A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Did the Golden State Warriors put themselves in a box of impatience?

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In 2012-2013, the Warriors reinvigorated their franchise with a 47 win season and upsetting Denver to make it to the 2nd round. With a young superstar in Stephen Curry, the Warriors became a team of the future.

What makes cases like this usually so fascinating, is how the team reacts to the pressure of these expectations. The next steps can be the difference between making the Finals one day and never making it past the 2nd round. The Warriors looked at their cards and saw a great hand, but how would they take advantage of it when the flop came?

Going against the Warriors last summer was Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack becoming free agents, both 6th man of the year caliber players in 2012-2013. With an incentive to stay under the luxury tax, the Warriors looked set to let both players go, which may have costed them a playoff spot the next year.

Then they made their big moves. First they used 2 future 1st round picks and 3 2nds to sign and trade the expiring contracts of Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush for Andre Iguodala at 4 years, 48 million. Iguodala would be a perfect impact small forward to make up for losing Jack and Landry. I was critical of the Iguodala move at the time however. The Warriors also signed Andrew Bogut to a 3 year, 36 million extension. Bogut and Iguodala will combine for 25.3 million salary in 2014-2015, salary uncommitted by the end of the season last year.

Thanks to Bogut’s health, the Warriors are headed for their first 50 W+ season in 20 years, but will be a 6th seed at best and underdog in the 1st round. Their starting lineup was clearly upgraded this year, but the bench never recovered from losing Jack and Landry.

Between these two moves, the Warriors made a huge commitment to veterans. 3 of the Warriors starters in Andrew Bogut, David Lee and Andre Iguodala are from the 2004 or 2005 draft, putting them in their last few prime years before declining as most do once they become 10 to 12 year vets. To improve the team, they won’t have capspace for several seasons, nor a 1st round pick in 2014 or 2017 to either draft a young player or trade. Their best trade assets may be Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green, talented but not untouchable pieces.

In other words, the Warriors more or less went all in on the Lee, Bogut and Iguodala “era”. Their plan presumably is to ride this core until Lee, Bogut and Iguodala’s contracts expire in 2016, 2017 and 2017, then use the opened capspace to put a new team around Curry and Thompson.

But this doesn’t mean the move lacks opportunity cost. If not making the Bogut and Iguodala commitment, they could’ve spent 2014, 2015 and 2016’s capspace building their youth core. For example they could’ve made an offer sheet to younger players such as Gordon Hayward, Greg Monroe, Isaiah Thomas, or they could’ve used their capspace to do precisely what Utah did in their trade with the Warriors, take on unwanted contracts but getting draft picks in return. This is in addition to keeping the draft picks they gave to Utah, including a 2014 1st that presumably would have been a lottery pick without the Iguodala trade.

In other words, by committing to Bogut and Iguodala, they used up assets that could’ve been put towards younger, more long-withstanding team. Asset allocation is essential in the NBA. Using assets to make the 2014 and 2015 Warriors better could leave the team with less assets to make the 2018 and 2019 Warriors as great as possible. If the age of Curry and Thompson made contending 4-5 years from now more likely than this season, this could be a costly mistake. Assets are a scarce resource, when teams give them up, they’ll never get them back.

My feeling is the Warriors were too impatient. There was nothing wrong with finishing 9th in the West this year, then using 25 million capspace and a lottery pick to truly set the groundwork for a future Warriors champion. Instead they used crucial assets to make the 2013-2014 Warriors as great a team as they possibly could. And even that unfortunately may not get them out of the 1st round, if a series against the Clippers, Thunder or Spurs goes to the favorites. A “short term” all-in mindset fits a franchise like the Dallas Mavericks desperate to win before Dirk declines, but when your star is Stephen Curry who’s prime 7th to 10th seasons are still years away, I don’t like the approach the Warriors took. I’m not sure the Warriors have a great long term plan to raise a championship banner.

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Written by jr.

April 14, 2014 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Basketball

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