It is so true Golden State Warriors completed the worst choke moment in NBA history by failing to win the championship despite winning 73 of 82 games and leading Cleveland Cavaliers 3-1 in the best of seven series in the NBA Finals. That stinging loss will marinate on the franchise and its growing fanbase for a while because these Warriors have been tested with this loss and the world is on the lookout for how they handle it.
Can they be emotionally strong to replicate San Antonio Spurs by recovering from a crushing defeat to get back on top of the leader board in the league? After witnessing kung fu chops break clipboards, mouthpiece fling at spectators and fatherhoods in the line of fire from kicks down low, the jury is already out on these Warriors. That theme is a lock for another day but now multiple questions regarding the shape of the roster (physically that is) is the most pertinent issue Golden States’ management has to deal with.
On July 1, free agents-restricted and unrestricted- can officially be contacted by team executives in aid of their skill set and extracurricular stuff they come with. Following an odd defying title win, it is particularly hard to envisage LeBron James bailing out of Cleveland for a second time as King James is expected to sign a bumper deal. This puts Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant on top of the pile as the most sought after player on the Makola Market-esque landscape the NBA is.
Behind him are quality players who bring great tangibles for the game to the table but are not your every day superstar with signature shoes and celebrity friends. Mike Conley, DeMar DeRozan and Nicholas Batum are desirable guys who can push middling teams deep into the hearts and thoughts of established franchises. If any doubts linger, just ask Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors or Charlotte Hornets. One player who fits the mold of a free agent worthy of endless rolls of dollar bundles which is set to flood the league in the coming months, is Atlanta Hawks Center Al Horford.
The Dominican Republic native has been a constant feature in Atlanta’s lineup since being drafted third overall in 2007 after winning two national championships at college level. However, his low key profile means he is not mentioned in everyday basketball conversation especially seeing how fundamentally grounded based his game is built upon. No high flying dunks, putbacks, slick handles and crossovers. Horford’s stats through nine years per the requirements of a conventional Center- 14 points and 8.9 rebounds per game- is good. But for a modern day Center, the ability to do more than just score and grab rebounds (averages almost three assists and a block per game) is an asset which makes him the best big man to chase if you are Golden State.
Among the bevy of question marks dotted on the heads of guys like Shaun Livingston, Harrison Barnes and backup Center Festus Ezeli’s standout most. Due to Warriors flexible lineup, both players find themselves in the frontcourt despite Barnes being a Small Forward. Flipping scripts, fellow Center Maresse Speights is likely to leave since he is an unrestricted free agent and can sign with any team willing to foot a bill likely to be between 8-10 million. Same goes for Anderson Varejao who can still be awarded a ring should Cleveland deem fit having spent ample time on the roster this season to qualify for a title. That leaves restricted free agents Ezeli and Branes as the only plausible frontcourt candidates looking ahead.
Barnes flat out rejected a $64 million dollar four year extension from the Warriors last season to cash in on a bigger cheque the upcoming season’s improved salary base. Through the season and Western Conference post season run, it looked like a wise decision as management was keen on giving him a better deal per Bleacher Report. However, the Cavs rolled into the Finals and Barnes froze; after playing well in Games 1, 2 and 3, he completely fell off the wheel in the remaining games averaging just five points and three rebounds in the stretch. His woeful play and Warriors eventual title loss has swayed management’s thinking to match any amount he receives from suitors to keep him in Oakland. Letting him go wouldn’t be a surprise since Golden State has options to fill Barnes spot on the wing. Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Shaun Livingston and James McAddo can step in to deliver.
Ezeli’s struggles in the finals means his comparably lower wage spike went down further and will likely be retained in the Oracle Arena. Keeping Ezeli gives Warriors a traditional big man who brings energy and tenacious rim protection to the team and a good backup for Andew Bogut. Letting go of Barnes and a few others clears the path for Golden State to invest in Horford; a player who fits their expansive game where every player on the court is a threat beyond the arc. Having a lineup of Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green behind Bogut and Horford gives the Warriors a traditional NBA spin with two bigs.
On the contrary, bending to the modern game’s wits which Golden State spearheaded, Golden State can play small albeit with some alterations as Green moves up to Power Forward, Iguodala Small Forward, Curry and Thompson in the backcourt and Horford at Center.
The prospective new look might mean a step away from the ultra fast style Golden State is synonymous with should Horford suit up in California but that might be the needed change to get another title for Curry and co.