So over the next week or so I'm going to put up a few articles on where the Warriors should be headed going forward. I'm not going to include any ridiculous assumptions or hopes and most importantly I'm not going to suggest trade after trade.
I'll try to answer questions such as:
Should they trade Steph or Monta? Is it worth trading Monta Ellis for Andre Igoudala? What to do with Biedrins? Can Udoh be our starting center if he "can't rebound"?
If you want to read another brief article where someone blurts out their opinions look elsewhere, the articles are long and detailed. You have been warned.
The first article lays out a vision for how the team could & should move forward with a framework, putting everything else that will be said later into context. However IT IS NOT SAYING THAT THE TEAM SHOULD TANK because that is not realistic. It is essentially a long introduction that explains what I will say about what should be done with some of the players in the next articles where I will analyse their value to the team in depth.
Why is the team in an interesting position?
There are so many questions facing the team that need to be answered correctly to allow this team to move forward, and to get them right you need to have a framework and an idea of how this affects the future, and not just the present.
Firstly to put everything in this article and the future ones into context let's have a look at the teams salary cap situation. I'm assuming here that whatever happens with the new CBA, they will be in proportionally the same position around the future cap, as they would have under this CBA.
Now they paid $68,040,204 in salaries this season and this will drop to $49,105,952 this summer and $36,844,000 the next summer (of 2012).
Some things scream out when looking at the cap.
- The team is committing about $30m each season until 2014 to Lee, Biedrins and Monta, and Lee is on an escalating salary that rises by just over $1.1m every year and finishes 2 years after the others.
Of those players only Monta (ability wise) lives up to his contract and might be able to get us a player back worthy of that salary (though you could argue Lee is simply overpaid) . It could also be argued that none of these players are improving the team. For example they each have a negative net points per 100 possessions (pPts) rating, with Biedrins at -8.8 , Lee at -0.4 and Monta at -6.6. This shows that the team performed better statistically when these players were off the court.
Having a negative pPts does not mean the team wins when that player is off the court, it just means that the team does that much better. However with Ellis and Biedrins off the court the Warriors outscore teams by 2.5 pPts and 0.2 pPts respectively. With Lee off the court we still lose by 2.7 pPs but this is a smaller loss than with him on the court.
To put it simply the stats suggest that over the course of the season if Keith Smart had taken Monta or Biedrins off the team, or if one was injured they could have had a winning record. Now obviously this stat is very simplistic and ultimately things don't play out how the stats suggest, however its hard to see any positives from this seeing as these guys take up earn 63% of the money ownership spends on salaries and show little statistical impact on the team's fortunes.
Therefore unless you think this roster can turn into a contender some changes are going to need to be made to truly improve the roster going forward in free agency and via trades.
- When looking at the future cap space the team has, the most disappointing thing is that ownership will never have significant room to add quality players as Biedrins, Lee and Ellis take up such a large amount of room for such a long time
For the sake of argument I'm going to assume the salary cap remains at $58m every year to be conservative. So how much cap room does that leave the Warriors with:
2011: Around 6-7m not including Reggie Williams' qualifying offer
2012: About 19m assuming they don't resign Jeremy Lin, Reggie Williams and don't have a top 7 draft pick
2013: About 23m as Dorell's contract comes of the books.
I don't know about you but I think a core of Curry - Ellis - D Wright - Klay - Lee - Udoh isn't good enough, and right now Ellis is the only decent asset it seems the owners will consider trading that might change the fortunes of the team significantly.
So in order to make sense of the options coming Larry Riley and Bob Myers' way the team needs a plan on how to act and what ultimately they are aiming for. The main debate should center around 2 basic philosophies:
1. Try to do what they can realistically to improve the team NOW:
- This philosophy would involve trading Monta Ellis for Andre Igoudala for example.
- Doing whatever they can with the remaining cap space in free agency
2. Maintain flexibility going forward whilst looking to the future in trades and in the draft:
- This would have involved for example trying to trade up in the draft using Monta Ellis. It would even involve keeping Monta if it was believed he could have a higher value in future.
- It also means favouring players with higher potential over the sure, safe bets in the draft and trying to build a team for the future. Suggesting adding the safer bets is likely to lead to some extra wins in the short term, but ultimately contending for a championship requires stars, which means going for potential in the draft.
- It requires focusing on players as values in trades and as assets because ultimately they may not be a part of a roster that contends for a championship. For example Al Jefferson's value to the Celtics never came because he was a star for them, it was because he brought them a star via trade in Kevin Garnett. Jeff Green's value to the Thunder was that he ultimately allowed them to acquire the center they needed in Kendrick Perkins.
So the owners' opinion on these two routes is going to have huge ramifications for what they do this summer and beyond. I'm guessing that people like Marc Jackson and Larry Riley are going to be more interested in option 1 as their jobs are literally on the line if the team doesn't do well right now. Whilst Joe Lacob may have an understanding of the benefits of option 2 when talking about a potential Monta Ellis trade:
-Q: And yet many trades happen that are denied and denied, right until they happen.
-LACOB: I’m not saying it couldn’t happen ...
...And there’s also the business side—do the contracts make sense? If you’re going to bring back somebody in a trade, you’ve got to make sure that they fit in the context of your whole team and the terms of the cap structure…
You’ve got to think about all those facts when all those rumors are out there. (Source)
The benefits of subscribing to the first philosophy are clear: more wins next season and maybe even...
Right now a vast majority of fans want to take this route and trade Monta Ellis for Andre Iguodala. Currently I have no doubt that doing that trade would make the team better. If you delve deeper than the highlights and the PPG it seems pretty clear that whilst Monta has phenomenal abilities and could if used correctly be great for us, he just isn't. He has a +/- of -6.2 and takes the ball away from Curry who has a +/- of +5.4 and has the potential to take this team further forward than Ellis can. Whilst Iguodala is a perfect fit for the Warriors at the 2 or 3 with his phenomenal defence and selflessness.
As well as a potential Ellis for Iguodala trade it would also involve using free agency to address the teams current needs using the MLE and any cap space.
However it seems these kind of moves ultimately tend to push teams in a lateral direction and damage teams going forward. How good do you really think the Warriors are with this trade? I think this trade adds something in the region of 5-7 wins to the team and maybe with some better coaching might get them in the playoffs. But at a cost of around $2.5m extra in salary next season, rising by about $1.2m each season after that. More importantly Iguodala's trade value is most likely at it's highest whereas as I will argue in a later article, Ellis could be valued much higher and could bring the Warriors back a better piece.
Sure if Golden State were in the playoffs this would be a great trade as it provides them with a better player who fits perfectly, however they're only likely to improve a little bit and the salary difference is all the more important in the future given the new CBA.
I'd love to elegantly put forward my argument for philosophy 2 here, however I feel it has already been done for me and I really hope you give a minute of your time to reading this article.
To summarise this article lays out the argument that improving yourself slightly in the short term whilst adding long term money and losing flexibility is foolish. It uses the example of the Anthony Randolph for David Lee sign and trade deal in comparison to the fact they may have been able to trade Randolph for Kevin Love or at least stick with Randolph.
The biggest overall discrepancy is more philosophical than anything else. It is hard to find a legitimate argument that the Warriors are any better than the eighth best team in the Western Conference right now even after their bold moves this summer. Having what would have largely amounted to an open slate plus Curry, the 2010 draft pick, and either Anthony Randolph or Kevin Love would have opened up a wide variety of possibilities for strong teams down the line in what should be a weaker West.
That trade I feel has set the Warriors back hugely for the future and was a terribly short sighted move. Now no doubt Lee was the best player in that deal, and it debatably made the team better this year. But was Lee ever going to put them over top?
In the end he's another player that has left the Warriors roster with significantly less room for growth and improvement in the future as he is a player with little trade value. Just imagine their options right now if they had Love or Randolph (playing decent minutes) on the team instead of Lee. They would have about $8m less committed in salary and a player of huge value and potential.
To put this even further into perspective. If Love or Randolph were on the team they would have around $13m in available cap room this summer and have a legitimate shot at Nene or Marc Gasol.
What if they didn't use that cap space?
Firstly I'd like to say I do not expect the Warriors would be able to acquire any of these players. I'm just making the point that the Warriors would have had much more options available to them had they attempted to be more financially flexible and not attempted to do short-sighted trades like the David Lee trade.
They'd have around $26m available next summer when Dwight Howard, Deron Williams and Chris Paul become available. While I don't have any confidence that the Warriors could have gotten one of those players, they would at least be in a flexible position to take advantage of any opportunities that may arise. For example in a sign and trade or in a trade at next seasons trade deadline as they would have had the cap space to absorb their contracts.
If New Orleans is going to lose Chris Paul, Stephen Curry would be a great result for them in a trade at next seasons trade deadline considering he's a promising player on a rookie contract which would be a better result for them than losing him for nothing in the summer. Unfortunately now the Warriors aren't even in a position to offer a trade like this as we can't absorb the necessary salary without offering a player like Lee, Biedrins or Ellis which a rebuilding team trading its star would not consider.
I'm trying to make the point that if you want this to become a team that contends for a championship rather than being early playoff fodder they need to be put in a position to take advantage of opportunities like this that may come along. The teams moves last year and in the recent past haven't even improved the team, yet are continuing to hurt it's chances to contend going forward.
The principles of the second philosophy could have changed management's approach to last year's draft.
It requires focusing on players as values in trades and as assets because ultimately they may not be a part of a roster that contends for a championship
In that draft the team reached and acquired Udoh over people like Greg Monroe and Paul George. Whilst I am a huge Udoh guy, he doesn't have the trade value of the others and not necessarily the potential to be a 'star' in the modern sense. It seems short-sited to plan for the now when the team is nowhere near competing and may have a completely different roster in the future.
Now Udoh was amazing last season posting a +/- of +9.9 as well as helping the team out score the opposition by 5.3 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. Thus I think he is a brilliant player that will be very useful for the team. However ultimately players come and go and the Warriors are in a less flexible position going forward as of now because they drafted him over other 'high-potential' players such as George and Monroe that could command more in a trade.
Remember this is a league of stars and to be relevant going forward the team needs to aim to be in a position to acquire these people. That requires assets.
Just use the example of Dwight Howard. I don't think they have any realistic shot of getting him to sign in free agency but if the Magic were to realise they had to trade Howard the Warriors would have been in a position to offer a more tantalising trade than most.
Assuming the team was going to trade Anthony Randolph for Lee or Love, they could build a package around:
1. Kevin Love, Greg Monroe or Ekpe Udoh (total salary next season around $8m)
2. David Lee (earning $11.6m rising to $15.5m over 5 more seasons), Ekpe Udoh (total salary next season around $15m)
So the difference for the recipient in this trade is they either acquire two young players on rookie contracts with huge potential being paid around $3-4m each, or a flawed player being paid $10.8m rising to $15.5m and one of the other rookies. Hmm which would a team choose...
Barring huge luck in free agency or in the draft David Lee is not going to be a major part of the team if it becomes a contender. It's naive to think looking to acquire players like that is the way to go unless they truly put us over the top in the future. Instead the team should be looking to put themselves in a position to take advantage of some of the opportunities that may come its way in the future.
The final goal
A basketball team’s identity is determined by its best player. If you have a dominant defensive presence in the front-court, you are going to be a good defensive team (Dwight Howard — Orlando). If you have a player who can create an easy look for himself and his teammates whenever he wants, you are going to be good offensive team (Steve Nash — Phoenix).
For this team as constructed to succeed fans and management have to hope and believe that Curry can be that offensive player on some level and that Udoh will be that defensive player as without massive luck or a good trade next season they are unlikely to be able to acquire those types of players without rebuilding again through the draft.
I don't think Curry needs to be on the same level as Nash, as hopefully with players like Klay Thompson around that complement him overall we will be a good/excellent offensive team and with Udoh, well he's a special player as I'll get into in a later article.
Suffice to say if these guys turn into those two cornerstones via trade or develop into those players, the Warriors are likely to be stuck on The Mediocrity Treadmill unless the surrounding talent makes up for it. It is likely that the only chance to break through is via an Ellis trade as the team likely doesn't have a first round pick next year, won't draft high again and in two years will cap out when it re-signs Curry unless it manages the cap perfectly.
A good example of the differences between the two approaches
As everyone knows, the Warriors are soon to be in a similar position in what to do with Monta Ellis. In one way their situation is very similar situation to the Jazz, with a roster consisting of a few promising youngsters on rookie contracts, and 3-4 veterans on relatively large contracts taking up around $30m, that will most likely just miss the playoffs.
I recommend giving this article a read: The Accelerated Rebuild. It explains the benefit of starting afresh with young players when your about to get rid of one of your best players, so as not to get stuck in a middle to low playoff position (in the case of the Nuggets), or in our case stuck in a position that at best gets us the 8th seed.
Unlike their contemporaries, Utah understood that sometimes you have to take two steps backward to take a step forward. Compare them with their division rival in Denver, who tried to reload instead of rebuild when dealing Carmelo Anthony. They were able to stay in the playoff picture, but now they have a roster full of young players coming up for free agency who don’t have All-NBA upsides. As a result, the Nuggets are going to be stuck in the 5-8 playoff range the next few years while the Jazz eventually rocket past them, in much the same way as the Thunder did.
Rather than making a trade that improved them in the short term like the Nuggets, the Jazz looked forward and put themselves in a position to down the road have a contending team.
While the Nuggets traded Carmelo and stayed in place, the Jazz did the opposite with their disgruntled franchise player. Instead of trying to find equal value for Deron Williams, they sent him to New Jersey for a high-upside young big man in Derrick Favors.
Now Utah has two lottery picks (their own and New Jersey’s) to put young pieces around Favors and Gordon Hayward. Long-term, I’d rather be in their shoes than Denver’s. (link)
How does this relate to the Warriors?
So I'm going to talk about this more in my next article but this needs a little summary.
Assuming the team eventually trades Ellis the core of this team will be based around Curry - Klay Thompson - Lee -Udoh. Unless they get a good young player back in a trade of Ellis and some expirings, as well as getting rid of Biedrins contract, in two summers we will most likely be capped out when re-signing Stephen Curry.
So the clock is ticking and this team has a two year window in which to construct the core of a team which will have a lot less flexibility from then on to improve. If the team does not have a couple of star players by then, or young players with the potential to become one or be traded for one, then unfortunately the team will be stuck in a position similar to he Nuggets now, except they might not even be making the playoffs.
They can succeed and this doesn't require us to tank next year, rather to be sensible when we trade Ellis and Biedrins. The redeeming factor is that with an Ellis trade, no matter who is acquired, the team should get better whilst allowing the younger players more chance to shine.
In some ways it may be unfortunate that the fans have been promised that the team will make the playoffs next year, as this may mean paying high prices for players like Tyson Chandler or Deandre Jordan as 'size to protect the rim'. Firstly they would be unlikely to improve the team enough to be worth the loss of financial flexibility in the future and probably wouldn't even improve the team as they would take minutes away from Udoh.
The stark reality is that this is a 36 win team and as such it would be fruitless to try to address it's specific weaknesses such as depth, rebounding and defense now. If there's anything to take from this article it's that the team needs some quality and potential within it and some young players with value first and foremost. It doesn't need Deandre Jordan, Tyson Chandler, Jason Richardson or David West. It needs some young players the team can build a core of, that pushes into or towards the playoffs that then allows it to acquire the specific parts that will make the team better. This has started with Curry, Klay and Udoh and should continue at least until Curry signs his extension. Hopefully management does not get ahead of itself, and completes this phase before addressing the team's specific weaknesses and most likely losing the financial flexibility to improve rapidly and significantly after that.
I am not suggesting a rebuild or tanking, just vigilance and realistic expectations, whilst not necessary looking for a player like Iguodala in an Ellis trade, rather a young player with potential.