The Golden State warriors might be the single most interesting team in the league going into next season. For a team that finished last season with a record of 29-53, they have a rotation full of talented players. Here’s their top 10, in my estimation (in descending order by 2009-2010 salary):
Monta Ellis, Andris Biedrins, Corey Maggette, Stephen Jackson, Ronny Turiaf, Kelenna Azubuike, Stephen Curry, Brandan Wright, Anthony Randolph, and Anthony Morrow.
This is playoff-calibre talent, isn’t it? I think so. If it is, though, why did they suck last season?
Easy: bad coaching, bad defense, and bad management. In the NBA, teams with lots of talent still need to be organized properly. This means coaches shouldn’t play mind-games with their young players. This means coaches need to place emphasis on playing both sides of the floor. This means general managers need to have some sort of plan when building a team, rather than gathering a bunch of random assets and hoping for the best.
Don Nelson steadfastly refused last season to establish a rotation and stick with it. He kept his players guessing, from night to night, how many minutes and what positions they would play. As an impartial observer, it made the Warriors a curious team to watch. I loved watching Anthony Randolph and Anthony Morrow, and was intrigued by Brandan Wright, but I had no idea how many minutes I’d get to see these guys play when I flicked to the Warriors game on NBA League Pass. For a Warriors fan, I can only imagine this would be frustrating.
Randolph is an especially interesting case. This guy has some very enthusiastic supporters on the interwebs and you can count me as one of them. He’s tall, he can score, he can handle the ball, he can block shots, and he can completely change the course of a game with his energy. And he turned 20 less than a month ago. With impressive per-minute stats in his rookie campaign, was there any reason to play him only 18 minutes a game? No, there wasn’t, especially on a team that only won 29 games. The case of Morrow is remarkably similar and I’d argue that Brandan Wright should have been given more of a chance to shine, too.
After Randolph’s dominating performance in summer league, one might assume that he’s primed for a break-out season next year. I think that there’s a good chance this will happen, but there are a few factors I’d worry about here. First, Nellie might still mess with his minutes and his confidence. I hope like nothing else that he will finally realize how important this kid is to the Warriors’ future, but it wouldn’t surprise me if his minutes remained erratic. Second, the Warriors’ lineup might not be conducive to Randolph having the ball in his hands much of the time. Stephen Jackson, Corey Maggette, and Monta Ellis need the ball in their hands to be effective. Once they have the ball, none of them are primarily looking to distribute it. In Summer League, Randolph was the main guy. He handled the ball and scored off the dribble. I don’t know how often he’ll get the chance to do that next season. As a role player, he’ll still be fun to watch and he’ll still make an impact on the game, but he won’t be able to make the huge statistical leap we know he’s capable of making.
What the Warriors desperately need is a game plan. I mean this both in the big picture sense and in the most literal way possible. This team needs to give itself an identity other than “crazy coaching, disorganized offense, awful defense”. This team needs to figure out how they’re going to defeat opposing teams and how what roles their guys are going to play in order to develop young talent and take advantages of matchups on the court. They’re a bit stuck in that Maggette’s contract is untradeable and Stephen Jackson is right at the end of his prime, but they have enough quality players that they could make some moves to become a more balanced team. Even if they stand pat, though, these guys could crack the playoffs in the West with some quality coaching.
The pieces are there for the Warriors to return to relevance, I truly believe this. If you ask me to bet on their success, though, there’s no way. I’m sorry, but there’s no reason why I should have confidence in Don Nelson at this point. There’s no reason I should have confidence in this organization, at all. To turn this thing around would require a shift in philosophy from the top of the organization all the way down to the players on the court. I anticipate tuning into as many Warriors games I can next season. Unfortunately, though, at the end of it I can see myself feeling bad for their fans once again.