Why Golden State Warriors’ dismal present could lead to a bright future


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  • Brian WindhorstESPN Senior Writer
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    • ESPN.com NBA writer since 2010
    • Covered Cleveland Cavs for seven years
    • Author of two books

There are plenty of things the Golden State Warriors don’t have right now. There is, however, one valuable thing they do have: clarity.

In a league where being stuck in the in-between can lead to misery, the Warriors were facing a wait-and-see season. There was how to manage the arrival of D’Angelo Russell, how to manage having minimal roster flexibility because of a hard salary cap, how to manage Klay Thompson‘s recovery and balancing it with the team’s needs.

The injury to Steph Curry has largely removed that burden. Once the shock of making another sad trip to an MRI and then to visit another future Hall of Famer in the recovery room abated, the leaders of the organization started reevaluating and finding positivity.

Suddenly they are being afforded an opportunity to rest their stars, reset their asset base and refresh their worn-down mental state. After all that hubbub about being light years ahead — the Warriors paid a price for owner Joe Lacob saying that, but he wasn’t wrong — the Warriors may end up in a light-speed rebuild.

Don’t call it “The Process,” but “The Hiatus” might be right.

Here is what the Warriors now know they have:

  • They have their core players (Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green) still in their primes and all signed to long-term contracts. Will all of these contracts turn out to be good deals? That is unclear, but it’s better than worrying about free agency.

  • Their 2020 first-round pick. A successful season would’ve put it in danger of being conveyed to the Nets. Now that appears to be off the table.

  • A $17 million trade exception from the Andre Iguodala deal. It almost certainly won’t be used during the season because of their cap situation, but it’s good until July 7, 2020, opening options for the offseason.

  • A new arena with long-term deals on suites and season tickets that assures the top revenue flow in the league, no matter what their record is.

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The teams that will finish around the Warriors in the standings this season could only dream of that situation for next year. Yes, Golden State will take a lot of beatings over the coming months. There will be embarrassment, there will be empty seats, there will be schadenfreude. But there is more than light at the end of the tunnel. It’s barely even a tunnel.

When Curry went down under Aron Baynes and fractured his hand, there were plenty of comparisons to the San Antonio Spurs in 1996-97, when an injury to former MVP David Robinson led to winning the lottery and a chance to draft Tim Duncan. The Warriors would love to make the comparison … if only there was a Tim Duncan in the upcoming draft.

Wherever it lands, a lottery pick will be a needed boost. This year’s roster reflects how drafting so late year after year has sapped Golden State’s depth.

The Warriors can be earnest when they say they acquired Russell because they saw him as a long-term fit. But they can equally be honest when they say their short-term game plan has been altered, and it could ultimately lead them to exploring the trade market for Russell once he becomes eligible to be moved on Dec. 15.

Shortly after Curry went down with injury, Lacob said he didn’t plan on tanking. But moving Russell could just be good business, and Lacob, whether it was Monta Ellis or Andrew Bogut or Iguodala, has never been afraid to approve a business-first deal. General Manager Bob Myers and Lacob have done it before, and they could do it again. Russell was well-aware of the score when he signed, getting a max contract for his side of the bargain.

There were other teams that wanted Russell before the sign-and-trade deal with Kevin Durant was worked out, one of them being the Minnesota Timberwolves. By the time midseason arrives, there could be a number of suitors depending on how Russell, who will now get the lion’s share of shots within the Warriors’ offense now, is playing.

If the Warriors decide to investigate the market, some league executives believe it’s not unreasonable to think the Warriors could get another first-round pick plus a quality role player for Russell, especially if they’re able to construct a deal where they take back salary.

Even if Russell ends up looking like a great fit and the Warriors elect to keep him through the season, he would potentially have just as much value next summer when the free-agent pool is shallow and teams go hunting for talent upgrades. While Myers and Lacob haven’t been afraid to make tough deals, they don’t often do them midseason. The last midseason trade they made was way back in 2014.

Golden State has other players who could end up on the trade market as well: veterans like Willie Cauley-Stein and Alec Burks. Both signed with expectations of being supporting players on a playoff contender.

With them on the roster, the Warriors don’t have the space under the hard cap to add a 15th man. Creating flexibility could enable them to take a look at multiple young players. They are already excited about rookie power forward Eric Paschall, who had 34 points Monday night. Last season they had Kendrick Nunn, who is impressing the whole league currently for the Miami Heat, on their G-League roster but couldn’t bring him up as they chased another title. The Heat plucked him away at the end of the season.

This year, finding gold in the G-League will be one of the missions of the front office, and they’ll eventually need roster and salary to do it.

The past five years, the Warriors have had only one game plan: winning a title. This year it is something very different: using every possible avenue at their disposal to get back to that mission next year. That starts now.

Story first appeared on ESPN.com


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