don’t see him stepping in with no coaching experience and instantly making the team better – especially not in such a challenging Western Conference.

The Warriors have enough talent to remain dangerous, and I expect the offense to improve while the defense slips. The team could look much different while producing similar results, but such a transition usually means some short-term slippage.

Hawks GM: We might have traded up with Bucks if their draft pick didn’t leak first

AP Photo/Kevin Hagen
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Let’s pick up with the No. 16 pick in last night’s NBA draft.

The Suns were on the clock and planning to pick Donte DiVincenzo. John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

But then 76ers called Phoenix about trading No. 10 pick Mikel Bridges for the No. 16 pick and a future first-rounder. The teams agreed to the deal (causing this heartbreaking moment), and the Suns picked Zhaire Smith for Philadelphia.

The next three picks:

17. Donte DiVincenzo, Bucks

18. Lonnie Walker, Spurs

19. Kevin Huerter, Hawks

Atlanta general manager Travis Schlenk on 95.7 The Game, via ESPN:

“Last night, for instance, we had the 19th pick, and we’re coming down and we’re actually talking to Milwaukee on the 17th pick, talking about trading up to get a guy we like,” Schlenk said. “There’s were a couple of guys we felt really good about on the 19th pick, obviously Kevin [Huerter] was one of them, and it leaked who Milwaukee was going to take.

“So, all of a sudden, we were able to pull back out of that deal and keep the draft pick instead of packaging picks to move up because we knew that, two guys on the board we felt really good about and only one team in between us, so that was beneficial to us last night.”

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports and Jeff Goodman of ESPN reported the Bucks picking DiVincenzo at 9:18 p.m.:

The pick became official at 9:22 p.m.:

Clearly, Atlanta wanted Huerter or “Mystery Player Not Named Donte DiVincenzo.”* Once they learned Milwaukee would take DiVincenzo at No. 17, the Hawks knew at least one of Huerter or “Mystery Player Not Named Donte DiVincenzo” would be available at No. 19.

*I think there’s a good chance it was Walker, whom San Antonio picked No. 18.

That saved the Hawks an asset(s) and cost the Bucks an asset(s), though perhaps Milwaukee couldn’t have gotten DiVincenzo at No. 19. Maybe the Spurs would’ve selected him at No. 18.

Still, the Bucks didn’t protect their internal plans well enough. Maybe that’s an organizational flaw. But this also could have been a fluky sequence of events. Perhaps, after hearing Phoenix would take DiVincenzo, someone in Milwaukee felt comfortable sharing that the Bucks wanted him. Then, when he surprisingly fell, it was too late. The information was already out there – allowing Atlanta to stand pat.

Danny Ainge unwittingly leaks Celtics’ draft pick on call with Terry Rozier during live show (video)

AP Photo/Bob Leverone
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Terry Rozier takes solace in how much Danny Ainge believes in him.

But I didn’t appreciate how deep their bond went.

Appearing on Bleacher Report’s live draft show, Rozier was asked to predict the Celtics’ No. 27 pick. So, Rozier called Ainge to ask. Shockingly, Ainge answered – with Boston on the clock. Almost certainly not knowing the call was public and live, Ainge revealed the likely selection:

Good thing the Celtics stuck with Robert Williams. That would have been extremely awkward otherwise.

As is, it was only a little awkward. Williams said today he doesn’t like to be called Bob.

Report: Rival teams expect Paul George to consider 1+1 contract with Thunder

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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Paul George has openly stated the appeal of playing for his hometown Lakers. He has also openly stated the appeal of staying with the Thunder.

That has created significant confusion about his upcoming free agency.

Could George find a compromise outcome?

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

More than one rival team has suggested to me that they expect George to strongly consider a two-year deal with the Thunder at $30.3 million next season and $32.7 million in 2019-20 that includes a player option to return to free agency next summer.

This makes sense on paper.

A 1+1 contract would give George more time to determine whether he and Russell Westbrook can win together in Oklahoma City without getting stuck there long-term if they can’t. The Thunder were starting to put it together when Andre Roberson got hurt. Perhaps, Roberson getting healthy would swing Oklahoma City’s fortunes.

George would also be eligible for a higher max salary in two years – 35% of the salary cap, up from 30% if he signs now. So, a short-term contract would allow him to maximize his potential earnings.

But George said he wanted to sign somewhere long-term this summer. He also suffered an extremely gruesome leg injury just a few years ago. He might not want to bypass guaranteed money to gamble for a little more later.

Are these rival teams just looking at the general outlook for a player in George’s position without considering his specific circumstances? Or do they know something? George could have informed teams he might become available in 2019 or 2020 so they should prepare.

I’m skeptical this is more than speculation by opposing teams. But the possibility that they’re basing their expectations on inside information makes this worth monitoring.

Heartbreaking: Watch Mikal Bridges explain joy of joining hometown 76ers while they trade him to Suns (video)

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Mikal Bridges‘ mom jumped up, pumped her fists and screamed “Yes!” through her giant grin.

The 76ers – the organization she works for in human resources – had just drafted her son No. 10 overall. Bridges, a Philadelphia native who played at Villanova, seemed as if he’d stay home for his pro career.

Bridges:

She’s very, very excited. She’s been wanting this. She’s probably more excited than I am. She was about to cry and all that. She said she didn’t want to ruin her makeup, so she’d try to hold it in. But no, she’s very excited. I’m her only son. I’m a little mama’s boy. Her son is right there around the corner again, and it’s just really cool.

Except, as Bridges was talking, the 76ers were trading him to the Suns for No. 16 pick Zhaire Smith and the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-rounder.

That extra pick carries major value. Even if you like Bridges much more than Smith – which I did, especially considering their fits in Philadelphia – that’s hard to pass up. The NBA is a business after all.

But it’s lamentable how this played out.