After a successful season that culminated in loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals, the Golden State Warriors’ front office is already looking forward to next year.
So is the dedicated fan base. After sticking by the franchise during its years of futility, the faithful hordes that packed Oracle Arena this postseason were rewarded with some of the most entertaining basketball the NBA has put on display in the past 20 years. Suddenly the rest of the country was experiencing the unique excitement that can only be felt when Stephen Curry steps back behind the three-point line and hoists a jumper. When the ball went through the hoop they shook their heads and smiled in amazement with the people of Northern California who had already seen 82 games worth of the exact same scene, although the latter were likely smiling as they thought about the state of the franchise moving forward.
Make no mistake, the future is bright for the Golden State Warriors. Arguably as bright as its ever been for this franchise, and that’s saying something considering the talent that has passed through Oakland at one point or another.
Between Curry’s anointment as a bonafide superstar, Andrew Bogut’s re-emergence as a top five center after struggling through setbacks with his ankle during the regular season, and the overall coming out party that the 2013 playoffs were for Harrison Barnes, this postseason was a seminal moment for the development of this team.
The question now isn’t whether or not they’re set up for success moving forward. Instead, general manager Bob Myers and the front office will have to figure out what the best course of action is in the short term for building on the success that this group has shown they’re capable of.
Looking at the contracts the team has on the books next season and beyond, there isn’t a ton of roster flexibility. Assuming that Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush exercise their player options and return to the team, the only two players without the Warriors aren’t committed to are arguably two of the most essential contributors to this year’s success: Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry.
Both players bring a skill set to the table that currently can’t be found anywhere else on the roster. Jack is valuable as either a back up point guard or as the initiator of the offense when Mark Jackson wants to play Curry off of the ball, and in addition to his mid-range scoring prowess and ability to get to the hoop, he also averaged 5.6 assists during the regular season. Landry adds a toughness in the post that won’t be easily replaced should he choose to leave (Landry also has a player option for a $4 million, one-year contract extension). His scoring and rebounding are huge for Golden State’s half court offense, and there’s not going to be many available players on the market that can match those traits along with the above average defense that Landry brings. Additionally, Jack and Landry averaged over 25 minutes per game combined in the regular season, so they’d have to be replaced by pieces that can come in and take on a similar workload.
The unfortunate irony is that the Warriors will likely be unable to afford their services precisely because these two played so well in their time with the team. Both players have publicly expressed their desire to stay with the organization, but of course they’re going to test the waters of free agency to see if they can earn more or drive up the price for their services. Jack could be a starter on the right team, and a player of Landry’s ilk could – and should – be making more than the $4 million he’s under contract for based solely on the availability of power forwards that can bring what he brings at both ends of the court.
So what does it mean if both leave and there’s a gaping void on the roster? The news today that Dwight Howard considers Golden State as a possible landing spot if he indeed leaves Lakerland should speak volumes on that issue. With a young coach, a playmaking point guard and an ownership group that isn’t afraid to spend, suddenly the Warriors are viewed around the league as a desirable free agent destination. With a scheduled move to San Francisco on the horizon, the ability to draw in talent based on location alone will surely increase in the next few years.
But the main qualifier for good players making decisions in free agency (at least the ones that you’d want on your team if you’re trying to make a championship run) is finding a team where they have a chance at winning and making a name for themselves in the playoffs. For the first time in a long time, the Golden State Warriors fit the bill. As long as there’s a healthy Stephen Curry on the roster and the young assets around him continue to develop, this will be a competitive team, and that’s attractive to the types of players Myers wants to acquire.
As Myers told Tim Kawakami recently, there’s no longer a sense of desperation permeating through the front office in Oakland. They’re in an a position to improve the roster through minor acquisitions, but since the core talent is already there, there’s no urgency to go out and try to make a big splash in free agency.
So be happy Warriors fans. Good things are happening. You can feel a lot of solid energy coming out of this team…good, positive aura. Now Golden State has to rise above the pressure. Harness the good energy, and block out the bad. If the Warriors feel the circular flow and get on the carousel, we’ll all be grinning like idiots when the threes come raining down.