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.

Did Hornets GM tell Kobe Bryant on draft night, ‘We couldn’t have used you anyway,’ as Bryant claims?

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Kobe Bryant spent 16 days as a Charlotte Hornet.

Long enough to develop resentment for the Hornets.

Charlotte drafted Bryant No. 13 in 1996 to trade him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. Divac threatened to retire, but eventually relented on joining the Hornets. After the moratorium, Bryant went to Los Angeles, where he had a Hall of Fame career.

He hasn’t let go of draft night, though.

Bryant on the Knuckleheads podcast:

You get drafted, you get on the phone with the GM of the team that drafted you and all this stuff. So, I get on the phone with the Charlotte GM. He just tells me, “Hey, you know what’s going on.” Like, “Yeah. Yeah, yeah.” And you’ve got media in front of you and all that. And he goes, “Well, it’s a good thing we’re trading you, because we couldn’t have used you anyway.” You motherf. OK. OK. Alright. So, that’s what happened on draft night. So, I was already triggered. I was triggered. I was ready to go to the gym. Like f— the media. I don’t want to do any more interviews. I’m trying to – what are you telling me that for? I’m 17. What are you telling? OK. Alright.

The Hornets’ general manager was Bob Bass. He died last year, so he can’t tell his side of this story.

However, in previous tellings, Bryant said Charlotte coach Dave Cowens delivered that message. Cowens denied it.

Did Bryant forget whether he talked to the general manager or coach? Forget which position Cowens held? That’d be perfectly understandable decades later.

Or maybe both Bass and Cowens were on the call. Perhaps, Bryant initially thought Cowens said it and more recently learned it was Bass. That could explain Cowens’ denial.

But…

Stephen A. Smith of The Inquirer at the time:

On Wednesday, the Hornets took Bryant with the 13th pick of the NBA draft. Within minutes, there was talk of Bryant’s going to L.A. Dave Cowens, the Hornets’ new coach, was among those who raised the possibility, dismissing Bryant as “a kid” who would have a hard time playing for Charlotte.

That was a reasonable expectation. Bryant was just a teenager. Charlotte had veteran wings like Glen Rice and Dell Curry.

But Bryant was that special. He quickly became a contributor with the Lakers then developed into an all-time great.

In part because he fanned his competitive fire with perceived slights like this one.

Bryant is right: Who would say that to a 17-year-old? It just sounds cruel. Of course, Bryant would want to avenge being treated that way.

Here’s my guess: Someone from Charlotte – either Cowens or Bass – tried to comfort Bryant in a chaotic situation by saying the trade would work out for the best because the Hornets wouldn’t have played him much. It was supposed to be nice. Bryant took it as an insult.

But that’s just a guess. It was a private conversation many years ago. We’ll probably never know exactly what was said, let alone what was intended.

Report: Rockets signing Thabo Sefolosha

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The Rockets’ minicamp has produced a signing – Thabo Sefolosha.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

This is surely for the minimum. It’s unclear how much is guaranteed.

Houston has just 10 players with guaranteed salaries, including Nene’s dud of a deal. So, there’s room for Sefolosha to make the regular-season roster.

Sefolosha should fit well in Houston. He’s a smart, versatile defender and can knock down corner 3s. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will allow Sefolosha to concentrate on his strengths in a limited role. The biggest question is how much the 35-year-old Sefolosha has left in the tank.

NBA to better define traveling rule, increase enforcement, explain rule to players, fans

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Gather and two steps.

That is how the NBA has defined the traveling rule for many years now. A player can take a step if he is in the process of “gathering” a dribble or pass, then has two steps. Players such as James Harden have stretched that to the limit, frustrating opponents and non-Rockets fans, but it’s legal.

Now the NBA is looking to better define that “gather” step, then crackdown on enforcement of the rule. With that will come an education program for everyone from players to fans. All of this was approved at the NBA’s Board of Governors’ meeting in New York on Friday.

“One of the most misunderstood rules in our game is how traveling is interpreted and appropriately called,” Byron Spruell, NBA President, League Operations, said in a statement. “Revising the language of certain areas of the rule is part of our three-pronged approach to address the uncertainty around traveling.  This approach also includes an enforcement plan to make traveling a point of emphasis for our officiating staff, along with an aggressive education plan to increase understanding of the rule by players, coaches, media and fans.”

That “aggressive education plan” should be interesting.

At the meeting, the owners also made gamblers everywhere happy by saying that starting lineups now need to be submitted by coaches 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. In past years that had been only 10 minutes (and road teams complained that was not evenly enforced between home and road teams all the time).

This is a good bit of transparency by the league, as have been some of the recent changes in requirements of announcing injuries. But make no mistake, this rule change is all about gambling.

Under new anti-tampering rules, Adam Silver empowered to suspend execs, take away picks, void contracts

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LeBron James publicly courted Anthony Davis. Many free agents seemingly struck deals before free agency even began. Kawhi Leonard‘s uncle/advisor reportedly sought prohibited extra benefits from teams.

The NBA finally reached its breaking point on tampering and circumvention.

After late apprehension, the league will enact stricter enforcement.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I’m not surprised this passed unanimously. NBA commissioner Adam Silver wanted this to happen and wasn’t going to have owners vote unless he knew it’d pass. At that point, any protest-voting owners would just put themselves at odds with the commissioner. Not worth it.

We’ll see how long this crackdown lasts. I think that anonymous general manager represents many. If nobody is tampering, it’s fine not to tamper. But if some teams tamper, nobody wants to be at a disadvantage.

This could slowly creep back toward the old status quo. But if there’s a clear violator early, Silver will have an opportunity to send a message. We’ll see whether he takes it.

This should be less about which communication is or isn’t allowed. It’s about fairness.

That’s why it’s important the NBA has rules it will enforce and only rules it will enforce. That hasn’t been the case. If it is now, this will be a success.