By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
Posted Oct 19 2010 1:42PM
The Warriors will be better on defense and rebounding this season because the front office delivered much-needed roster upgrades, because Keith Smart has made improving the underlined priority of his first season as coach and because the players say it will be different this time.
In other news, the check's in the mail.
Talking about it is one thing and actually doing it is quite another, and they've got a good debate team in Oakland. As one of the starters then and now, Stephen Curry, said, "Every team who's struggled defensively the year before is going to say, 'OK, we're going to focus on defense this year.' We said that last year." So not so fast.
But there has been a noticeable steer toward grit, enough that it constitutes at least a start on the new mission statement. General manager Larry Riley said he came to the conclusion around midseason 2009-10 that he had to ditch the fun-and-gun approach of the Don Nelson years once and for all, eventually to be followed by the decision to ditch Nelson himself. Nellie undoubtedly saw the end coming, the way Riley started stacking power forward on top of power forward.
Ekpe Udoh came in the lottery. David Lee was added via free agency, at the splurging cost of an $80 million contract plus prospect Anthony Randolph going to Knicks along with Kelenna Azubuike and Ronny Turiaf in the sign-and-trade. Even then, with Lee and Udoh added and '07 lottery pick Brandan Wright still trying to push into the rotation, the Warriors signed Louis Amundson, an understated move but a screaming statement. Amundson is the ultimate scrapping energy guys, and the new Golden State wants guys who will dig through rock walls.
Maybe it would have happened no matter what, since the old way of the Warriors treating defense as an imposition of their time wasn't working, or maybe it was the message from incoming majority owner Joe Lacob, who previously had a piece of the Celtics, the team that won a championship by shutting down opponents and getting in everyone's face with the fierce determination of a team with zero stars. Or maybe, in a moment of perfect timing, it was both, Riley knowing he needed to dislodge from the Nelson system coming with the natural transition of the fresh start for the entire organization.
Whatever. There had to be a new direction if the Warriors were ever to be taken serious. They finished 30th in rebounding percentage and 29th in shooting defense in the 26-56 finish of last season, and injuries were obviously a factor with Andris Biedrins missing 49 games as a potential double-digit man on the boards, but they can only cry bad health and inexperience so often. An annual lack of effort on defense is hardly the result of a stream of misfortune.
"What we've done is discussed with Keith that we all understand a need for defensive improvement," Riley said. "Keith's on board with that anyway. If he hadn't ever said that, that would be one the things he would want to start with. We have also have discussed that we don't want to drastically change the style of play. We like a running style of play. But as we addressed things over the summer, we also knew we had to rebound the ball. It was up to me to go and solve that problem. Regardless of who the coach was going to be, we had to improve our rebounding, and that's one of the things that we did."
That's the Lee acquisition most of all, after posting 11.7, 11.7, 8.9 and 10.4 boards a game the last four seasons with New York, and also the dirty work of Amundson and 4.4 rebounds in just 14.8 minutes off the bench in Phoenix. Udoh is expected to be sidelined until midseason after wrist surgery, but his return is projected to bring an additional shot of decent rebounding and the occasional shot block, though his post game on offense is lacking.
That's why it will be different, starting right now. This is why it won't:
Sixty percent of the opening lineup is the same. The backcourt of 6-foot-3 Curry and 6-foot-3 Monta Ellis is the same in the Pacific Division loaded with power guards. The bench is very thin. They are all trying to be different, but not really.
"It's a delicate balance, but it's a balance that has to be done," Smart said. "You can't take away some creativity from guys like Steph Curry and Monta Ellis. You have to give those guys some freedom. That's what good players do. They have some freedom. But at the same time, we have players that fit a desperate need, and that's rebounding and being physical around the basket. We can blend it. We can make it happen."
That's what they say, at least. So not so fast.
THE NEXT MOVE
The Warriors have $14.13 million in expiring contracts (Dan Gadzuric and Vladimir Radmanovic) and can turn them into help if the playoffs seem within reach.
DEFENSE AND REBOUNDING
The typical Warriors will lead to a typical lottery finish if they don't follow through on the planned improvements to stop teams for a change.
CONTINUED DEVELOPMENT FOR CURRY
Stephen Curry going from an impressive rookie season, especially the second half, to the pushing to All-Star caliber would be a huge boost.
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LAST YEAR: 26-56, 4th in Pacific
FINISH: Missed playoffs
2009-10 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2009-10 Stats|
STEPHEN CURRY, GUARD
17.5 PPG | 5.9 APG | 4.5 RPG
Rookie of the Year runner-up continued to turn into one of the prominent young players by making the Team USA roster despite limited experience.
MONTA ELLIS, GUARD
25.5 PPG | 4.0 RPG | 5.3 APG
Coming off a season with career-best numbers in scoring (sixth in the league), steals (second), minutes (first) and assists.
DORELL WRIGHT, FORWARD
7.1 PPG | 3.3 RPG | 1.3 APG
Free-agent acquisition goes from a reserve to the opening lineup after spending the first six seasons of his career in Miami.
DAVID LEE, FORWARD
20.2 PPG | 11.7 RPG | 3.6 APG
Joined Chris Bosh and Zach Randolph as the only players to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in 2009-10.
ANDRIS BIEDRINS, CENTER
5.0 PPG | 7.8 RPG | 1.3 BPG
Warriors need a big bounce-back season from 24 year old who missed 49 games in 2009-10 and 20 in 2008-09.
|Louis Amundson||6-9||225||F||Has carved out a nice career after going undrafted.|
|Charlie Bell||6-3||200||G||to be one of the few experienced backcourt reserves.|
|Rodney Carney||6-7||205||G-F||Heading to his fourth team in as many seasons, including the 76ers twice.|
ADDED: Ekpe Udoh, Jeremy Lin, Dorell Wright, Rodney Carney, Louis Amundson, Charlie Bell, Dan Gadzuric, David Lee
LOST: C.J. Watson, Anthony Tolliver, Corey Maggette, Kelenna Azubuike, Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf, Anthony Morrow
DAVID LEE, FORWARD
He is glad to be away from the craziness of New York basketball, though he will miss the New York life. But Lee has hardly stepped away from the pressure deliver in a big way. A lot of demand goes with an $80-million deal that also cost the Warriors three players.
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