With every season that ends, for the playoff teams at least, we felt it right to take a look ahead. TNT already has the rights to "Gone Fishin'," and because we're sure that someone, somewhere, still likes that Wyclef song, we're going with "Gone Till November." And, yes, we know the season starts in October. Today? The Golden State Warriors.
In spite of the fun – the team turned out to be one of the NBA’s more entertaining watches this season – the Golden State Warriors’ worries ended up right where things started last summer. Yes, the team made the playoffs; hitting the postseason for just the second time since going out in the first round in 1994, but Golden State’s health is still the team’s biggest obstacle. The Warriors will only go as far as Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut’s ankles will take them.
This was evident in October, when Bogut was being pushed back into action by a Warrior front office that purposely failed to accurately disclose that he had career-threatening microfracture surgery on his ankles the March before. This was apparent last week, when Stephen Curry could barely get off the ground while firing desperate three-pointers as the San Antonio Spurs closed out their series against Golden State.
For a while there, things clicked. The Warriors looked like potential Western Conference finals material while dismissing the Denver Nuggets and stealing home court advantage against the Spurs, all with Bogut and Curry working at near full-strength. By the time Stephen tweaked his left ankle in Golden State’s Game 3 loss to the Spurs, though, the reality had set in. The Warriors are only as good as the health of their best two players.
Bogut is the team’s second-best player, mind you. David Lee may have (weirdly) made the All-Star team ahead of Curry, and Klay Thompson is a real comer, but a healthy Andrew Bogut gives the team defensive relevance and go-to option offensively (with his interior passing) when a play goes pear-shaped. That isn’t to say that he’s played like the team’s second best player since being traded to Golden State in March of 2012 (despite some marvelous flashes in the first round last month) but ideally the two-way big man should be Golden State’s Number Two.
Part of this has to do with the team’s cap situation. Because the team made some incredibly daft moves in the months following the release of Don Nelson as the team’s personnel and coaching maven, the Warriors are set to pay the luxury tax with this same roster in 2013-14.
Given the ability to waive either Andris Biedrins or Stephen Jackson with the amnesty provision in December of 2011, the Warriors instead used it on guard Charlie Bell, who was set to make less than the league’s average salary in 2011-12. Bell was not in a good place back in 2011 – he showed up drunk to his own DUI hearing, and allegedly assaulted his girlfriend earlier in the year – but choosing his middling contract over Jackson or Biedrins was a huge mistake, as Biedrins is set to make $9 million in 2013-14, and because the Warriors (instead of just asking Jackson to leave the team, while paying his salary) eventually dealt Jackson to San Antonio.
The price for dumping S-Jax was taking on Richard Jefferson’s ridiculous salary, over $11 million in 2013-14, all because Charlie Bell was a bad dude and the team was worried about its center position because DeAndre Jordan probably was never going to become a Golden State Warrior. This limits the team’s ability to work up either sign-and-trade options, or use capped-out exceptions.
Luckily, the team is also working with more of the better bargains in the NBA.
Stephen Curry will start his second contract next season, but it’s at the very-reasonable rate of four years and $44 million. Only crippling ankle injuries and/or bad luck will get in the way of that being a smashing success on GSW’s side of things. Meanwhile, young wings Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes will be working on rookie scale contracts for the next two years, with Thompson not hitting restricted free agency until 2015, a year before Barnes. All of this comes after Biedrins and Jefferson say goodbye, and with Bogut (who could re-sign at a reduced rate) hitting free agency next summer.
Which means the Warriors, as you loved them in 2012-13, will be back next season.
The team has little choice, and it probably likes it that way. In the pre-Twitter days, a meme resulted when former Warrior general manager Garry St. Jean was widely ridiculed for pointing to “internal development” as a way of taking his team from the lottery to the playoffs for the first time in years. St. Jean’s words are on point some 15 years later, though, as a healthy summer and plenty of motivation following that too-swift second round exit could be enough to spark enough internal development amongst this young crew to make the third round a possibility. Jarrett Jack clearly wants to stick with the Warriors as a free agent this summer, and the team’s owners have enough in the bank to pay the luxury tax and shoot for a 16 or 17-game postseason run.
Best of all? Nobody is sick of these names yet. It’s only been a few days, and yet we can’t wait to see the Golden State Warriors play basketball again.
Healthy basketball, that is. Get lots of rest this summer, ankles.