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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.

Mike Woodson reportedly has second coaching interview with Knicks

Knicks coach interview
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Let’s start with the reality of the situation: Every source where the Knicks are mentioned, every bit of reporting on this topic, says the New York coaching job is Tom Thibodeau’s to lose. He is the runaway favorite.

But if it’s not him, is it Mike Woodson deja vu?

The Knicks have done their due diligence in this search — they interviewed 11 people — and that now includes bringing back former New York coach Mike Woodson for a second interview, reports Ian Begley of SNY.TV.

Friday was Woodson’s second interview with the club. Woodson and all other candidates had initial interviews with the Knicks last month or in the first week of July. The Knicks’ second-round interviews are expected to conclude in the coming days. It is unclear if any candidates will be asked to interview a third time.

New York plans to make a decision its next head coach before July 31, when the NBA resumes its regular season in Orlando.

Woodson is the last Knicks coach to win a playoff series (2013, if you’re keeping track) and had a 109-79 record in the job. David Fizdale — the coach the Knicks fired this season — wanted Woodson on his staff, but management shot it down, reports Marc Berman at the New York Post.

It’s difficult to imagine Leon Rose‘s first big move as Knicks president would be to reach back in time and restart the Woodson era. That’s not moving the franchise forward.

But Woodson and the Knicks are talking.

Short offseason, uncertain financial outlook may mean fewer coaches fired

76ers coach Brett Brown
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Already this season, Kenny Atkinson was out in Brooklyn, the New York Knicks fired coach David Fizdale, and John Beilein was shown the door in Cleveland (with J.B. Bickerstaff hired to replace him). That was just the tip of the iceberg in expected NBA coaching changes this offseason, the buzz around the league was between four and up to 10 more coaches would be fired.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Now those same teams are looking at a shortened offseason, while at the same time the owners have taken a financial hit and aren’t thrilled about the idea of paying two coaches at once, and suddenly it looks like a lot more coaches are safe. Brian Windhorst and Tim Bontemps touched on that in their story about next season at ESPN.

After much chatter before the stoppage of changes in the coaching ranks, several league executives told ESPN that teams might be more likely to hang on to coaching staffs longer than planned to avoid paying out millions to coaches fired in current market conditions.

A lot front office sources around the NBA are speculating about the same thing.

Expect a few changes. Mike D’Antoni’s contract is up in Houston and few around the league expect him to return next season. Jim Boylen is considered the walking dead in Chicago where there is a new front-office regime. New York and Brooklyn still have to hire their guys.

However, other guys considered almost certainly gone — Brett Brown in Philadelphia or Scott Brooks in Washington, for example — may keep their gig another year because of the uncertain waters of the NBA right now. Maybe not, there could be firings, but don’t expect the tidal wave of coaching changes to wash over the NBA that everyone expected back in February.

Teams forced into difficult choices to trim traveling parties for restart

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The 22 teams participating in the NBA restart were all at the Disney campus together for the first time Friday.

None of them, however, made it to the Orlando, Florida, area with their usual travel party.

Leaving families behind for several weeks — or maybe even three months, depending on how deep a team goes in the playoffs — during a pandemic isn’t the only hardship that teams are dealing with during this restart. Space limitations within the quasi-bubble at Disney also meant that teams had to cut their official traveling parties down to 37, including players, so many people who usually travel with a club aren’t on this trip.

“We’re not able to take everybody — and that stinks, because of the amount of work that they all put in every single day,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “We’ve tried to identify how to be the most efficient we can be with people that can be excellent remotely as well. I think that that’s one of the things that we’ve had to identify. In some cases, their excellence remotely probably hurt their chances of going initially.”

It’s expected that as the bubble population shrinks after six teams are eliminated from playoff contention and then eight more are ousted in the first postseason round, teams will be allowed to bring in more staff.

But until then, while teams are playing games on-site at Disney, there will be plenty of work done back in home markets and home arenas as well. Some teams left player development coaches behind, some even left assistant coaches, and all teams traveled with only one media relations staffer and one equipment manager. In normal circumstances, some teams travel with as many as three people to handle media requirements and two for equipment.

“You know, it’s tough,” Orlando President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said. “We kind of shied away from some of the language that was being thrown around — the whole idea of essential (staff) and non-essential (staff). It’s not about that. This is a very narrowly defined circumstance, and it requires certain skill sets to address this circumstance.”

Players counted against the list of 37, and most teams brought the full complement of 17 players. That left 20 spots for coaches, assistant coaches, player development, video, security, strength and conditioning, athletic training, media relations and content creators.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said the process of figuring out who goes and who doesn’t was brutal.

“We already have had a model of everybody sharing responsibilities,” Spoelstra said. “We already had a meeting about this where there’s an absolute understanding that this is an ‘all hands on deck’ situation. And that means bags, laundry, cleanup, everything … that’s not just for equipment managers, that’s everybody — coaches, trainers, weight room staff, head coach, coaches, we’re all going to be involved in every aspect of it.”

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan also expressed disappointment that tough decisions had to be made on the staffing end.

He completely understands the NBA perspective. Keeping the number of people in the bubble manageable is a key part of the NBA’s plan for being able to finish the season; the more people in the bubble, the more risk there is of something going wrong.

“Everybody deserves the opportunity, but for the safety of the league and the players we can’t do that,” Donovan said. “So, what we’ve got to do is understand, whether it’s myself or assistant coaches, we may have to be setting up video equipment, we may have to have one of our coaches filming practice in Orlando. There’s things that we’re going to have to do that are going to be outside the box that will normally been taken care of.”

Chris Paul playing cornhole. Luka Doncic trick shots. Welcome to life in the NBA bubble.

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Teams have emerged from quarantine in the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando, getting some run in on the court, and are starting to explore life in the NBA bubble.

Then they are documenting it on social media.

For example, Chris Paul and Darius Bazley played some cornhole.

Dallas’ Luka Doncic was hitting trick shots on the court.

Then Doncic and Boban Marjanovic were doing Disney Channel ads.

Complaints about the food by players have died down, in part because they are out of quarantine and get a choice of restaurants, in part because they saw the backlash and realized the complaints looked elitist. Or maybe it’s just the Mickey pancakes.

Everyone is out and exploring the campus and having fun…

Well, except for Robin Lopez, who sees no reason to leave his room.