Offseason Grades: Golden State Warriors
The Point Forward will grade every team’s offseason over the next few weeks. Click here for the complete archive.
Additions: Andre Iguodala, Toney Douglas, Marreese Speights, Jermaine O’Neal, Nemanja Nedovic (No. 30 in 2013 draft)
Losses: Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, Brandon Rush, Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins
What Went Right: For sheer ingenuity, I’m not sure anyone topped the Warriors this summer. Houston meticulously planned for a successful run at Dwight Howard by managing its books, and Brooklyn creatively broke the bank to swing its blockbuster deal for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, but no one turned lemons into lemonade quite like Golden State.
It’s worth pausing for a moment to fully consider Jefferson and Biedrins purely as assets or, well, lemon-y non-assets. Jefferson, 33, last posted a Player Efficiency Rating above 15 (league average) in 2008-09. Last season, he averaged 3.1 points and 1.5 rebounds in 56 games for the Warriors, and he attempted a grand total of nine shots during two rounds of the playoffs. He is set to make $11 million this season, roughly the same amount of money that will be paid to Rajon Rondo, Joakim Noah, Ty Lawson, Tyreke Evans, Nicolas Batum and Tim Duncan. The major reason that he hasn’t been subjected to Andrea Bargnani-like derision is that he barely played in 2012-13.
Where to even begin with Biedrins? His career has been in a tailspin since 2008-09, when he averaged personal bests of 11.9 points and 11.2 rebounds. He bottomed out last season, averaging 0.5 points and 2.9 rebounds in 53 games. In the last four seasons, he’s shot a combined 19-for-78 (24.4 percent) from the free-throw line. Coach Mark Jackson resorted to in-game pep talks and standing ovations to try to pump up Biedrins (and swing the crowd behind him), but it didn’t really matter. How far gone is Biedrins inside his own head? Monta Ellis averaged 22 shots per game for the 2009-10 Warriors; Biedrins, who was once put through a “mental training program” by his agency to address his confidence issues, shot 21 times total last season, or once every 23.6 minutes. Did I mention that he is set to make $9 million this season?
You’ve heard the phrase “bang for your buck”? Jefferson and Biedrins offer whimpers for your millions. The one upshot: Both are on expiring contracts, a fact that transformed the pair from “basically untradable” to “barely tradable if everything breaks right” this summer.
And that’s when Warriors management stepped in to make its breaks, pawning off Jefferson and Biedrins (combined salary of $20 million for 2013-14), along with Rush ($4 million), two first-round picks and two second-round picks, to the rebuilding Jazz, one of the few teams in a position to 1) legally accept more than $20 million of salary without having to send out salary, and 2) willing to accept $20 million of dead weight.
But Golden State’s interest in doing that deal — as opposed to swallowing Jefferson and Biedrins for itself and keeping its picks — required an impetus. Enter Iguodala, a top-five free agent this summer and one of the best wing defenders in the league. Circumstances worked out in Golden State’s favor on that end, too, as Denver was in the middle of an implosion after a 57-win season, and Iguodala, 29, was hunting for one last big payday and a shot at playing for a contender. The up-and-coming Warriors, fresh off an exciting push into the conference semifinals, offered both, signing him to a four-year, $48 million deal.
Warriors general manager Bob Myers had to dump two players at the February trade deadline to get below the luxury-tax line — thanks to big-dollar deals for All-Star forward David Lee, center Andrew Bogut, Jefferson and Biedrins — and he entered the summer staring at spreadsheet gridlock and the very real possibility that he would be forced to go above the tax threshold in 2013-14 in order to keep his team from taking a step backward. Instead, by the end of summer, the Warriors had added an All-Star-caliber player in Iguodala and created a significant cushion between their cap position and the tax. That’s fairly exciting stuff, and the type of high-visibility swing that could put Myers in the discussion for 2014 Executive of the Year if the Warriors’ core players enjoy excellent health for a second straight year.
A postscript: Any “What went right with the Warriors’ summer” section would be lacking without a “Kent Bazemore led Golden State to the first Las Vegas Summer League title” shout-out. Summer League at its finest.
What Went Wrong: Golden State’s electric postseason ride made its roster ripe for poaching. Jack and Landry, two dependable, crucial reserves, both cashed out like expected. Jack, a solid combo guard who was in the Sixth Man Award discussion all season, signed a four-year, $25.2 million deal with the Cavaliers; Landry, an undersized power forward with some range, received a four-year, $26 million contract from the Kings. Their replacements — Douglas and Speights — fit the positional holes, but don’t exactly fill them. Letting either Jack or Landry depart in free agency was always seen as likely. But watching both go will leave an impact on the court, even if Golden State is in a more flexible position long term because of it.
The Warriors should see an extra jolt from their bench because one of two wing starters from last season, forward Harrison Barnes or guard Klay Thompson, is expected to move to a reserve role to accommodate Iguodala’s arrival. Even so, the quality of the Warriors’ depth takes a hit with Jack and Landry leaving, plus a summer knee surgery that is expected to keep reserve center Festus Ezeli sidelined until at least mid-December.
Whether the rejiggered bench winds up being a major factor or a minor one depends largely on the always-shaky health of Bogut, and the continued durability for the Splash Brothers, Stephen Curry and Thompson, who missed a combined four games last season. Here’s wishing for good vibes, because few teams are as entertaining as the Warriors when they are going full tilt.
Grade: A-minus. The playoffs have a way of making us forget this, but the Warriors weren’t elite on offense (No. 10) or defense (No. 13) during the regular season and they backed into the postseason, going 18-18 after Feb. 1. This summer’s developments are logical and promising but, as argued recently at The Point Forward, not necessarily a guarantee of a regular-season leap forward into the West’s upper echelon. That said, the summer featured creative front-office work that has legitimate upside if the key pieces — Curry, Iguodala and Lee in particular — can find the proper fit.