Al Harrington

Warriors quietly adding the right role players

For a second, forget all the extraneous stuff about the Warriors. The uniforms, the mascots, facial expressions displayed by shooting guards, announcers, even the people in charge of the business side. Let’s discuss basketball without an eye on all the other things that spark emotion.

I know, it’s hard. Of any of the major sports, the NBA is the sport based most on blatant subjectivity. In the NFL, stats are unambiguous. Yards and turnovers, and only 16 chances per year to produce. In MLB, they are extremely complex, but also increasingly necessary because the first generation of sportswriters had neither the foresight or technology to use metrics that didn’t make individual worth dependent on what each player’s teammates did. In the NBA, we can’t decide on what stats even make sense. Plus-minus is a joke. John Hollinger’s PER rating makes sense, but only when it makes sense (as in: when the number seems justifiably high or low enough depending on how we feel about that player). Yes, there are better stats these days than before, but none that will effectively decide the argument of who’s better, LeBron James or Kevin Durant.

Take all the bitterness away, and the Louis Amundson pickup caps a subtle transformation that for the Warriors seemed like the logical move years ago, but was deemed impossible up until now. With all the extraneous stuff that people complain about set to stay the same (except the uniforms), it’s easy to look past the fact that the Warriors will have a vastly different personality next season.

Is this a bit of an overreaction to the signing of Amundsen, a guy who’s hair and floor burns suggest production while his statline tells a different tale? Yes, but Amundsen is a symbol of a greater movement, one away from the me-first ethos that the “We Believe” team made popular and supposedly successful.

(Yes, that team. That amazing, inspirational ode to good basketball throughout the spring of 2007, was selfish. There were times when the boys passed the rock to each other, but it was only to generate crowd noise and ensure that a teammate would pass it back later. Baron, Jack, J-Rich, Harrington, Monta, Barnes, Pietrus, Azubuike … everyone in the rotation besides Andris Biedrins looked to jack up as many shots as humanly possible, it’s just that Nelson’s frenetic pace allowed for enough possessions for all of them to do exactly that without looking like ballhogs. If there is a genius to Nellie’s madness, it’s that he can make volume shooters look like complete players for half-seasons at a time.)

The blueprint isn’t that difficult to understand. To be a team that can at least be considered a contender to make the conference finals, you need to have at least one otherworldly talent (preferably 2 or 3), and a group of selfless role players to fill in the gaps and do things the talented player(s) don’t have the energy for or don’t want to do. The Warriors didn’t just fail in drafting a superstar or landing one as a free agent, they completely ignored the role player angle. Instead they just took shots at unpolished or out of shape players in the draft with “upside,” and filled in the gaps with NBDL players who they hoped would convince the overpaid non-superstars to hustle more by running faster and taking shots away.

Can you see why this would be a problem, at least more so than the announcer, the uniforms or those little dunking dudes who are probably angling for their own TLC show?

The Warriors didn’t have the draft pick or the cap room to add their superstar, but every player they did add might as well have come with a hard hat and some work boots instead of Kobe V’s.

It started with the draft, when they selected Ekpe Udoh, who once healthy will make his mark in the league by the way he hustles, rebounds and defends. While there are many reasons to question the Randolph/Azubuike/Turiaf for Lee trade (Randolph’s talent, the length of Lee’s contract and Lee’s ceiling as a player), Lee won’t drive his teammates and/or coaches crazy (like Randolph), go multiple games without an assist (like Azubuike) or miss a ton of games (like the entire trio). Of course, since he’s a Warrior I expect Lee’s knees to spontaneously combust any day now.

Rodney Carney was a fantasy sleeper a couple years ago, and now he comes to Oakland with very low expectations. He may not be the most efficient player around, but he can defend 3’s better than Devean George, not to mention he’s a lot hungrier than George, who doesn’t look like he’s passed up many meals since leaving the Lakers. Dorell Wright is a similarly athletic wingman (with better range and defense), and while the Wright/Carney combo doesn’t have the name recognition of Corey Maggette, they won’t take shots away from Stephen Curry, Monta or Lee like Maggette either.

Maggette’s absense means Dan Gadzuric (cap relief, but a guy that can give you fouls when needed and won’t shoot) and Charlie Bell (defense-first combo guard) arrive. In other words, addition by subtraction. And while Avery Johnson will make Anthony Morrow “a All Star” according to some Bleacher Reporter, the loss of his one-dimensional game (Learn. To. Dribble.) and C.J. Watson, who wanted out of here as badly as anyone, aren’t horribly damaging — even if Jeremy Lin turns out to be nothing more than a PR ploy.

And if Matt Steinmetz is right and Reggie Williams can make the transformation from volume shooter to serviceable backup point guard, that’s another piece added to the selfless puzzle. Most importantly, another CHEAP piece. It doesn’t do any good to add selfless role players if they’re overpaid to the degree that you can’t afford any superstars.

That’s why it’s OK to celebrate the Amundsen signing. He does the Turiaf stuff without injuring himself every time he blocks a shot, he isn’t overpaid and the signing proves the Warriors aren’t content to let cap exceptions float away like helium balloons with the idea that stopgaps are always available in the D-League. Is it enough to throw caution to the wind and embrace LaGuber as the saviors the Warriors have needed since Franklin Mieuli left? No. But it’s enough to slightly numb the pain for those who expected a full-scale housecleaning that probably isn’t coming as soon as many would like.

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