If the Golden State Warriors had Andrew Bynum at center instead of Andrew Bogut, they might have been the team that traded for Dwight Howard. Instead, the Warriors’ Andrew is coming off a year lost to injury, while the Lakers’ former Andrew is coming off a statistically impressive season (albeit one where Bynum turned an average win over the Warriors into an episode of Threes of Our Lives).
Joe Lacob would’ve loved to bring Howard here, show him some waterfront arena sketches and change the franchise’s overarching goal from “make the playoffs” to “convince Dwight to stay in the Bay.” Everyone but perhaps Lacob knew that dream had no chance of occurring, since Bynum only missed six games last year and the Warriors’ best trade chips (Bogut and Stephen Curry) missed 94 games combined — a number that would’ve increased by about 32 games if the season wasn’t shortened by 16 games.
The Warriors have spent an offseason gradually turning their roster into one that resembles an NBA team (I particularly liked the deal that sent the disinterested and redundant Dorell Wright out of town and brought back Jarrett Jack — who immediately steps in as the Warriors’ toughest guard). In return, they prepare to play another season in a league where the only teams that matter are the Lakers, Heat, Thunder … and maybe the Bulls, Celtics and Spurs if you’re feeling generous.
How do the Warriors crawl out of this? They’ve tried bottoming out, but this is a team that lost 60+ games in four out of five years (1997/98 – 2001/02), and all they got for their trouble was Antawn Jamison, Mike Dunleavy and more trouble.
No, they’re riding a slow ferry toward the shore of respectability, and there’s no getting off now. However, that’s not a complete death sentence in terms of title contention — even though the Warriors will never be able to match the star power of the Lakers/Heat/Thunder.
It’s going to be difficult, and more changes are still needed, but the template is there. Become the 2010/11 Dallas Mavericks, the team that beat the first iteration of the Big Three Heat. The depth and versatility those Mavericks possessed is something the Warriors can aspire to, and yes, realistically achieve in the next couple years.
The other two pieces instrumental to the Mavericks’ shocking title will take more creativity, bravery … and money.
1. Dirk Nowitzki is no slouch, either.
Even the best possible case scenario for Stephen Curry has him falling woefully short of Nowitzki’s production and value, simply due to size. Curry’s too small to be a superstar, and he’s on his way to getting paid like one if he can prove for one full season that his ankles aren’t made of styrofoam. The Warriors need to spend every moment concocting viable sign-and-trades as Curry hits free agency next summer. Even though the Mavs’ championship was heralded as a victory for “team basketball,” Nowitzki was out of his mind during those playoffs until the title-clinching game, when he shot 9-for-27 and Jason Terry put the team on his back.
2. Rick Carlisle >>>>> Mark Jackson
Carlisle almost got Eric Spoelstra fired during the 2011 NBA Finals. Jackson almost got himself fired after a nondescript first season and an old affair with a stripper livened up the offseason news cycle when it came out that Jackson was the target of a sordid extortion plot. Carlisle’s team held LeBron James to 17.8 ppg in the 2011 Finals, while solving Miami’s defense (which was/is about 100 times better than any defense the Warriors played under Jackson last season) in Games 5 and 6 (when the Mavs scored 217 points). You need a coach like Carlisle to win a title, and unless there’s a drastic improvement in year two (and that’s a big “unless”), Jackson is not that kind of coach.
Would all of this be easy task for Lacob, Bob Myers and all the rest? Absolutely not. But creating a deep team, finding a matchup nightmare like Nowitzki and a coach who’s better than Jackson (on both ends) is far easier than hoping three Dream Teamers decide out of the blue that they want to play in the Bay Area and be patient until the Warriors figure out a way to make that happen. If the Warriors truly want to win — and Lacob constantly says they do — they should study up on everything Mark Cuban and Donny Nelson did when they built perhaps the most surprising championship team since Golden State shocked the world in 1975. Actually, after seeing the Lakers get Howard in a move that seems inevitable in hindsight, the Warriors have no choice.