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NBA Off-Season Preview: Golden State Warriors

"Chris Cohan is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake."

- James Joyce, if he were a Warrior fan

For nearly twenty-five years, the Warriors franchise has been defined by two men: Don Nelson and Chris Cohan.  Warriors basketball meant apostional lineups, running up the score, creating mismatches above all else, and playing zero defense. It also meant disastrous free agent signings, followed by ownership bad-mouthing those free agents, while team underlings defended the organization on message boards using synonyms. It meant drafting an undersized left-handed power forward in the lottery every other year. It meant watching players go straight from the D-League to the starting lineup. It meant losing out on Kevin Garnett to the Celtics, losing their team mascot to the Thunder, losing lots of games, and losing out in the draft lottery as well.

What did they have to show for it? A lot of fast breaks, one big first-round upset, and a fanbase that somehow remained loyal and passionate while the team missed the playoffs for 13 straight years (and never made it past the second round even when they did).

But now the team has been sold and Don Nelson has been put out to pasture in Hawaii. The “We Believe” Warriors have been scattered to the four corners of the league. Only Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins remain from the team that upset the top-seeded Mavericks just three years ago, and they’re both on the trading block. Keith Smart is doing a one-year audition for the head coaching job. Larry Riley is a lame-duck general manager. Robert Rowell is a lame-duck team president. 

Which means that for the first time since the original “Wall Street” was in theaters, you really can’t assume what the Warriors are going to be like. Of the 20 players who saw the floor for Golden State last year, only five are still on the roster. Two of them are the aforementioned Ellis and Biedrins, and may not be long for Oakland. The only people who guaranteed to be here next year are David Lee, Stephen Curry, and the owners themselves.  

Biggest additions

  • Joe Lacob and Peter Guber (owners)
  • Sweet new logo

Other additions

  • David Lee
  • Keith Smart (coach)
  • Dorell Wright
  • Rodney Carney
  • Louis Amundson
  • Ekpe Udoh
  • Jeremy Lin
  • Dan Gadzuric
  • Charlie Bell

David Lee signed a six-year $80 million contract, which shouldn’t be regrettable until Years 5 and 6. While Smart did coach under Nelson for years, he was effectively the defensive coordinator, so the Warriors may be committed to both sides of the ball this season. In a departure from the Nelson era, many of the team’s summer acquisitions have shown an ability to play defense or get rebounds, though generally not both. 

Carney and Amundson should be rotation players, and Wright will start at small forward. Ekpe Udoh is out for six months, and when he comes back, he’ll be 24 years old already. Good lottery pick, guys! Jeremy Lin’s name will be on a lot of fans’ jerseys, though Lin himself will mostly stay on the bench. He’s currently so raw that swingman and D-League alum Reggie Williams is slotted as the backup point guard. Smart has discussed playing Brandan Wright at the 3 as well as the 4, which won’t matter once Wright injures himself again.

Biggest departures

  • Chris Cohan (owner)
  • Don Nelson (coach, scotch enthusiast)
  • Corey Maggette (and the $30 million left on his contract)

Other departures

  • C.J. Watson
  • Anthony Morrow
  • Anthony Randolph
  • Ronny Turiaf
  • Kelenna Azubuike
  • Anthony Tolliver
  • Devean George

C.J. Watson has fled Oakland to back up Derrick Rose and flee the wrath of Floyd Mayweather. Anthony Morrow left to shoot three-pointers for a Russian billionaire in Newark. Randolph, Turiaf, and Azubuike are in New York providing bench minutes for the Knicks and expiring contracts for a Carmelo Anthony trade. Anthony Tolliver signed with the T-Wolves, because once a team is starting Darko and Supercool Beas, why not?

The Future

The team is built around Stephen Curry and David Lee. While that doesn’t scream “championship core,” they’re both nice players, and should be highly effective on the pick-and-roll. Don’t expect a ton of one-on-one defense. Monta Ellis scores in bunches, but he also takes more ill-advised shots than Braylon Edwards. If he can pull a Josh Smith and give up on long, contested jumpers, he’d help the team immensely. Andris Biedrins is still only 24, and just one year removed from averaging 12 points and 11 rebounds a game. And he can’t possibly shoot 16% from the line again, can he?

They’re unlikely to make the playoffs, but they’re unlikely to lose sixty games. They’re also very unlikely to run out of players in a game, something that happened twice last year. Last year, the Warriors were a mediocre team that played D-Leaguers 33 minutes a game, and occasionally upset playoff teams while using only five players for 48 minutes. This year, they’re just going to be regular mediocre, before the serious revamping begins next summer. Which is probably just fine with the fans: they just want to someday, finally, win a lot of basketball games.

(Sean Keane)

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