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Small moves set up big rebound for Warriors next season

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It’s been a disastrous season for the Golden State Warriors.

Klay Thompson has missed the entire season. Stephen Curry only recently returned from a fractured left-hand suffered in the season’s fourth game. Draymond Green has missed 22 games. Even offseason signee D'Angelo Russell has come and gone, as he was traded to Minnesota at the trade deadline.

All of the absences have resulted in the once-mighty Warriors falling all the way to the bottom of the league. On Tuesday, Golden State became the first team eliminated from playoff contention, as they fell to a league-worst 15-50 on the season.

Yet, despite it all, it doesn’t feel like the Warriors are finished. Instead, it feels like after five-consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, that Golden State is taking a gap year.

Over that five-year run, the Dubs played in 101 extra games. And those are high-intensity playoff games. If you go back to 2013, when the Warriors made their first playoff appearance with the Curry/Thompson/Green core, they’ve played 120 playoff games over seven seasons.

That kind of workload was bound to wear down any team, and the wheels came off for Golden State this season. But instead of panicking and making desperate moves to put those wheels back on while careening down the highway, Bob Myers and Steve Kerr embraced the idea of a gap year.

When it became clear that Russell wasn’t going to be an ideal fit alongside a healthy Curry and Thompson, Myers shipped him off to the Timberwolves for Andrew Wiggins. The Warriors see Wiggins as a version of what Harrison Barnes was for them during the early part of their dominance. While frustratingly inconsistent, Golden State is betting on Wiggins bringing effort every night in a winning environment alongside veterans who know what it takes to win a title.

Wiggins is the big move. That’s the headliner. The next big transactions will include whatever Myers does with the team’s 2020 first-round pick.

Right now, that pick projects to be near the top of the lottery. Barring something really unexpected, the Warriors will be one of three teams with the best odds at landing the top pick in the draft. Although 2020 is considered to be a weak draft class, it’s never bad to have a pick near the top of the first round. Golden State also has the NBA’s largest trade exception to work with at $17.2 million (from the Andre Iguodala move over the summer). It’s expected that the Myers will use that to infuse some talent to the roster, either in the form of one player, or a handful of solid rotation pieces.

Those are just the big, flashy things the Warriors are set up to do. Quietly, as the season slipped away, Myers and Kerr worked together to make several other decisions that could prove just as valuable moving forward.

Myers worked a series of deals to give Golden State flexibility they haven’t had in years. Myers swapped Willie Cauley-Stein to the Mavericks for a second-round pick. The pick is nice, but this deal was mostly about clearing out the $2-plus million owed to Cauley-Stein this year and next.

At the trade deadline, Myers was able to convince Minnesota to take Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman in the Wiggins/Russell swap. That saved the Warriors $3.8 million this year and $4 million next season. Myers also sent Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III to Philadelphia for three more future second-round picks. Again, this wasn’t as much about the picks as it was clearing salary off the Warriors cap sheet.

With this series of moves, Myers achieved something once thought impossible: The Golden State Warriors were out of the luxury tax. That’s a massive savings in real dollars for a team that has been deep in the tax for several years running.

While Myers was doing his dealing, Kerr handled a revolving door of players in and out. With Curry and Thompson out long-term, and Green regularly out due to various injuries, it was a crapshoot as to who would suit up each game. Two rookies, Eric Paschall and Jordan Poole, and two former Two-Way players, Marquese Chriss and Damion Lee, will lead the Warriors in games played.

Paschall has proven to be a steal out of the second round. He’s averaged 14 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Had Golden State stayed healthy, who knows if Paschall even sees the floor? First-rounder Poole struggled early, but has come on in the season’s second half. Both look capable of being rotation players moving forward.

You hope your draft picks pan out, but it’s the diamond mining process that may have unearthed some real gems for the Warriors. Marquese Chriss was plucked off the scrap heap and has turned in his best season in the NBA. He’s averaged 9.3 points and 6.2 rebounds and has given Kerr the kind of activity around the rim that the Golden State needs. That play got him promoted from a Two-Way deal to a standard NBA deal.

Lee’s consistent shooting earned him a promotion from his Two-Way contract earlier this season. His improved defense and playmaking may keep him in the rotation going forward.

Behind Chriss and Lee, rookie Ky Bowman proved capable as a backup point guard and was also promoted from his Two-Way contract. Similarly, Juan Toscano-Anderson played well for the Warriors G-League affiliate in Santa Cruz and earned himself an NBA contract.

More recently, Mychal Mulder impressed enough on a 10 Day contract, that he earned a three-year NBA deal. And reclamation project Dragan Bender appears to be on a similar trajectory towards earning a contract past his second 10 Day deal.

However, if the Warriors are to get back to title contention, it’s not likely any of these players who have looked good for a terrible team will be a key part of the rotation. Maybe a handful stick around and have an impact, but most will probably be moved along this summer. And that’s the brilliant part of Myers’ maneuvering.

The Warriors are built around a core of Curry, Thompson, Green and now Wiggins. Everyone else is expendable. Myers has the 2020 first-rounder and the $17 million trade exception to work with, but now he’s got a lot more to pile together in trades.

As of this writing, the Warriors don’t have a single player on their roster scheduled to become a free agent after the season. They’ve got 14 players under contract heading into 2020-21. That number includes five players on partial or non-guaranteed contracts. Those contracts range from $1.5 million to $1.8 million in salary. Any one of those deals doesn’t have much trade value on its own. Together, however, that’s $8.1 million in outgoing salary.

Contracts only count in trade for the amount they are guaranteed for. But nothing is stopping Myers from guaranteeing a deal for its full amount before using the player in trade.

Let’s go a little further down this road. Kevon Looney is under contract for $4.8 million next season. Paschall and Poole are signed for $1.5 million and $2 million, respectively. Put those deals and the non-guaranteed deals together and the Warriors have $16.4 million easily traded salary.

While everyone else was focused on the Warriors slide down to a high lottery pick and their big trade exception, Myers quietly made small deals that could add up to one big deal down the line.

A lineup of Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, Green and center X looks pretty good already. Now, imagine that bolstered by players acquired via trade and the inevitable ring chasers who will sign on for the minimum. It’s pretty easy to see how the Warriors are right back in the mix.

Myers and Kerr were handed lemons this season. They don’t have lemonade just yet, but it may end up tasting really sweet when the Warriors leaders are done mixing it together.

Watch Tom Brady tell Charles Barkley to “take a suck of that” after he holes fairway shot

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It was the highlight of an entertaining — if not always pretty — afternoon of live golf, raising money for charity.

Tampa Bay Bay Buccanneers quarterback Tom Brady (it’s so weird to type that) was on his fourth shot on the par-5 7th hole at the Medalist Golf Club. Brady had a rough front nine to that point, and commentator Charles Barkley decided to up the trash talk (as if Barkley should talk about someone else’s golf game).

“How many shots do you want? Come on, I’m going to give you some shots man, I want some of you,” Barkley said.

“Don’t worry, it ain’t over yet,” Brady countered as he walked up to his fourth shot, 130 yards from the pin. “I think you just made him mad, Chuck,” host Brian Anderson said. “No, he can take a joke,” Barkley replied. Then this happened.

Brady earned that trash talk.

It wasn’t the only great exchange between the two; they had some fun on an earlier on a par 3 when Barkley bet Brady couldn’t get it on the green.

Increasing buzz teams well out of playoffs will not come to Orlando for games

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The Golden State Warriors have been public about it, they expect their season to be over. Golden State is far from alone, multiple teams well out of the playoff picture have questioned the expense and risk-to-reward ratio of coming back to play a handful of regular season games without fans in Orlando.

More and more, the buzz has been the NBA league office sees things the same way. I am not the only reporter hearing this: Steve Popper of Newsday wrote a column saying there was no reason to invite all 30 teams to the bubble city and the USA Today’s well-connected Jeff Zillgett added this:

This is where we throw in the caveat: There are no hard-and-fast plans from the NBA yet and every option is still being considered. One lesson Adam Silver took from David Stern was not to make a decision until you have to, and Silver is going to absorb more information in the coming weeks — such as from the recent GM survey — before making his call.

That said, the league seems to be coalescing around a general plan, which includes camps starting in mid-June and games in mid-July in Orlando.

For the bottom three to five teams in each conference, there is little motivation to head to Orlando for the bubble. It’s an expense to the owner with no gate revenue coming in, teams want to protect their NBA Draft Lottery status, and the Warriors don’t want to risk injury to Stephen Curry — or the Timberwolves to Karl-Anthony Towns, or the Hawks to Trae Young — for a handful of meaningless games.

The league is considering a play-in tournament for the final seed or seeds in each conference (there are a few format options on the table, it was part of the GM survey). That would bring the top 10 or 12 seeds from each conference to the bubble, depending upon the format, and they would play a handful of games to determine which teams are in the playoffs (and face the top seeds).

Either way, that would leave the three or five teams with the worst records in each conference home. Which is the smart thing to do, there’s no reason to add risk to the bubble for a handful of meaningless games.

Eight-year NBA veteran Jon Leuer announces retirement

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Jon Leuer is only age 31, but the big man has battled ankle and other injuries in recent seasons, playing in only 49 games over the past three seasons. Last July, the Pistons traded him to the Bucks in a salary dump, and Milwaukee quickly waived him. Leuer struggled to get healthy and did not catch on with another team.

Sunday he took to Instagram to announce his retirement.

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I love the game of basketball. I still want to play, but I know deep down it’s not the right decision for my health anymore. The past 3 years I’ve dealt with a number of injuries, including 2 that kept me out this whole season. It’s taken me a while to come to grips with this, but I’m truly at peace with my decision to officially retire. As disappointing as these injuries have been, I’m still thankful for every moment I spent playing the game. Basketball has been the most amazing journey of my life. It’s taken me places I only could’ve dreamed about as a kid. The relationships it brought me mean more than anything. I’ve been able to connect with people from all walks of life and forged lifelong bonds with many of them. What this game has brought me stretches way beyond basketball. I’m grateful for this incredible ride and everyone who helped me along the way. 🙏🏼🙌🏼✌🏼

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Leuer — a second-round pick out of Wisconsin for the Bucks in 2011 — averaged 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds a game for the Pistons in the 2016-17 season, and for the years at the peak of his career he was a quality rotational big man teams could trust, either off the bench or as a spot starter.

Over the course of his career he played for the Bucks, Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Suns, and Pistons. He earned more than $37 million in salary, most of it from a three-year contract the Pistons gave him in 2016. It was not long after his body started to betray him.

Leuer has been riding out the quarantine in Minnesota is wife Keegan (NFL coach Brian Billick’s daughter) and the couple is donating thousands of meals a week to the needy in that community.

 

New York Governor clears path for Knicks, Nets to open facilities for workouts

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As of today, 19 NBA teams have their practice facilities open for players to come in for individual workouts, but 11 have yet to open the doors. Some it’s the decision of the team, some it’s that the municipality or state had not allowed it.

The Knicks and Nets — in the heart of New York, the part of the nation hardest hit by COVID-19 — are two of those teams whose facilities are closed. However, on Sunday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said they could open the door for practice.

“I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena — do it! Do it!” Cuomo said at his press conference. “Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

While the teams have not formally announced anything yet, it is likely at least the Nets will open soon for the players still in market to workout (the majority of players from the New York teams went home to other parts of the country). The Knicks, well out of the playoff picture, may be much slower to open their facilities back up.

When they happen, the workouts come with considerable restrictions: one player and one coach at each basket, the coach is wearing gloves and masks, the balls and gym equipment are sanitized, and much more.

One part of a potential plan for the NBA to return to play called for a couple of weeks of a training camp at the team facilities, followed by 14 days of a quarantined training camp in Orlando at the bubble site. Multiple teams reached out to the league about doing their entire training camp in Orlando to avoid having players quarantine twice (once when the player reports back to market, once when the team goes to the bubble city).