Trying to predict the future for the Golden State Warriors sometimes feels like a complete shot in the dark. Most experts’ preseason predictions excluded the Warriors from the 2013 NBA playoffs. The Warriors continued to defy expectations by defeating the Denver Nuggets in the first round, then being the only team, besides the champion Miami Heat, to win even a single game against the San Antonio Spurs.
Just what can this team accomplish?
The team’s biggest issue to address this coming offseason is health. Though there was only one real season-ending injury (Brandon Rush), the Warriors were slowed dramatically during the last few months of the season.
In the 2013-14 season, the Warriors would love to see a healthy team on the court. An 82-game season is a marathon, and the teams that are the healthiest generally goes on to be more dangerous during the playoffs. A full offseason to heal and strengthen up for Stephen Curry, David Lee, Andrew Bogut and Rush is the greatest thing the Warriors can take advantage of.
Curry has already proven what he can do when healthy – 54 points on February 27 at Madison Square Garden. Imagine the things he could do with a full offseason dedicated to basketball and not rehabilitation.
Bogut also had a coming out party during the playoffs. Even playing through pain, Bogut showed Warriors fans what they were waiting to see all year. He altered countless shots and made huge defensive stops. Give Bogut an offseason to get in shape and heal, and he will undoubtedly make huge contributions.
But on the flip side, the lingering injuries could be just that – lingering. Even after a year removed from surgery, Curry had trouble avoiding right ankle sprains. Then came the sprains on the “good” ankle.
Bogut, a year after having surgery for a micro-fracture in his ankle, only managed to play in 32 games. He only managed to play in all 82 games his rookie season and hasn’t played in more than 70 since 2007-08.
Best case scenario: Curry and Bogut’s injury issues are no longer issues. Ankle sprains are a thing of the past and not mentioned even once during the season.
Worst case scenario: Curry severely sprains his bad ankle again and has season ending surgery. Bogut only plays six games before being shut down by ankle, knee, elbow and hand injuries.
The Warriors have a bunch of bad contracts they would love to get rid of. Richard Jefferson already picked up his player option and will be paid $11 million in 2013-14. Andris Biedrins is owed $9 million next year. Of the $75.6 million payroll, those two account for $20 million.
Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry will both be able to fetch between $6-8 million next season and deservedly so. The Warriors would love to bring back a 100 percent healthy starting lineup (see above) and the bench’s two biggest contributors. The ability to bring Jack, Landry, Rush and Draymond Green off the bench would give the Warriors one of the most dangerous benches in the league. This also gives guys like Curry and Lee much needed rest without a drop off in production–mostly.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, they just might not be able to afford both Jack and Landry. With free agency open, the Warriors could dramatically improve or finally suffer the consequences of bad contracts.
In the 2012 NBA Playoffs, the four teams knocked out in the semi-final round were the Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers. Fast forward a year, and those four teams enjoyed varying amounts of success. The 76ers did not even make the 2013 playoffs. The Lakers and Clippers, both with championship aspirations, were knocked out in the first round. Only the Pacers improved and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Warriors hope to replicate the success of the Pacers.
As the Spurs inevitably begin to decline with the aging of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili (don’t we say this every season?), and the Lakers and Mavericks no longer being playoff givens, the Warriors could take one of the top four spots in the Western Conference. Given that the Oklahoma City Thunder will likely take one of the top seeds in the West, the Warriors could compete toe-to-toe with the Clippers, Grizzlies, Nuggets and Spurs for one of the the others.
Like the Pacers, the Warriors are young, tenacious and have no respect for the status quo. Given that the Warriors continue to improve, they will be a competitive team in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
But that is determined by their ability to remain healthy and keep their bench intact. Otherwise, the Warriors could easily end up a top-heavy team that struggles in the second and fourth quarters. The Lakers struggled with that this entire season. After playing Kobe Bryant to the point of exhaustion nearly every game, his body gave in. Since being swept by the eventual league runner-ups, the Lakers’ question marks loom larger than ever as there seems to be little hope in sight.
Best case scenario: Western Conference Finals against the Thunder. The Warriors take Game 7 in OKC. Stephen Curry hits the game winning three over the outstretched hands of LeBron James in Game 7 of the NBA Finals to give the Warriors a one point victory.
Worst case scenario: The Warriors miss the playoffs by half a game.
The 2013-14 season for the Warriors will be an important year for the franchise. If they are unable to replicate their success, they will likely go back to the drawing board to rebuild the team around Curry and Barnes. The stars need to align near perfectly for the Warriors to continue their success. But if they are able to stay healthy and bring back their role players, the Warriors could make deep playoff runs for many seasons to come.