The Golden State Warriors were one win from what would have been a successful season when they entered the Western Conference’s final play-in game against the Grizzlies.
A victory and the Warriors would enter the playoffs as an eighth seed against the top-seeded Jazz. The Warriors were led by MVP candidate Stephen Curry, a bunch of upstarts, and players discarded by other organizations. But Golden State lost in overtime, again bitten by too many mistakes, and not enough help for Curry.
Curry is 33 and just enjoyed his best season. Draymond Green remains one of the league’s premium defenders, but his offensive game has regressed. Klay Thompson has missed the last two seasons because of injuries, and James Wiseman was having a promising rookie season before knee surgery.
The Warriors’ priority this offseason is re-signing Curry and then getting him some help. Golden State’s time is now because its core is aging, and general manager Bob Myers realizes there is a sense of urgency.
“Since obviously Steph was here before I got here, and when you’re lucky enough to kind of fall into a player like that in my position, I think you owe it to them to try to win,” Myers said. “Those people don’t come along too often with that kind of talent that he obviously has. For the last 10 years, that’s what we’ve been trying to do, is give him a team that he can win a championship with, and some years it’s easier than others. But we’re always looking and trying to do that, and we’ll keep trying to do that, and that means looking at all different types of things.”
The Warriors will receiver the Timberwolves’ first-round pick if it lands outside the top three. So if they are fortunate, the Warriors could add another young piece to their core. But that may not address their immediate needs.
“As much as it’s been said and written, I do think young players can help,” Myers said. “It depends on when or how. Things can evolve much differently than we all think over the course of a season or over the course of a training camp, but that’s where we make our predictions, and we look at the roster and say, well, how much can we expect from this player, how much can we realistically expect from that player, what’s Klay going to be, when is he going to be back? I’m sure we’ll get into that.
“So it’s something we’re constantly looking at and certainly we’ll try and do. We want to win. Our payroll is not a payroll that will reflect any type of rebuilding. It’s a payroll that’s trying to win a championship, so that’s how we’re going to approach it.”
The Warriors had the second overall pick last year and chose Wiseman, a promising center with limited college experience, over LaMelo Ball, a point guard who became a sensation this season. Wiseman worked himself into the rotation until tearing his meniscus in March.
“I think it’s always challenging. I was here with Draymond and Klay, obviously Jordan Poole a little bit, Harrison Barnes, some of the guys I’m thinking of that we brought in that were higher picks,” Myers said. “There’s an unknown to what we do, but you have to predict something. You have to make some guesses, some educated guesses. It’s really about being helpful in some way, helping the team win, and I think that would be the goal with any rookie we have, can this guy add to winning in the minutes he’s on the floor?”
The Warriors just completed their second season at the Chase Center in San Francisco, and there is pressure for the organization to succeed, especially with Curry as such a draw. Myers does not have the time to rebuild. He has to add players to win immediately, and then consider the consequences when the cornerstones are gone.
“Clearly, with what our owner has spent, I think it’s obvious he wants to win, too,” Myers said. “But how do you accomplish that? I think there’s a lot of players in the NBA that want to feel like they’re getting the most they can out of their roster, and those guys do, too. But it’s very, it’s not contentious. It’s not you shoot on this or that or we need you to do this, I don’t like this.
“I met with Steph for an hour [last] Saturday, met with Draymond for an hour and a half just now. When you’ve been lucky enough to do what we’ve been able to do, you don’t rest on your laurels, but you do have equity in those relationships. It’s like working with someone for 10 years. If anything is meaningful you’re going to succeed together and you’re going to fail together. Those guys have — you can call this year whatever you want, but we’ve had some great success, we’ve had some great disappointment, but everybody is competitive, everybody wants to win.
“The point is that as long as they all feel like we’re trying to do that, then everybody is OK. I’ve never had a conversation with either of those guys, even in the last two days, where they’ve said to me, ‘You’d better do this, or we should have done that.’ That’s just not how the relationship works.
“But at the same time, I may initiate and say, ‘You know, maybe I should have done this or maybe I should have done that.’ And that’s why you get a situation where you have the same players in an organization, which is almost impossible now to keep a guy like Steph for 10 or 12 or 15 years, or Draymond or Klay. They all want to leave, or do leave.”
It is rare for any NBA team to keep its core together for a decade, but the Warriors have. But it seems there has to be a realistic chance of ultimate success to prevent a breakup. The Warriors will be a lot better if Thompson returns to form, Green remains a defensive menace, and Curry maintains his MVP-level play. But that still may not be good enough to compete with improving teams.
“As far as being a playoff team, I think we’re there, as close as you can be without making it,” Myers said. “But beyond that, I always thought when people ask me prior to this year, I want to see our team, and our team includes Klay Thompson. I wanted to see that. We didn’t get to see it, which is most hurtful to Klay.
“So now you go into another year saying who’s our team? I’ve seen Klay, Draymond, and Steph together. You have, too. But I haven’t seen them recently, in the last two years. If those three guys are on the floor together. I’m not afraid of any team in the NBA. That’s how I feel.”
hurting the game?
Russell Westbrook’s production has been debated for years. Are his numbers truly meaningful if he has never won a championship? How impactful are his triple-doubles? Where is his place in the history of great point guards?
Analytically, Westbrook’s numbers aren’t as valuable because they haven’t resulted in as many victories as some other premium point guards. But is the game being overanalyzed? Shouldn’t Westbrook’s numbers be appreciated because he is the all-time leader in triple-doubles?
There is a perception that analytics are ruining the game. It has led to a finesse aspect in the NBA because of the increased emphasis on 3-pointers, which has devalued the center position and the post game.
ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins, who played in the NBA for 14 years, including eight with the Celtics, believes that perception is true.
“The majority of the people that are in the analytics department never played the game of basketball,” said Perkins. “So analytics are broken down from people that never played the game of basketball at a high level. That’s how they’re able to keep their jobs in the front office.
“Second, I do think it is affecting the game because to me it’s all about the eye test. Like, I don’t want to hear, you know what, when Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker and Robert Williams are on the court together, Jayson Tatum shoots 25 percent from the left wing because Robert Williams is over here, but when we have Luke Kornet in the game, his percentages go up.”
Perkins said the game has become adversely affected bythe crunching of numbers as opposed to placing the most talented units on the floor.
“I don’t want to hear that; just show me the eye test,” he said. “That’s why I believe the plus/minus stat is so overrated for certain players, because you can’t control that. You can’t control who you’re on the floor with because you could be doing your part, it could be the other guys that are messing up, and all of a sudden they’ll be like, ‘Oh, Jaylen Brown had minus-30, like that’s so overrated.’ ”
Perkins has a suggestion for fans.
“I always tell people, watch the game for yourself,” he said. “Evaluate it, what your eyes show you. Just look at the game. I do think we dive too deep into certain areas where we take appreciation from players that we should be appreciating. I saw somebody on social media when I tweeted about [Stephen Curry], and everybody was tweeting about Steph and they were like, he shot 20-plus threes.
“Who gives a damn? He did it. I mean, he shot 20-plus threes, but guess what, they needed him to shoot 20-plus threes. He did it in great fashion. Who cares about how many shot attempts he did? They won the game. They won the game because of what Steph Curry did, how he came back in the game. Just value that more than the diving and the stats and the percentages and analytics. That drives me nuts. We’re all are watching the same game. Just value the player for what you’re watching with your own eyes.
Fellow ESPN analyst Jalen Rose believes analytics have been a way to discriminate against former players, especially those of color, in terms of securing jobs in NBA front offices.
“Usually those people working in the analytics office don’t reflect how the players look out on the floor, so that becomes a disconnect when we’re trying to get those powerful jobs as coaches, front office, and analytics,” Rose said. “That’s another way that’s being used to box us out for not a lot of opportunities, as Perk said. I think also what’s happened in sports is there’s so many people that have platforms to talk about the game that never even go to games. Let me just say that first. Think about that. That never even go to games. Some of the loudest voices in sports never go to games.
“So, what does that mean? That means that you have to now rationalize what just happened because you’re not there physically. And then now that becomes — you’re able, like Perk said, to take for granted how hard it is for somebody to get up 22 threes in an NBA game, to have the endurance to do it, to have your teammates continue to screen for you so you can do it, and then you make so many that we want you to keep shooting. That’s one of the things that you only can appreciate by going to games.”
Rose said social media and the thirst for instant reaction has shaped how the NBA is scrutinized.
“The other thing is because of gotcha media and takes, so to speak, you now have to sensationalize what you see for clicks,” Rose said. “So you can’t just evaluate the player. You’ve now got to sensationalize what you see in order to get the clicks of you evaluating a player.
“And then lastly, you have so many people talking about the game, and rightfully so. The game is so extremely popular. That’s what we want. That’s what the league wants. That’s what everyone wants. You have so much interest in the game that you have a lot of people with loud voices or social followings or whatever that aren’t students of the game, which that’s why I actually wanted to get into this industry. I felt like there was so many people that were like name-calling and really didn’t understand what it was like to be in the foxhole, and that’s why I actually wanted to do this job.”
The NBA had to address two embarrassing incidents this past week during playoff games, with one fan in Philadelphia dumping popcorn on Russell Westbrook as he left the floor with an ankle injury, and another in New York spitting on Trae Young as he waited to receive the ball before making an inbounds pass. Both fans have been banned from the respective arenas, and the NBA released its fan conduct mandates on Thursday. But the league should have taken further action than just revoking tickets. Fan behavior had become a problem around the NBA before the pandemic, and the league has to work with law enforcement to ensure that there is more than just minor penalties for these actions. NBA players already feel unprotected because of past fan behavior, and there was an incident this season when a fan sitting courtside in Atlanta verbally abused LeBron James and had to be removed from State Farm Arena. Player safety may not be the foremost issue in the next collective bargaining agreement, but players are becoming more concerned about fan conduct, especially where they are playing just a few feet away from fans … It’s been a week since the regular season ended and no coaches have been fired. The Hornets picked up the final year of James Borrego’s contract after their injury-riddled team reached the play-in tournament. Borrego did an admirable job, and Gordon Hayward was not available for the stretch run because of a foot injury, and he did not appear in the play-in loss to the Pacers. A healthy team, along with LaMelo Ball with a second year of experience and an improved Miles Bridges, would make the Hornets a candidate to finish in the first tier of Eastern Conference playoff teams next season … General manager Koby Altman said coach J.B. Bickerstaff is secure for next season after the Cavaliers finished 22-50 and are headed for another draft lottery. But there is hope. Cleveland potentially has one of the best young backcourts in the league with Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, as well as Jarrett Allen and former lottery pick Isaac Okoro. The issue this summer will be what to do with Kevin Love, who has two more seasons on his contract at a total of approximately $60 million. Love is available, but the Cavaliers would have to take another large salary — or salaries — in return. The Cavaliers will have plenty of cap space to attract a major free agent in the summer of 2022.