Next Up: The Golden State Warriors
Where the are now: The Warriors have one of the most compelling collections of prospects in the entire league, especially when combined with Don Nelson and his notorious knack for experimenting. The team has a sort of veteran core with Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, and Al Harrington along with a young group headed by Monta Ellis, Andris Biedrins, and Brandon Wright. Also of note is that almost the entire roster is up for free agency this offseason, which makes them a fascinating team to examine. They have been on the fringes of the playoffs the last two years (once in and once out), but the growing improvement and talent of the Western Conference could prove to be the most daunting part for the boys in Oakland. The other major factors for the Warriors is their owner: Chris Cohan appears to be closer to the Rod Sarver group of owners, so there will not be much time spent in this space talking about the possibility of the Warriors going full-bore and paying the luxury tax. If only Larry Ellison could buy the team…
The Timetable of Contention: In effect, the personnel of the Warriors lends itself to two different (and largely distinct) timetables. One is the immediate possibility, where the Dubs probably have about three seasons to peak and perform before Jackson and Baron lose effectiveness, and that could get cut quickly if Baron succumbs to injury like he has in the past. The other timetable, which is the one I’ll use for this, builds around the younger guys. That team would be most ready to compete in about 2 years (which coincides with Jackson and Harrington coming off the cap), so the timing would be from 2010-2011 until around 2014. What makes the Warriors so special is that their young guys are incredibly young for their experience, with both Beans and Monta possessing three years of experience and being just 22 years old.
How to utilize the Timetable: The first major concern for this plan is understanding the confines of the Cohan era. As stated, it is incredibly unlikely that he would pay the luxury tax, so an operating assumption of a $5m margin underneath that level is the absolute maximum when devising a plan. Working with a more long-term goal in mind has a few key costs and a few benefits for Golden State. The costs are that a few of the pieces that are already in place lose a great deal of value, but they are still movable. First and foremost is Baron Davis. I love Baron as much as most Warriors fans, but the salary he is looking for simply is not feasible with the Warriors’ cap structure. Luckily, he still holds value to many teams in the league since he is a fantastic player who would be perfect in the right scheme. Amazingly, there is a perfect fit laying around in the LA Clippers. With the Lakers’ return to prominence, the Clippers using some of their cap space (and some talent) to make a major splash with an LA guy with definite wattage could do wonders for both squads. The best scenario for both teams is to swap first round picks and move the enigmatic Shaun Livingston to GSW for Baron. This serves a few purposes, as it allows the Clippers to retain some of their cap space to make another move (either getting a good bench player or a back-up C) and gives the Warriors some talent coming back, along with maintaining some cap flexibility.
The next step is signing both Biedrins and Monta. What makes them so important for the long-term is that they have the capability of playing within Nellieball or moving to a more conventional system, which may be necessitated when Nelson retires (probably after this season). Biedrins also solidifies the Warriors at the Center spot, which is exceptionally important in a West that will have Greg Oden, Amare, and Al Jefferson for the foreseeable future. Interestingly, the market has been somewhat set for both players in the past few months when Jefferson signed his extension with a starting salary of $11m and Kevin Martin’s starts at $9.2m. It seems reasonable to put the combined pay for the pups at $20m for next season, however it shakes out (my guess: Beans at $10.5 and Monta at $9.5).
After that, the goal is to work around that timetable to build the best possible team. What becomes pivotal is the 2009 and 2010 offseasons, because the Warriors would have cap space thanks to the youngn’s being set under long-term contracts and the older guys expiring. Mullin could either just wait out Jackson and Harrington expiring after the 2009-2010 season or try to be pro-active and move them for contracts that would expire next offseason. Both strategies are sound, but what makes the most sense to me is to try and move Al Harrington to a team like the Knics for one of their expiring contracts (probably Malik Rose) and a pick/prospect like Balkman or the right to swap firsts next year (within a range, of course). This allows the Warriors to spend more time playing the younger big men and Harrington’s slightly longer contract is no problem for Dolan and Co, with adding Harrington being a major plus for D’Antoni’s system. Jackson is a harder situation because his history makes the market a little more sour for him, but he could be moved if necessary.
As for the draft, there is one player who is a scary-good fit in Don Nelson’s system, and it’s not someone that comes to mind quickly. Kevin Love has one of the most advanced skillsets for a player coming into the league in my lifetime, and there is no coach better suited to utilize it than Nelson. He is slower than most, but he has a great sense of his body, and his outlet passing when coupled with his underrated rebounding makes him the perfect player to ignite the Warriors’ break. Against some teams, Nellie could even just send Monta on the shot so he could be ready for a full-court rocket and an easy bucket whether that shot goes in or out. Additionally, the combination of Love, Wright, and Biedrins could play in every permutation and could dominate the minutes for the PF/C positions in the long-term, eliminating a major hole.
Naturally, trading Baron makes the PG a strong need, but Mullin would need to be wary of the Alex Smith rule: When you have a position of clear need and a high level of performance is required, do not reach on a player who is not an optimal fit. It is far better to wait and get the right player, because the wrong guy would take minutes and lower the potential of taking a better player down the line (draft, free agency, or trade). Derrick Rose would be fantastic, but is not a rational possibility, so waiting on someone to come down the pike is far better than putting a square peg in. The second round player could be either a developmental wingman like Kyle Weaver/Jamont Gordon or a contributor big like the criminally underrated Maarty Leunen.
A team built around that core would have approximately $38m committed to the 2009-2010 cap (including Jackson and every pick in 2008 and 2009). That would be enough to make a substantial offer to a player in that class or just hold on to the money for the following year. One particularly fascinating option would be Rudy Gay, who is a restricted free agent next year (or unrestricted the following year) and will likely be looking to leave Memphis if they’re not competitive for a team with the right money and situation. (Plus, his jersey would sell like gangbusters in the Bay Area.) We can assume that most of the other young guys in those classes are going to stick with their teams, but the offers could be enticing.
1. Sign and trade Baron Davis to the LA Clippers along with the Warriors 1st for the Clippers first and Shaun Livingston (3 years at $4.8m base)
2. Re-sign Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins
3. Draft Kevin Love (1st round) and Maarty Leunen (2nd round) in the 2008 NBA Draft
4. Trade Al Harrington to the New York Knicks for Malik Rose and the right to swap first round picks
5. Sign Matt Barnes to another 1 year deal
6. Sign and trade Mickael Pietrus if possible (but I’m assuming he just signs somewhere else).
7. Re-Sign CJ Watson and/or Patrick O’Bryant if the price is right
1. Draft Jrue Holliday (1st Round) and Jeremy Pargo (2nd Round) in the 2009 NBA Draft
2. Sign Trevor Ariza for 3 years @ $3.5m base
3. Try to sign Kelenna Azubuike if possible
1. Sign Rudy Gay
2. Draft Nihad Milutinovic in the 2010 NBA Draft
Your 2010-2011 Golden State Warriors:
PG: Jrue Holliday / Shaun Livingston / Jeremy Pargo
SG: Monta Ellis / Marco Belinelli / Jrue Holliday
SF: Rudy Gay / Trevor Ariza / Josh Carter
PF: Kevin Love / Brandon Wright / Trevor Ariza
C: Andris Biedrins / Brandon Wright / Maarty Leunen