Despite Golden State finishing below 40 wins for 3 seasons in a row, I really do not think that they are entirely too far off of being a legitimate playoff contender - maybe even title contender. They have two, young, explosive guards that can score on anyone in the league and create shots for themselves and others in Monta Ellis and college hoops LEGEND Stephen Curry. They have a big man in David Lee and could potentially get something from former Latvian basketball superstar Andris Biendrins. Dorell Wright, Reggie Williams, and Lou Amundson all have varying but legitimate ranges of usefulness. Jeremy Lin and Ekpe Udoh are two young potentially good players, or at the very least, intriguing trade chips. They have new billionaire owners that seem committed to winning and spending. Golden State is in a surprisingly good place right now, despite the failures of the past few seasons.
Tell me, what is the difference between the OKC Thunder and the Warriors? Curry and Wright can equal Durant's offensive output, though you can't replicate KD's presence no matter how many good guys you have. I think if you replaced Russ Westbrook with Monta Ellis, you wouldn't miss a beat. When healthy (if that ever happens again), Biendrins is no worse than Serge Ibaka, and David Lee's versatility is more valuable than James Harden's and Krstic's production. Both teams are young, hungry, exuberant (a strange adjective that doesn't get used enough) and can put points up in a hurry. The true difference? Defense. OKC cares and GS does not. Simple as that.
Here's what their financial obligations for next season looks like:
Monta Ellis: 11 million
David Lee: 11.6 million
Andris Biedrins: 9 million
Charlie Bell: 4 million
Dorell Wright: 3.8 million
Ekpe Udoh: 3.3 million
Stephen Curry: 3.1 million
Louis Amundson: 2.4 million (player option)
Jeremy Lin: 788,000
Total: 49 million
Troy Murphy: 11.9 million
Vladimir Radmanovic: 6.9 million
Total: 18.8 million
1) Fire Keith Smart
(I wrote this one a couple of days ago - it's not like this was a sage prediction or anything. The guy was on a one-year deal with an option for a second. That's like skydiving with half a parachute and someone saying "It's cool man, you'll get the second half on the way down!")
I really don't think that Keith Smart is a terrible coach, but there is a reason that this team put up 103.7 points a game this season and somehow had a negative point differential - it's because they gave up 105.7 points for playing no defense.
I know that Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, Dorell Wright and David Lee weren't signed for their defensive acumens - they were all signed, drafted and traded for because they could put up points on the board and in a hurry. But (and this is for another, longer post for another day), in the last 30 years of NBA basketball, every single title team has been considered at least good defensively. A team simply cannot win in the playoffs by outscoring their opponents alone. You have to get your players to CARE about defense, to hustle and play hard. Look at Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, for example - both were considered poor to mediocre defenders before Kevin Garnett and Tom Thibodeau came to town. Now? Two of the better defenders in the league.
To name a few candidates, Jeff van Gundy, Dwane Casey, Lawrence Frank and even Mambino whipping boy Mike Brown are considered great defense-first coaches. Just a couple of guys for Oaktown going forward.
2). Do not trade Monta
For all the reasons I've already listed - he's one of the best scorers in the league, being able to make shots for himself and his teammates. He's the prodigal Allen Iverson, a tough as nails little man who never misses a game and is the first guy in the opposing team's face after a hard foul. He's young, relatively cheap and most importantly, still underrated. He won't get value for what he's truly worth and unfortunately, won't provide appropriate value until the Warriors are too good to consider trading him. Considering how close I think the Warriors are to contending, there is no way I would trade this guy.
3). Sign Tyson Chandler
The Warriors will have about 10 million dollars to spend next season - I would blow most of it on Tyson Chandler. The guy has shown in every stop in his NBA career that his teams play better defensively. I said a few days ago in my Dallas GM column that I'd let him walk - I do think he's a game changer defensively, I just didn't think that with Haywood on the roster they could afford to also sign Chandler and be able to fix the other parts of their roster.
Chandler could make a KG and Thibodeau-like difference on defense - A platoon with Biendrins and Chandler, who would take defensive pressure off of David Lee and Curry and Ellis using their speed to disrupt passing lanes? You can't tell me that team would be any less efficient on the defensive end the Thunder.
4). Draft someone who can get a rebound and/or block a shot
I can't pretend like I know a lot about the draft or even watched a lot of college hoops this year - the NBA season was just too good and we had league pass in my apartment. I just don't have time for amateur hour basketball. So I'll just charge the scouting office with finding a rebounder than that can share time with David Lee. I can only do so much at one time. I'm just a man.
5). Embrace your fan base
The Bay Area has one of the best fan bases in the entire league. Please embrace them further Golden State. Every single game in Oaktown should have a discernable home court advantage, just like there has been in Portland and Salt Lake City for the past 30 years. As the team gets better, new millionaire owners should keep ticket prices low, take the loss and understand that the people will show up (see Yes We Can 2007).
I believe in the Warriors. OKC 2.0. It's happening.