The Dubyas are starting their second season out from under Don Nelson, the winningest co..."/> The Dubyas are starting their second season out from under Don Nelson, the winningest co..."/>

Western Conference Preview: The Golden State Warriors–Ready to Exhale


The Dubyas are starting their second season out from under Don Nelson, the winningest coach in NBA history and one of the worst ever. He had two reigns at Golden State. The first was 1988-89 to 1994-95; the second was 2006-07 to 2009-10. Not many coaches (he was also GM most of both reigns) get to destroy a franchise twice.

As is the case with the Hornets and several other teams this year, it’s a new day for the Warriors. This year the Warriors go to war with a legitimate center, Andrew Bogut. They haven’t had one since Nate Thurmond–who retired in 1974!  Don Nelson didn’t like big guys. He was the mad scientist working late at night at the laboratory after everyone’s gone home, even the janitor, trying to prove to the world that a lot of little fast guys who run up and down the court and shoot a lot can win an NBA title. He took down the franchise when it didn’t work—like it ever could—and, like I say, did it twice.

OK, I’m off Nelson—for awhile.

With Bogut, the Warriors are suddenly legit. The man defends, rebounds and plays defense like you would expect, but he also scores, and most big centers don’t. They got him from the Bucks by dealing Monta Ellis, and how often can you deal a fast little gunner for a legit center? The Warriors pulled off something major here. There are lots of teams that loved Bogut but were put off by his history of injuries or weren’t clever enough to make the right deal. Even if Bogut re-injures his back or whatever, it’s still a good move because you’ve got to take chances if you want to get out of a hole.

Klay Thompson took Ellis’ spot at SG and had a terrific rookie season, averaging 12.5 points a game in only 24 minutes. He hit 3s at a 41% clip, much better than Ellis has ever done,  and at 6’7” and 205 pounds, does something Ellis flat-out can’t do—defend.

Stephen Curry has made the transition from off-guard to point guard but there are a couple of concerns. He seems a bit fragile physically and he can’t guard anyone, but then PGs aren’t known for their defense. Staying healthy is the priority for Curry. Backing him up will be Jarrett Jack, a fine combo guard that the Hornets basically gave the W’s for nuthin’. Jack will also be backing up Thompson if Charles Jenkins or Kent Bazemore aren’t up to it. Jack will be the key to keeping the backcourt solid.

David Lee holds forth at power forward. Yeah, he’s not a great defender but he averaged 20 points and 10 boards last year and that counts for something. Carl Landry, a blue-collar guy, the kind that the Warriors usually have a shortage of, will back up Lee. Landry was a great pickup.  He averaged 12.5 points and 5.2 rebounds a game in 24 minutes. Those are almost exactly his lifetime stats. He’s gonna be a fan favorite.

Harrison Barnes might wind up starting at small forward but swingman Brandon Rush will be there to help and probably Richard Jefferson too. Not bad.

After having no centers for so many years, the  Warriors suddenly have several:  After Bogut, Andris Biedrins, who has been so underused and undervalued that it’s hard to assess how he can contribute now; Jeremy Tyler, a straight-outta-high school  6’10”, 260-pound 21-year old; and Festus Ezeli, the Warriors second 1st-round pick (30th overall). The team will probably go with two centers on their 12-man roster. It’ll be interesting to see who becomes Bogut’s main backup.

Golden State had the third worst record in the West (23-43) but are poised to move up. Many teams are rebuilding or re-inventing themselves. With some it’s a continual process. The trick is to remain competitive while you go through the changes. The Ellis-for-Bogut trade could start paying off this year with Golden State moving a rung or two up the ladder.

The Warriors suddenly have something they haven’t had in ages: balance. The Trade, as it might be called one day, made that happen. Their biggest challenge will be to play team defense and to develop a half-court offense.

Warrior fans are everywhere in the Bay Area and, no matter what, the Oracle arena is sold out every night despite the many losses and despite being located in Oakland off 880 near the airport and not at a sexy downtown site.

The front office deserves credit for creating a team that the rest of the league will now have to take seriously. They figure to move past the Kings and the Hornets. In their sights are the T-Wolves (26-40 last year) and the Trailblazers (28-38), part of a pack of teams who were in front of them last year and the year before—the Suns, Rockets, Jazz, T-Wolves and Blazers. That pack stands between the Warriors and the coveted 8th playoff spot. Tough to leap past five teams ahead of you but, for the first time in awhile, it seems possible.