With a new owner and a new head coach, the Golden State Warriors are ushering in a new era after years of incompetence. Will that new era result in a much-improved team in Year 1?
For all the talk about the Los Angeles Clippers' problems, no team has exhibited more incompetence in the last decade and a half than the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors have had just two winning season and one playoff appearance since 1994, having squandered draft picks, free-agent signings and coaching decisions. The one fleeting moment of brilliance happened in 2007, when the "We Believe" Warriors shocked the heavily-favored Mavericks in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, but even that team was dismantled through a series of cost-cutting moves.
Last season was where the effect of those cost-cutting decisions were felt most. The Warriors suffered a ton of injuries, but were unable or unwilling to do much to provide reinforcements for those injures. Playing with as few as eight active players at times, the Warriors often trotted out a massively depleted roster, forcing Don Nelson to play his key players heavy minutes. Of course, some of that was probably Nelson's own doing, as he confused many with strange player rotations and odd mind games. It appeared Nelson was disinterested a lot of the time, and, in turn, the Warriors played undisciplined ball. But the injuries certainly didn't help.
Now, a new era of Warriors basketball is underway. In mid-July, long-despised owner Chris Cohan finally sold the team to an ownership group headed by venture capitalist Joe Lacob. Cohan's penny-pinching ways was a primary cause of the Warriors' woes over the years, and Lacob certainly brings a breath of fresh air. Then, last week, Nelson and the team parted ways, opening the head coaching job for Keith Smart.
Most see the departure of Nelson as a positive, considering Nelson's coaching performance over the past couple years. However, SB Nation's Warriors blog Golden State of Mind disagrees wholeheartedly.
However, there's a multitude of reasons to not be happy about Smart getting this gig. In terms of actual head coaching experience he doesn't exactly have the best track record. He was the Warriors "defensive coordinator" the past season and defense (aside from turnovers) was the Warriors downfall.
The Warriors simply are a worse coached team under Smart than Nellie. Smart currently ranks in the very bottom in the ranks of NBA head coaches. I wouldn't be too surprised if this is a 1 year or interim head coaching gig.
Point blank: Don Nelson could take this team to the playoffs. Keith Smart probably cannot. It's just asking way too much from him.
The love for Nelson is really out of control, as is the idea that Smart is certainly subpar (we don't know this yet). There's no way that Nelson could lead this Warriors team to the playoffs, not in his current state. That said, it's true that Smart has yet to prove himself as a head coach and will likely experience growing pains, along with his team.
The good news for Smart is that he has an all-star big man on his roster. The Warriors' big move was to trade several players for the Knicks' David Lee, a stat stuffer that could produce a 20-10 season in this offense. The cost was prohibitive -- exciting prospect Anthony Randolph, solid shooting guard Kelenna Azubuike and center Ronny Turiaf -- but Golden State of Mind is confident the price was worth it.
The Warriors had essentially no chips this summer, but they walked away with a 20-12-3.5 All-Star big man. You do the math.
Give Larry Riley (and whoever else made it happen) props. In 1 year as the GM of the Warriors he did something his 2 predecessors couldn't do in (mostly painful) multi-year stints: add a legit power forward to this team.
Warriors fans are going to like a lot about Lee. A LOT.
Lee's a good player, but he doesn't defend, so Golden State's biggest weakness -- interior defense -- just got worse. On the bright side, he should be an excellent pick and roll finisher, particularly with Stephen Curry -- who made a late run at Tyreke Evans for Rookie of the Year last year -- setting him up.
The two biggest question marks for the Warriors, though, are the two members of their future core back in 2007 -- Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins. Biedrins was hurt much of last year, but his play slipped when he was in the lineup, particularly at the free-throw line. Ellis put up big numbers last year, but he also committed tons of turnovers, and the Warriors were significantly better with him off the court (with an obvious small sample size caveat). It's possibly neither player ends the season with the Warriors, but that would require the team building their trade value back up.
How will the Warriors do in the first year of their new era? Golden State of Mind thinks the team will go 34-48, which is promising, but will put them out of the playoffs. Me? The lack of interior defense is a huge flaw, and I'm convinced Smart will experience growing pains along with the rest of the roster. I'll say 28-54.