I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement

This summer is hugely important for the Warriors and their desire to become an annual playoff contender. Finally breaking through to the playoffs this year was a huge step for the franchise, but with that success comes the need to not stand pat and assume all the pieces are there. Take, for example, the Clips this year, a team that won a playoff series the year and nearly won another the year before, and then saw it all crumble the next season when they didn’t do anything to get better (picking up Tim Thomas does not count). For a team like the Warriors with obvious holes, something needs to be done, but it’s unclear exactly which pieces will need to be moved to improve the team.

Don Nelson’s possible retirement is the most important issue of the offseason, as everything Mullin and Co. do should depend on whether or not the team employs the same system. Thankfully, Nellie’s comments appear more like the musings of an aging, tired man than someone looking to leave, but the possibility is still there and will linger until he confirms that he’ll be back. I’m going through with this post on the assumption that Nelson comes back to patrol the sidelines for another year.

The Utah series exposed a lack of defense and rebounding from the post positions, two things that observant Warriors fans acknowledged at the beginning of the season. If Mullin wants to make this team a true contender, then this is the place to start. Biedrins provides necessary rebounding and interior defense, but he’s better as a help-defender and championship teams don’t exist with just one above-average rebounder.

Kevin Garnett is the obvious top prize this summer. It’s been well-established that he wants out of Minnesota, and he’s clearly skilled and athletic enough to thrive in an open style. He’s been one of the best rebounders in the league for years and is one of the few post defenders good enough to handle Tim Duncan one-on-one. Phoenix certainly has the pieces to get him, and it’s not like Minnesota wouldn’t want a player like Shawn Marion or Leandro Barbosa.

The Warriors have some enticing options, too, not the least of which are Andris Biedrins and Monta Ellis. At 21, Andris has a lot of years ahead of him to improve his offensive post moves (i.e. developing anything consistent that doesn’t involve backing down and throwing it at the rim), and the necessary bases of athleticism, defense, and rebounding are there. In my first Warriors post for this blog, I called him one of the best five young big men in the association, and guys like that don’t get traded unless it’s worth it. However, trading Biedrins would lessen the impact of getting Garnett in the first place. I realize that Garnett is a much better rebounder than Biedrins ever will be, but the point of getting him is to give us two solid guys on the boards. Trading Biedrins for Garnett gives us one.

Anyone who reads this blog will soon get sick of my love for Monta, so all I can say is that I’d hate to see him go. He’s perfect for Nellieball and he’ll be perfect for everything once he develops a more consistent jumper. The T-Wolves would obviously want him in spite of the fact that all their young guards are undersized. Monta obviously plays an important role on the roster as a scorer and ballhandler when everyone’s healthy, but he’s almost essential because of Baron’s injury history. Having a best player that brittle makes it necessary to have a quality second option at that position, and I wouldn’t be comfortable heading into a season with Sarunas Jasikevicius doing anything other than cheering and constantly getting shown on broadcasts for no reason. Assuming Baron were to get hurt and Monta weren’t around to fill in, I’m pretty sure Garnett’s supporting cast wouldn’t look much better than the one he currently has in Minnesota, and we all know that hasn’t worked out so well lately.

If Mullin doesn’t want to trade the future for the present, then he’s going to have to trade some key veterans, with Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington, and Jason Richardson being the most expendable worthwhile players on the team. I will assume for now that no one wants Jax, which makes sense. As good as he was in the Mavs series, he makes reckless decisions on (e.g. entire Utah series) and off the court. Plus, there’s that whole “possibly going to jail” thing.

Al Harrington is a quality player with versatile skills that work well in Nelson’s system, but his troubles throughout the Mavs series made it clear that he won’t ever be anything much more than what he is now. Simply put, this is the kind of player that ends his career with about five trades in the “transactions” section of his profile.

Which brings me to J-Rich, a player I would hate to see leave but probably needs to if the Warriors want to become a viable contender. Aside from being a terrific athlete and a valuable scorer, he has been extremely loyal to the Bay Area and the franchise, and of all the players he best understood what making the playoffs meant to every fan involved. If we did trade him, I fear it would end up a mistake just because karma would be sure to get back at the entire team, somehow creating another extended playoff drought.

But for all his talent, J-Rich doesn’t seem to be anything more than the third option on a quality team. Despite performing admirably in the playoffs this year, he never put together a string of excellent games. For instance, Utah had no one to guard him consistently, and yet he settled for way too many jumpers when the lane was open. I realize that J-Rich was hurt and never really got into an extended groove this season, but things like that happen, and you don’t pass up Garnett for guys who may never rise above the level of fringe all-star. In my mind, he’s more expendable than both Ellis and Biedrins, and it’s really not that close.

Let’s assume that the Warriors offer J-Rich, Harrington, and another secondary or tertiary player (or a series of draft picks) for Garnett and whatever awful contract Minnesota throws in as punishment. That is not a particularly good trade for the Wolves, and for it to happen Atlanta would likely have to receive a top-3 pick tomorrow, meaning that Phoenix wouldn’t have a lottery pick to deal along with Marion.

I’m not holding my breath for any of that to happen, though, which brings up the question of who else the Warriors can get to play power forward. Darko Milicic’s name has been bandied about quite a bit in the last week or so. As much as I like watching the Serbian Gangster for reasons unrelated to his pure worth as a basketball player (namely, to see if he’ll ever become anything approaching what everyone said he would be), he is not the kind of guy you trade Jason Richardson for. Richardson, for all his faults, led the Warriors in scoring not too long ago, and Darko averaged 8 ppg and 5 rpg coming off the bench this year—it’s not like he’s ready to take the league by storm. The Magic would probably have to throw in some more players or picks for this to work, but I would not be pleased about this trade if Darko were the main piece.

Mullin has said that he will not explore trading Richardson, but I expect that he would be willing to part with him if a Garnett deal depended on it. Still, it’s not worth trading a team pillar just for the sake of it, and all indications point to that not being the team’s preferred course of action.

It is unclear which big men will be available on the free agent market, but someone as talented as Kevin Garnett or Jermaine O’Neal cannot be had without giving up some solid players. I just hope Mullin and Nelson don’t sell off the future in getting there.

Next time: free agency and the draft.

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