Toward the end of last year, as I observed the unveiling of Anthony Randolph’s transcendent talent, I became convinced that the Warriors were very close to becoming a special team. I believed that if Monta Ellis returned to health, and to his commitment to this team, and if Nellie added the right big man to fill the Warriors’ hole at power forward, then this team could easily make the playoffs. And even possibly, given what I feel is a steep drop-off behind the Lakers and the Spurs in the West, do better than the 8th seed.
I am backing off this prediction now, for the following reasons:
1) The hole at 4. I expected Nellie to fix it, and it appeared he would in a big way, right up until the moment Stephen Curry fell into his lap. With the Stoudemire deal off the table, this team’s timetable got pushed back.
2) Brandan Wright. Everyone knows I have not been a fan of this player, but the fact is he was penciled in for 10-20 minutes a night. Losing him makes the hole at 4 worse, and will force Nellie to stretch the roster and go small more often, with all the wear and tear that entails.
3) Stephen Curry. I mean the player, not the aftermath. I did not see him coming. It is clear that Nellie is now pencilling him in for major minutes, and is willing to sacrifice short term results in favor of developing this major talent and future franchise leader. I think the Warriors could lose several more games than they normally would as a direct result. (By the way, it has been a frequent Nellie-hater mantra that Nellie doesn’t play young players, that he hates developing youth, and that all he cares about is winning now. I wonder how they’ll reconcile that view with the decision Nelllie made to draft Curry — rather than draft Hill, and complete the trade for Stoudemire — and his decision now to make him a major part of the rotation. It seems pretty clear to me that Nellie is operating with the best long-term interests of the franchise in mind.)
4) Stephen Curry, the aftermath. By which I mean the Stephen Jackson and Monta Ellis disgruntlement. This is a volatile situation, which could get worse if Monta feels his role is being diminished, and his clear expectation to be the face of the franchise is under threat. It would be foolish for me to stick to my prediction while this team-chemistry-threatening psychodrama gets played out.
I still feel that this team, if it sticks together, has a chance to become something special. Even Stephen Jackson is currently hinting that it could. But he wants to see it happen on the court, not just on paper. He puts a lot of emphasis on how the Warriors come out of the gate this year. And he’s right: the schedule is soft, and the Warriors need to absolutely crush it to indicate that they’re ready to compete. They can’t compete without Stephen Jackson’s fully engaged heart and mind, so it appears that far more than usual is at stake in the first month of the season. Either the Warriors contend for a playoff spot from the start, or the team could once again be in full-blown rebuilding mode by midseason.
I had been looking forward to making a preseason bet on the Warriors win total this year. I felt sure they would be undervalued. All of the factors I’ve discussed make this a far more risky proposition. I haven’t given up on the idea, but it will be very dependent on the actual line that comes out in a couple of weeks.
I expect to get flamed by my old buddies on Adam Lauridsen’s blog for this new caution, but I don’t mind. In my profession, dynamic thinking is essential to survival. What may look like a good bet at one moment, may become an obvious disaster in the making in the next. Things have changed, and my mind has changed with them.