How they finished 2013
"If the Warriors can remain healthy..."
That was the mantra with these Golden State Warriors heading into the 2012-13 season. After trading Monta Ellis for the oft-injured Andrew Bogut in the previous season, the qualifying statement with trying to predict how they might do always involved health. We needed to see a Warriors team that didn't have to worry about Stephen Curry going down with an ankle injury or Andrew Bogut missing months at a time because of his elbow or knee or ankle or back or whatever else might go wrong. We finally got a relatively healthy season from the Warriors and the results were exciting.
Thinking this team could be a playoff team "if healthy" turned out to be too careful. The Warriors proved they're definitely a playoff team throughout the season. They ended up as the sixth seed after winning 47 games and having a backcourt duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson setting the record for 3-pointers made by a duo in a season. Curry also set the record for 3-pointers made by one person in the regular season while making 45.3 percent of his long-range shots.
The Warriors took their 3-point shooting prowess, youthful exuberance, and overall impressive team talent into the playoffs as the 6-seed and ended up destroying the 3-seed Denver Nuggets in six games. It's not that the Nuggets weren't good enough to hang and that's why they were "destroyed." Curry and the open Warriors shooters that the Nuggets seemed to run away from defending beat a highly regarded Nuggets team, which lead to their GM, coach, and best player (arguably Andre Iguodala) leaving in the ensuing offseason.
After the first round upset of the Nuggets, the Warriors tried to continue the magic of their playoff excitement into the second round where they met the San Antonio Spurs. However, the Spurs' defensive plan was much harder to crack and their offense was even more potent than what the Warriors could conjure up. The Warriors won a couple of games in the series, but couldn't get over the hump and ended up losing in six.
But they showed that "if healthy," they could be a force in the Western Conference.
Needs entering the offseason
Entering the offseason, the Warriors' needs were to figure out how to replace expensive reserve parts that were coming up in free agency. Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack played huge parts coming off the bench (and Jack occasionally starting) for the Warriors last season, but were coming up in restricted free agency. With their contributions and low price tags, the Warriors knew they would have to dance with the luxury tax in order to re-sign everybody and keep the team intact.
Mostly, the team needed to figure out how to replace their backup point guard and best scoring big man off the bench while either cutting team salary by jettisoning their upcoming expiring contracts to marginal players or finding cheap replacements. They didn't necessarily need certain positions to fill outside of finding cheap replacements for the eventual departures of Landry and Jack, they just needed to keep their bench potent.
The Warriors went into the 2013 NBA Draft without a first round draft pick. They ended up trading their way into the first round and then shuffling picks to end up with the 30th selection. They acquired the draft rights to Serbian point guard Nemanja Nedovic. Nedovic is a creative point guard prospect that will probably be better off overseas for another year or two, but has enough ability and athleticism to come over to the NBA now and learn on the bench and in the D-League.
He's a big point guard at 6'4" and struggles with his jumper, but can get to the basket with relative ease. The Warriors not only ended up finding their way into the first round, but they found a need in the future in terms of a backup guard who could turn into a nice role player. And since he was selected with the 30th pick, he'll be slotted at a very affordable rate for at least four seasons.
Free agency and trades
During the surprisingly quick Dwightmare, the Warriors suddenly became a contender for luring Dwight Howard away from the Los Angeles Lakers at one point. They seemed to creep up out of nowhere and find themselves in a position to transform their team from excitement to a powerhouse if they could convince Howard to move to the Bay Area. The tricky part was finding a way to carve out the cap space to do so. That's where they got creative.
The Warriors ended up trading the expiring contracts of Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson, and Brandon Rush (roughly $24 million) along with two first round picks and two second round picks to the Utah Jazz in exchange for Kevin Murphy. Is Kevin Murphy worth all of that? No, but the cap space it created for the Warriors so they could go out and sign Andre Iguodala ended up being completely worth it. The move was made to entice Howard to join up with Curry and Iguodala on the Warriors, but the backup plan was having one of the best defensive players in the league join their lineup.
Iguodala can help with some backup initiating of the offense with the departure of Jack, but the Warriors also got creative in trying to replace their key bench players from last year. They signed Toney Douglas as a backup point guard and Marreese Speights to fill the role of Landry off the bench. They also brought in Jermaine O'Neal because everybody needs a sage on the sidelines.
Overall grade and accomplishments: B+
With everything the Warriors did this offseason, they not only got more versatile, but they also set themselves up for the future without destroying their cap situation. They potentially have help down the road with Nedovic and bringing in Iguodala now to bolster an already impressive perimeter attack was huge. They have a lockdown defender to pair with Harrison Barnes and show the young wings the tricks of the trade when it comes to defending. He's also an under utilized playmaker who can help find the open shooters for Golden State.
Their bench got weaker by substituting Jack for Douglas and Landry for Speights, but ultimately the youth on their roster should be able to make up for that within a couple of years. They still have a handful of young players on rookie contracts and could potentially have solid cap space going into next offseason with Bogut's expiring contract. If they manage to get rid of David Lee's deal at some point, they could be in even greater position to add a key star down the road or pay their own young players to keep the core together.
It's hard not to be impressed with the transformation of the Warriors over the last two years. And there's no longer a need to hedge the analysis of what they're doing with "if they can stay healthy."