Time to make a move? Warriors head into Dallas with roster holes, but no easy fixes
Golden State takes on the Dallas Mavericks, they'll need a few tricks to pull out a win
When Kevon Looney rolled his ankle in the second quarter of the Golden State Warriors 107-111 loss to the Boston Celtics, a collective groan rose from the throats and minds of Dub Nation. Another injury? To the team’s last standing big man? Of course.
It puts the Warriors on their heels, again. With a roster limited by long term impacts of chasing titles, and some imperfect choices that just didn’t work out, Golden State finds itself staring at a bare cupboard. And it’s time to get creative.
The Dallas Mavericks are struggling through some roster pains of their own. With large swaths of their team impacted by Covid, they’ve only managed one game this season with their full lineup available: their last game - a narrow one-point loss to the Phoenix Suns.
[Note: this was written prior to the Mavs win on Wednesday over the Atlanta Hawks]
With their roster finally assembled, this is a Mavericks team on the rise.
A Warriors roster without any centers will have to somehow figure out how to cover Kristaps Porzingis.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (11-10) at Dallas Mavericks (9-13)
WHEN: Thursday February 4th, 2021 // 4:30 pm PST <— early!
WATCH: TNT; NBCSBA
The team’s 11-10 record has them slotted into the 9th place in a crowded Western Conference, on the edge of missing the playoffs (though to be fair, there’s still a lot of season left).
I don’t claim to have all (or even most) of the answers. So rather than dragging out my soap box and proselytizing, I’m going to present both sides of the debate here for your consideration.
First up, the pro-trade side:
If it won’t bend enough, you have to break it
The argument in support of roster upheaval is fairly well trodden. Stephen Curry deserves more help on the basketball court. An all-time talent, Curry is currently putting his value on full display by carrying a flawed roster into relevance. If you can’t ask for more from Curry, then it’s clear that improvement has to be unearthed from somewhere else.
The roster, as currently constructed may have some fatal design flaws. Most notably, a lack of efficient offensive creators besides Curry, but the recent string of injuries to James Wiseman and Kevon Looney have now also exposed a thin frontcourt rotation.
Golden State has assets, from intriguing young center James Wiseman, to a highly coveted draft asset in the upcoming draft. The question is, as always, “what can you get for it?”
The Lonzo Ball for Kelly Oubre trade is a popular idea, but reportedly, the conversation was initiated by the Pelicans and didn’t go anywhere. I don’t have any inside sources, but to me, this means that the Pelicans aren’t looking for a straight up swap here. And that’s the meat of the issue: the cost associated with a marginal upgrade may be higher than the actual improvement is worth.
Still, the Warriors have been -14.4 points worse per 100 possessions with Oubre on court, a mark that places his impact in the bottom 2% of players at his position. And even next to Curry, Oubre has had a negative impact.
Kerr and the Warriors believe that Oubre, still recovering from a knee surgery last year, will eventually round into form. But for a trade centered on Oubre to work, the front office will have to sell this vision of an improving Oubre to some other team. Right now, he’s almost certainly viewed as a negative value asset.
But he’s fungible. Quick hands and an agile body with a long wingspan will always hold value in today’s NBA, so it’s an option, for sure. And looking at the on/off impact numbers, this may be a case of addition through subtraction.
Beyond that, the Warriors aren’t exactly swimming in good players that they’d like to get rid of. Andrew Wiggins has redeemed his value a bit, but trading him away without returning an equally adept wing defender is going to be a tough sell, and one that would almost certainly require some additional draft considerations.
In the NBA, there are always deals to be made, but the Warriors will have to see a deal they really like, because any meaningful acquisition is going to pull away a good player, or draft asset…which bring us to the no-trade side of the debate.
“Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt” - the Warriors’ path requires patience
In the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, there’s a simple sentiment centering on the usefulness of not overdoing something. Called Wu Wei, it’s translated simply as ‘effortless action’ or ‘actionless action’ and is really about doing what you need to, but stopping before whatever you are doing becomes useless or harmful.
This is why the Warriors struggled against benching Wiseman, and are still holding on to Kelly Oubre as a starter; it’s also why I don’t think the team is likely to spin out a bunch of assets in exchange for an expiring player like PJ Tucker or Lonzo Ball. There’s a long term approach in play here.
Right now, the Warriors are smashing the little guys. The team holds a 7-1 record against sub-.500 teams. It doesn’t take an advanced math degree to work out the other, less awesome end of the Warriors’ 11-10 record.
Sometimes, a recipe can be ruined by over-tinkering.
Sometimes, you’ve got to lean back, and let things develop. The Warriors have a bridge plan: let Wiseman develop, put Klay Thompson back alongside his Splash Brother, and Wiggins; and then roll the dice with Wiseman’s development curve and whatever else you can find with next year’s draft.
Andrew Wiggins is looking suddenly elite on defense, and as he settles into his role within the Warriors system, it’s like a par-baked pizza ready to be served up to the NBA alongside Klay Thompson’s return next season.
Golden State absolutely smashed the Detroit Pistons in the team’s last win, boasting a single-game offensive rating of 123.7 and a Defensive rating: 89.5. That’s the sort of developmental takeaway that doesn’t mean much for a championship team - beating a bad team - but for a Warriors team trying to develop a new identity, it’s progress.
Now, the question of how meaningful that progress will be is what brings us full circle back to tonight’s game against the Dallas Mavericks.
Even if the Warriors bring in another player, that player will be someone that’s probably not currently playing in the NBA
Plus, there’s this guy waiting in the wings:
In the end, the Warriors could free up a spot by cutting someone like Mulder or Smiley, but because of the Covid-related time lag, even an immediate move wouldn’t be on court before Looney and Wiseman were back from injury.
Even short handed, the Warriors almost beat a very solid Celtics team. The Mavericks are five games below .500, have lost their last six games, and nine of their last eleven. This is a very beatable Mavs squad, even without a center.
Wiggins has a bounce back game, and continues his stellar defense. Both Wiggins and Green will need to be on their A-game, as the Mavericks run deep (5 players averaging double-digit scoring per game) - but I think the Warriors are up for it.
Dubs win a close one, 114-112.