After frittering away a 3-1 series lead in the 2016 NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors have questions to answer this offseason.
The Warriors flexed their championship chiseled muscles all year long en-route to the greatest regular season record of all-time at 73-9, but they failed to muster up the vigor to trump the brawn and resolve of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers when it mattered most.
Now with the dream season drowned in disappointment, the Warriors will sift through some retooling methods in hopes of being on the Finals stage again in 2017.
Golden State may initially turn all attention to the retention of Harrison Barnes and or Festus Ezeli, both of whom are free agents with the former being restricted and the latter being unrestricted, but they will also scan the market to see if they can snag an athletic wing player or another shooter which was evidently needed in both the Western Conference Finals and the NBA Finals.
Yes, the Warriors tout possibly the greatest shooting backcourt of all-time, but outside of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who is Golden State’s best shooter? They don’t have another knockdown perimeter sniper on the roster, and when the action was forced away from the Splash Brothers and elsewhere, mostly everyone with the exception of Draymond Green was fanning in Game 7.
Ryan Anderson is a name that danced into my dome when thinking who could aid Golden State with a sweet shooting stroke, and he’s shown an eagerness to wade in the free agent waters.
He’d give the Warriors another excellent shooter and strong rebounder, and the mayhem that could unfurl from pick-and-roll action involving Thompson, Green and or Curry with Anderson would make the Warriors giddy.
Against the Oklahoma City Thunder, one thing was made apparent: the Warriors need more athletes. The Thunder’s success in that series stemmed from the maddening pace at which they played and the physicality and athleticism they played it with.
Ask yourself this: in the Warriors’ normal rotation of players, who is the best pure athlete? Andre Iguodala?
That’s not too bad of a haul, but Iguodala is also 32 years old, and I’m not sure about you, but I don’t want the most vigorous guy on my team to be a 30-year-old who has accrued a pretty considerable amount of mileage and is on the backend of his athletic peak.
When thinking of how the Warriors could address this issue, two guys immediately came to mind: Nicolas Batum and Kent Bazemore.
Both of these players are multidimensional wings that I liken to a server, due to the fact that they can juggle so many different things at once, and when your team is famished in one department, they’ll provide you with the nourishment needed to get you grooving again.
Batum is a better player than Bazemore, but with Bazemore there is familiarity. Bazemore spent a year and a half with Golden State before being dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers for Steve Blake, and although he never cracked a spot in the rotation during his first stint with Golden State, he seemed to be liked by his teammates and he’s better suited to contribute now than he was four years ago.
But after having a breakout season with the Atlanta Hawks, Bazemore may be inclined to hunt down the deal that nets him the most capital, and the Warriors aren’t in a monetary position to splurge in a huge way, as they currently have a $74 million payroll slated for next season.
With the salary cap projected to rise to $94 million, that gives the Dubs $20 million to spend in free agency, and aside from the aforementioned Barnes and Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa, Marreese Speights, and Ian Clark are also all free agents.
So could the prospect of playing for a championship entice someone like Batum to take a pay-cut and sign with a team such as the Warriors? It’s feasible and certainly wouldn’t shock me, but best believe after the success the Charlotte Hornets had this season Michael Jordan will give his most valiant effort to keep Batum in the fold.
Batum was not only a menacing defensive presence for the Hornets, he was their second-leading scorer and first-leading assist man. His ability to man the offense freed Kemba Walker from constantly shouldering ball-handling duties, and allowed him to unearth his much improved three-point shot, which elevated his game and added a whole new dynamic to the once anemic Hornets offense.
Batum, just as Bazemore, is due for a pretty sizable payday, but he’s already made roughly $51.6 million in his NBA career thus far compared to the about $5.2 million Bazemore has made. That’s a stark contrast and serves as evidence that Batum may truly be willing to be willing to shave a few bucks off his next deal.
Many teams will be courting Batum, that’s for sure, and the Warriors should be one of them if they don’t intend on re-signing Barnes.
On the topic of Barnes, how intrinsic is he to this Warriors team? And should Golden State prioritize bringing back Ezeli over him?
Here are a few facts: when Barnes sprained his ankle in November and missed 16 games, Golden State had one of, if not their best spurt of the season. Also, Barnes’ inability to connect on open jump shots after being ignored by the Cavaliers’ defense and left idle on the perimeter doomed the Warriors down the stretch of the Finals.
If you like to gauge success by skimming over standard statistics, then you’d deduce that Barnes had a strong campaign for the Warriors in 2015-16. He averaged a career-high 11.7 points per game to go along with 4.9 rebounds a night. He shot solid percentages from both the field (46%) and behind the arc (38%).
He’s a smart player that seemingly has untapped potential due to the fact that he’s been slotted on a loaded team, but for some reason he’s just always seemed the most expendable of the Warriors’ core group of players. I’m not trying to crucify Barnes or say he’s a bad player, I’m just giving you my inferences.
It’s no secret that Barnes covets big bucks, and one wonders if the Warriors are willing to furnish him with that knowing that they’re in a tough monetary position. I also ask would it be wiser to bring back Ezeli over Barnes?
Starting center Andrew Bogut, who sustained a leg injury in Game 5 of the Finals and is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks, is in the last year of his contract next season, and the Warriors have no big man insurance outside of those two.
Unless they groom some youngsters that they draft or find on the summer circuit and/or pick up a cheap, veteran placeholder via free agency, the Warriors would only have one active, true center on their roster come opening night.
I’m sure the latter scenario is more in the realm of possibility, but you don’t want to scroll through big man free agent rolodex time and time again, trying to find something that sticks. You want stability, and although there are injury concerns with Ezeli, he’s proven he’s more than capable of plugging up the middle for Golden State and serving as their starter.
Golden State addressing these issues was inevitable, win or lose, but faltering in the Finals just magnifies things. Winning allows you to gloss over anything problematic, and going back-to-back would’ve temporarily brushed under the rug.
Maybe now the Warriors will go all out in the pursuit of Kevin Durant. Winning another championship would’ve made it difficult to break up this group of players, but now there will definitely be some tinkering going on as the Warriors yearn to recapture their status as champions.