Small moves set up big rebound for Warriors next season

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
0 Comments

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.

LeBron tells Adam Silver he wants to own expansion team in Vegas

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
0 Comments

The odds are good that Las Vegas will get an NBA expansion team. Eventually.

But when it happens, LeBron James wants to be in the Vegas ownership group — and he made that pitch directly to Adam Silver after the Lakers exhibition game in Sin City against the Suns on Wednesday.

“I know Adam is in Abu Dhabi right now, I believe. But he probably sees every single interview and transcript that comes through from NBA players,” James said, via the Associated Press. “So, I want the team here, Adam. Thank you.”

Silver is in the United Arab Emirates, which is hosting an exhibition game between the Bucks and Hawks this week. But LeBron doesn’t need to worry about Silver seeing this request. He probably already has.

The widely held belief around the league is that the NBA owners will not entertain expansion until a new CBA and a new television/streaming rights deal are locked in (driving up the franchise prices), things that will take a couple of years. Expansion talk may come after that, and maybe there will be two new NBA teams by the end of the decade.

“We are not discussing that at this time,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said of expansion last June. “As I said before, at some point, this league invariably will expand, but it’s not at this moment that we are discussing it.”

If and when expansion happens, Las Vegas, along with Seattle, are the clear frontrunners to land teams. Most importantly, both cities have NBA-ready stadiums and fan bases to support the franchises, and their mayors are on board.

LeBron would be the face of an ownership group. While LeBron himself is a billionaire, Silver had called reports of a $2.5 billion expansion fee per team “low.” And that’s not including all the other start-up costs that come with a team.

But if the NBA is coming to Las Vegas, don’t be shocked if LeBron is involved.

Zion and more: Five must-watch intriguing NBA players this season

0 Comments

At the start of every season, there are the guys you just can’t take your eyes off.

The “will it come together” guys. The “will they break through” guys. The “their team really needs them” guys. We know what most NBA players bring to the table, but the intriguing guys are the ones where we don’t know the answer. Where we’re finding out just as their coaches and teammates are.

Here are my five most intriguing, must-watch players of the season.

Zion Williamson, Pelicans

Kind of a no-brainer — but we’re all going to be watching.

Williamson was given a max contract off the 85 games he played through three seasons, and the questions are clear: Can he stay on the court? And if he does, can he mesh with CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram, return to being a dominant scoring force inside, and turn the Pelicans into a playoff team?

The early reviews are promising. He came into camp in the best shape we have seen him in, and he showed off his ridiculous explosiveness in his first preseason game following missing last season after foot surgery.

If Williamson can be that guy, if he can play at an All-Star level, lead the league in scoring efficiency, and give the Pelicans a guy who can get to the rim and draw fouls (something they lacked much of last season, McCollum and Ingram are happy to pull up and nail the jumper), it’s not just Zion who is intriguing. This entire team is.

We know we’re not going to be able to take our eyes off Zion all season. No matter what happens.

Ben Simmons, Nets

Another rather obvious selection, but it doesn’t make it any less a reality — we will all be watching. Especially after his ugly exit from Philadelphia last season, only to not play for the Nets.

What will his role be next to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant? In the first preseason game, Simmons brought the ball up, initiated the offense a lot, and didn’t take a shot outside the paint (he made his shots at the rim, but his turnaround jumper was… rusty would be the kind word). Simmons brings elite perimeter defense the Nets need, but most scouts picture him in a Draymond Green-style role within the Brooklyn offense, the question is will he play that way  — and will Steve Nash ask him to?

No team has more questions this season than the Nets, and Simmons may be the biggest one.

Precious Achiuwa, Raptors

Achiuwa was a different player after the All-Star break last season. Something clicked for him and he jumped to averaging 12.2 points a game (up from 7.5 pre-All-Star) with a 55.2 true shooting percentage (46.7%), in part because he found his 3-point stroke (39.2%).

Was that stretch a fluke, or did Achiuwa figure things out? The early preseason returns suggest the latter.

After the All-Star break Achiuwa looked like a key young part of the Raptors moving forward, the question now is can he sustain and grow that? The key is his jumper — if that is falling and he is spacing the floor, he becomes a much bigger part of the Raptors’ offense (and gives Nick Nurse another 6’8″ switchable defender for his positionless style). We’ll be watching to see if Achiuwa can take the next step.

Onyeka Okongwu, Hawks

Clint Capela will be the Hawks starting center to open the season — but for how long?

Make no mistake, Capela is a quality NBA starting center, but Onyeka Okongwu — the No.6 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft — has shown flashes of brilliance in his first two seasons. For example, during the 2021 Atlanta run to the Eastern Conference Finals when he was Atlanta’s best option in dealing with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Last season there were stretches where he looked like the future in Atlanta. There’s a sense around the league that this is the season Okongwu puts it together — elite defense with some improved rebounding and a jumper — and Nate McMillan will have no choice but to move him into the starting lineup.

Okongwu will get more minutes this season with Danilo Gallinari gone from the Atlanta rotation and questions about the future of John Collins with the team. He can defend at a high level and is an efficient scorer inside — we’re watching to see if this is the season he breaks out. Combine that with a Trae Young/Dejounte Murray backcourt in Atlanta, and things get interesting.

De'Aaron Fox, Kings

If the Sacramento Kings are going to end the longest playoff drought in major American professional sports (16 years), it will be because De’Aaron Fox found genuine chemistry playing off of Domantas Sabonis, something the two started working on last season.

How is that chemistry now? Does Sabonis working out of his preferred high post make finding driving lanes tough for Fox?

“I mean, it’s still a work in progress, but I feel like I can break down anybody at any time. So for myself getting to the pain is not a problem,” Fox said after the Kings’ first preseason game.

Fox scored 23.2 points a game last season but his efficiency (and 3-point shooting) dipped. That has to change. Fox has to be efficient, and new coach Mike Brown has to find a way for his team to get stops, for them to break the streak. Also, Fox has to stay healthy and on the court — he hasn’t played more than 59 games each of the past three seasons.

The Kings are an interesting team this season, and Fox could be their bellwether.

DeMarcus Cousins looking for NBA return: ‘I just want a fair shot’

2022 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Golden State Warriors
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

DeMarcus Cousins can still help a team. He did it last season, first in Milwaukee because they needed depth (Brook Lopez was out following back surgery) and he gave them 9.1 points and 5.8 rebounds a game of solid play. Then, the Bucks let him go for financial reasons and the Nuggets picked him up to play behind Nikola Jokic and he was again a solid reserve, with 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game (and he had a 31-point night against the Rockets).

Cousins, however, has not landed with a team heading into this season, with teams more concerned about his character and influence than his game. Cousins told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports he has learned from his past mistakes and wants another chance.

“Have I made mistakes? Absolutely,” Cousins told Yahoo Sports. “Have I done things the wrong way? Absolutely. For that, I’m very apologetic. But I’ve done even more things the correct way and I’ve done even more positive things compared to my negatives. I just don’t want those positives to be overlooked. And obviously, whenever it gets to the point where the negatives outweigh the positives, you should probably move away from him. That’s just how life goes. But I don’t believe I’m in that boat. I’m just asking for a chance to show my growth as a man and a player…

“I think the misperception of me is that I’m this angry monster that just goes around bullying people, beating people up, uncoachable, and a cancer in the locker room,” Cousins told Yahoo Sports. “I think it’s all false. I played for coach [John] Calipari, a legendary coach. I was more than coachable. Steve Kerr would attest to that and coach Malone. Obviously, you can always go back to my time in Sacramento. I was a young kid. I was still figuring this business out. I was ignorant to a lot of things. I handled a lot of things the incorrect way, but I’ve also learned from those mistakes…

“So, to hold my time in Sac over my head, I think that’s unfair. I believe we all should have a chance to grow and change and actually have that change be embraced. I just want a fair shot.”

Cousins also said he is working out daily to be ready when the phone rings and understands he is now a role player.

It will ring. At some point an injury will happen and a team will turn to Cousins to be that solid backup big they can give 15 minutes a night (or, a team will realize they need more size than they currently have on their roster). Center has become a bit of a mercenary position in the NBA, one where teams often look to fill roles on the cheap so money can be spent on perimeter players, and teams think low-risk with those spots. Fair or not, Cousins is not seen as low risk.

But his stint with the Warriors before the bubble (and before he tore his ACL) and last season with the Bucks and Nuggets show he can fit in on an established team and contribute. Eventually, he should get that chance.

Report: Draymond Green facing potential discipline after fight with Jordan Poole

0 Comments

Warriors practice got heated on Wednesday and Draymond Green reportedly escalated some chest bumping with Jordan Poole and punches were thrown. The team is now considering internal disciple, according to The Athletic.

When a heated interaction with guard Jordan Poole escalated, Green forcefully struck Poole and needed to be separated swiftly, sources said. Green and Poole came chest-to-chest, with both players pushing and shoving each other prior to Green’s escalation of the physical altercation, those sources said.

The two players had been jawing at each other when it escalated and Green punched Poole, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. There aren’t details of the incident beyond that description (at least so far), although several reporters have confirmed the was a fight and the two had to be broken up. Poole was seen getting up shots after practice when the media was allowed in and reportedly was joking with teammates.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports Tweeted out what feels like the Draymond Green camp spin on the incident.

Warriors elder statesman Andre Iguodala Tweeted out this on the situation, wanting to keep it all in the family, and adding that “it broke my heart… but it fixed my vision.”

There is a history of tension between Green and Poole, including a public flare-up between the duo early last season, but the two talked after and smoothed things over. At least for a while.

What punishment Green will face from the team remains to be seen.

Poole is on the verge of an extension to his rookie contract, one where Tylyer Herro just set the market.

Green had hoped for an extension from the Warriors this offseason but there were limited discussions between the parties. Green can opt out of the final year of his contract at the end of this season and become a free agent.