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NBA AM: Who Gets Carmelo Anthony?

A look at the potential suitors for Carmelo Anthony this summer … Which international prospects will pull out of the 2014 NBA Draft?

Steve Kyler



Carmelo Has Options:  As the 2014 NBA Finals draws to a close and the San Antonio Spurs hoist their fifth championship in the Tim Duncan era, all eyes in the NBA will now shift to the 2014 NBA Draft next week in Brooklyn and to free agency the following week in July. No bigger name tops the would-be free agent list than New York’s Carmelo Anthony, and it seems far more likely than not that he’ll follow through with his season long pledge and opt-out of the remaining $23.41 million left on his deal.

There have already been reports suggesting that Carmelo has eyes for the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets, both win-now franchises, however those will not be the only teams to make a pass at him. While both grab headlines, both have their own issues in trying to obtain Carmelo at a price that makes sense.

Before we get into which teams make the most sense, it would be smart to re-visit what the Collective Bargaining Agreement will allow Carmelo to re-sign for.

Carmelo is eligible for a starting salary worth 105 percent of his last contract year, so that’s $22.5 million regardless of where he signs. If he remains in New York, they can give him higher annual raises and a guaranteed fifth year for a total package worth just north of a $129 million. If Carmelo leaves New York, even via a sign-and-trade, the best he can hope for is a four-year deal worth roughly $90 million.

So who are the suitors?

Chicago Bulls:  The Bulls are considered a frontrunner mainly because they have a lot of parts in place and a head coach that could maximize Carmelo’s bid for a championship. Keep in mind that as much as he may have eyes for Chicago, the Bulls are not nearly as ready to rip apart their team to run after Carmelo with cap space. There is real interest on the Bulls part, but it has to be at the right price and under the right structure. Currently the Bulls have $63.95 million in guaranteed salaries for next season, giving them no cap space to pursue Carmelo. In order to get in the game without a sign-and-trade, the Bulls would have to use their Amnesty roster cut on Carlos Boozer’s remaining $16.8 million salary, find “giveaway” trades for both Taj Gibson and Mike Dunleavy Jr. and not take any money back in return.

That’s not exactly palatable to the Bulls, even for a talent like Carmelo. The Bulls would prefer a sign-and-trade that offloads Boozer’s cash and allows them to keep Gibson. The Bulls are sitting on four young assets: Last year’s first round pick Tony Snell, third year swing man Jimmy Butler and two first round picks this year.

Under the current cap rules a deal of Boozer, Dunleavy, Butler and the draft rights to one of the first round picks is more than enough. The question because would New York take that back as compensation for Carmelo if he declares that he’ll walk to another team for nothing?

The Bulls have been here before in 2010, where they made moves, ate contracts and traded away assets hoping to get gems from the 2010 free agent class only to be left alone at the altar. They are not overly eager to repeat that process with Carmelo. So its unlikely the Bulls start shifting money, until they sit with him in July.

There is interest, but as one source close to the Bulls process put it, it’s not unlimited interest; it has to fit into a bigger plan to be workable.

Houston Rockets:  The Rockets are in a similar situation with Chicago, in that they will not have the free cap space to sign Carmelo outright. They are currently sitting on $56.98 million in salary commitments for next season, meaning they too won’t have anything close to the cash needed to sign him without either a sign and trade or a secondary deal that offloads cap cash.

The belief is that Houston would gladly shed the expiring contracts of both Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin in order to clear the cap space to get Carmelo. The wrinkle with both is how their deals are structured. Both were acquired using the CBA’s poison pill provision, which allowed the Rockets to offer massively back loaded years in order to pry them away from their respective teams. Both players have a cap value of $9.374 million next season, but are owed more than $15 million in actual cash payments. Moving that kind of money in the NBA is not easy, especially if you can’t take any of it back in trade.

This is where Houston’s draft pick this year and current roster assets like Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones are going to play a role.

Last year the Golden State Warriors needed to offload a similar amount of contracts and found a partner in the Utah Jazz, who extracted two future first round picks and three second round picks for eating Golden State’s bad money.

Houston is facing something similar to clear Asik and Lin, simply because teams know why they want to move them and can up the asking price on their cap space.

The Rockets are more than interested in obtaining Carmelo and doing it via a straight sign-and-trade deal would be more advantageous. However, if they have to go the liquidate to get cap space route they can, it might become harder and more expensive.

Given the bar that Golden State established on their cash dump, there may be a point in which that’s too much for give for Carmelo.

Dallas Mavericks:  The Mavericks do not get mentioned, but they will be very much involved in the Carmelo circus. The Mavericks have just $28.267 million in cap commits, and star forward Dirk Nowitzki has pledged to work with the team to help them secure more talent, offering to take less cash in his next deal to get more help.

Assuming Nowitzki follows the path laid by Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, a new deal in the $10-$12 million per year range gives the Mavs something in the neighborhood of $22.7 million in cap space to work with.

The Mavs are one of the few teams that could present a $20 million per year offer out right, without needing to dump their roster to do it. The Mavs do have some pending free agents in Vince Carter and Shawn Marion they would like to bring back, so Carmelo would need to leave a little bit of cash on the table to make that happen, but if getting a major money deal matters (it always does) the Mavs can make it happen without an elaborate re-arranging of their cap or liquidating young guys or future draft assets to do it.

The Mavericks do present a win-now situation with established players, a proven coach and an owner that has proven he’ll go “all-in” to win.

Don’t count out Dallas.

Miami HEAT:  Fresh off their Finals loss, there has been a lot of doom and gloom about the HEAT. The truth of the situation is they were still the best team in the East. They made it to four straight NBA Finals and they are well situated going forward to re-shape the roster to continue to compete.

Miami’s “Big Three” all have similarly constructed contracts. They can all opt-out this summer or next summer and their deals expire in 2016.

As things stand today, the HEAT have just one fully guaranteed contract for next season: Norris Cole’s worth $2.03 million. Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem both have player options for next season worth $1.44 million and $4.62 million respectively.

On the surface it does not look like Miami would have a shot at Carmelo given how much Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade all make, however when you boil it down to what’s owed to them, its gets easier to rationalize.

Currently all three have two years and $42 million remaining on their deals. Like Carmelo, each could opt out and sign new deals in the four to five year range worth anywhere from $90 million to $129 million.

Would all three trade their remaining two years and $42 million for four years and $80 million? If they would the HEAT are knocking on $12-$13 million in cap space. If Udonis Haslem trades his final year and $4.62 million for a two or three year deal in the $2 million per year range, the HEAT’s cap number comes up $2 million. If any of the Big Three take less money, there becomes more cash to pursue Carmelo.

It’s far more likely that Miami pursues lower priced free agents, but the HEAT have the means to get to the table with Carmelo. It really just boils down to money and whether all four guys would agree to less than market value to keep the NBA Finals training rolling.

LA Lakers:  The LA Lakers are not out of the discussion with Carmelo, they just are not front and center for a couple of reasons. Carmelo by himself doesn’t do much for the Lakers, howvere if Carmelo wants to bring a friend or two along for the ride the Lakers would gladly entertain that.

The Lakers are sitting on three guaranteed contracts next season – Kobe Bryant’s $23.5 million, Steve Nash’s $9.7 million and Robert Sacre’s $915,000. Nick Young has a player option that he is not exercising and the Lakers have a few million likely to be tied up in retaining Kendall Marshall, their lottery pick and a qualifying offer to Kent Bazemore. All in the Lakers are looking at roughly $24 million in usable cap space, which is more than enough to land Carmelo outright from the Knicks.

The problem is a core of Bryant, Carmelo and Nash might win the lottery next year, but it’s not winning a championship and the Lakers know it.

The Lakers are expected to meet with Carmelo, but it is unlikely that Carmelo is a Laker next year.

New York Knicks:  Lastly the home team. Carmelo’s heart is in New York. Everyone around his says that as an opening comment when talking about his situation. The problem is as much as Carmelo loves playing in New York, he is not sold that he can win a championship there.

The Knicks meet with him last week and presented their plan, and while Carmelo likes Phil Jackson and isn’t concerned about Derek Fisher as head coach, he is concerned that the Knicks do not seem to have a plan to overhaul the roster and get the Knicks into the discussion next season. Waiting for 2015 isn’t exactly what Carmelo has in mind.

The warning shot has been fired. If you don’t think that the reports that leaked after Carmelo’s meeting with the Knicks were not deliberate and strategic, you are crazy. Carmelo’s camp put it out there for a reason: ‘Fix this thing now or we are walking somewhere else.’

Your move Phil.

The Knicks have the money to offer Carmelo, and they are more than prepared to max him out to keep him in New York for the balance of his playing career. So money, as much as it’s been talked about, is not a problem. Not with the salary cap expected to eclipse $80 million over the next five years.

The problem for the Knicks is they can’t just offload enough of the roster junk without ripping the team down to the studs and starting over gradually. That’s not what Carmelo wanted to hear.

The Knicks leveraged their future to get to this point, and while it’s easy to say ‘give us 16 months to fix some things’, Carmelo wanted the fix yesterday and that is the problem.

The Knicks are not at all out of the discussion on Carmelo, they are just going to have to re-make the team fairly aggressively before July 5 and that may not be possible.

At the end of the day the Knicks can offer the most guaranteed money. They can keep Carmelo in one of the biggest markets in the NBA and they present the chance to build a roster around him.

What’s unclear is if that’s going to eventually be enough to keep him, especially considering the hoops others that would like him would have to jump through.

Moving cap money is not at all easy in the NBA, and that’s the one thing that’s holding the Knicks back, but also what could help them keep Carmelo where he is as many of the would-be suitors have the same problems.

Get the 2014 NBA Draft Issue of Basketball Insiders Magazine. The magazine can be purchased in three ways: You can buy it on the web, and the magazine will work on all devices. | You can buy it from the iTunes app store (for Apple users) | You can buy it from the Google Play store (for Android users). Get yours today!

Porzingis Out, Nurkic Staying In?:  On the NBA Draft front, today is the day for early entry players to withdraw from the NBA Draft. This usually only impacts International players as the NCAA modified their rule some time ago, making today’s deadline more about International guys, although domestic players theoretically could pull out and play Internationally or the D-League and take another crack at the draft next year.

Two notable players have made decisions on this front with 18-year old Kristaps Porzingis opting to pull out of the draft, despite what’s believed to be a firm commitment from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Porzingis has a sizable, but not unreasonable, buyout with his current contract that would have cost him $1.6 million to get free of. Without a lottery level guarantee it seems Kristaps is opting to return aboard and see what next year brings.

The other notable is big man Jusuf Nurkic, who is opting to stay in the draft. The 6’11 Nurkic is considered one of the top center prospects in this draft, although many teams are split on his NBA potential. Some teams are very high on him; some view him significantly lower. Nurkic has a nominal buyout in his deal, which means he likely will be on a NBA roster next season, assuming he is drafted in the 12-25 range most project him to be taken.

Players have until 5pm EST to notify the NBA in writing that they would like to withdraw.

Basketball Insiders will drop a new Mock Draft on Wednesday, reflecting the draft after all of the players withdraw.

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.


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Emeka Okafor Impacting 2018 Western Conference Playoff Race

Sidelined for several years with a neck injury, Emeka Okafor is back in the NBA and helping the Pelicans fight for a playoff seed.

Jesse Blancarte



When DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles tendon, most people in and around the league assumed the New Orleans Pelicans would eventually fall out of the Western Conference Playoff race. It was a fair assumption. In 48 games this season, Cousins averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks while shooting 47 percent from the field and 35.4 percent from beyond the arc.

Anthony Davis and the Pelicans had other plans. Davis put the team on his shoulders, played at an elite level and, arguably, has forced his way into the MVP race. Behind Davis’ efforts, the Pelicans are currently 39-29, have won 7 of their last 10 games and hold the sixth seed in the Western Conference.

While Davis has been carrying the team since the loss of Cousins, he has received significant help from his teammates, including Emeka Okafor.

More recent NBA fans may be less familiar with Okafor since he has been out of the league since the end of the 2012-13 season. For context, in Okafor’s last season, David Lee led the league in double-doubles, Luol Deng led the league in minutes per game and Joakim Noah made the NBA All-Defensive First Team. However, Okafor entered the NBA with a lot of excited and expectations. He was drafted second overall, right behind Dwight Howard. Okafor played in 9 relatively successful NBA seasons until being sidelined indefinitely with a herniated disc in his neck prior to the start of the 2013-14 season.

Okafor was medically cleared to play in May of last year and played in five preseason games with the Philadelphia 76ers but was ultimately waived in October, prior to the start of the regular season. However, with the injury to Cousins, the Pelicans were in need of help at the center position and signed Okafor to a 10-day contract. Okafor earned a second 10-day contract and ultimately landed a contract for the rest of this season.

Okafor has played in 14 games so far for the Pelicans has is receiving limited playing time thus far. Despite the lack of playing time, Okafor is making his presence felt when he is on the court. Known as a defensive specialist, Okafor has provided some much needed rim protection and has rebounded effectively as well.

He has been [helpful] since the day he got here,” Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said about Okafor after New Orleans’ recent victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. “I think his rim protection has been great. But, he’s capable of making a little jump shot and you can see that today. But just having him in there, his presence there has been great.”

Okafor has never been known as an elite offensive player, but he did average 15.1 points per game in his rookie season and has shown glimpses of an improved jump shot in his limited run with the Pelicans.

“You know, I’m happy it’s falling,” Okafor said after he helped seal the victory over the Clippers. “Kept in my back pocket. I was invoked to use it, so figured I’d dust it off and show it.”

Okafor was then asked if he has any other moves in his back pocket that he hasn’t displayed so far this season.

“A little bit. I don’t want to give it all,” Okafor told Basketball Insiders. “There’s a couple shots still. But we’ll see what opportunities unveil themselves coming forward.”

Okafor will never have the elite offensive skill set that Cousins has but his overall contributions have had a positive impact for a New Orleans squad that was desperate for additional production after Cousin’s Achilles tear.

“It’s impossible to replace a guy that was playing at an MVP level,” Gentry said recently. “For us, Emeka’s giving us something that we desperately missed with Cousins. The same thing with Niko. Niko’s given us something as far as spacing the floor. Between those guys, they’ve done the best they could to fill in for that. But we didn’t expect anyone to fill in and replace what Cousins was doing for us.”

Okafor is currently averaging 6.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting 54.5 percent from the field. While his averages don’t jump off the page, it should be noted that his per minute production is surprisingly impressive. Per 36 minutes, Okafor is averaging 13.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. Those numbers are nearly identical to his averages from the 2012-13 season, though he is averaging twice as many blocks (up from 1.4).

The Pelicans have exceeded expectations and currently are ahead of teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers in the extremely tight Western Conference Playoff race. Okafor is doing more than could have reasonably been expected when he first signed with the Pelicans, though he would be the first person to pass the credit toward Anthony Davis.

When asked about Davis’ recent play, Okafor enthusiastically heaped praise toward his superstar teammate.

“It’s to the point where it’s like, ‘Alright, he has 40 doesn’t he?’ It’s impressive,” Okafor said about Davis. But it’s becoming so commonplace now.

He’s just an impressive individual. He gives it all. He’s relentless. And then off the court too, he’s a very, very nice kid. He really takes the leadership role seriously. I’m even more impressed with that part.”

There is still plenty of regular season basketball to be played and even a two-game losing streak can drastic consequences. But the Pelicans have proved to be very resilient and Okafor is confident in the team’s potential and outlook.

“I think we’re all hitting a good grove here and we’re playing very good basketball, said Okafor.”

Whether the Pelicans make the playoffs or not, it’s great to see Okafor back in the NBA and playing meaningful minutes for a team in the playoff race.

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NBA Daily: Nothing’s Promised, Not Even For The Warriors

The Warriors are wounded, and with Chris Paul, the Rockets may be equipped to take advantage.

Moke Hamilton



The Warriors are wounded, and for those that thought their waltzing into a four consecutive NBA Finals was a given, the Houston Rockets may have other ideas. Especially when one considers that the beloved Dubs are trying to buck history.

Steph Curry has ankle problems, Klay has a fractured thumb and Kevin Durant—the most recent of the team’s lynchpins to find himself on the disabled list—has a rib injury.

Sure, the Dubs might shake off their injuries and find themselves at or near 100 percent once the playoffs begin, but seldom do teams in the NBA get healthier as the year progresses.

Winning in the NBA is difficult. In order to take all the marbles, teams need a bunch of different ingredients, chief among them are good fortune and health. And in many ways, the two are entwined.

Simply put: the human body isn’t built to play as often and as hard as NBA players do. Those that we recognize as being among the greatest ever—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James among them—had one thing in common. They were all exceptionally durable.

Over the years, we’ve seen attrition and fragility cost the likes of Anfernee Hardaway, Yao Ming and Derrick Rose what seemed to be careers full of accolades and accomplishments. And the simple truth is that you never know which player, players or teams will be next to be undercut by injuries and progressive fatigue.

Just to keep things in perspective, the Warriors are attempting to become just the fifth team since 1970 to win at least three NBA championships in a four-year span.

The Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Finals in 1985, 1987 and 1988 before Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls completed their three-peat from 1991-93. The Bulls would again do the same between 1996 and 1998, and Shaquille O’Neal and his Los Angeles Lakers accomplished the same from 2000 to 2002.

There are reasons why so few teams have been able to win as frequently as the Lakers and Bulls have, and health is certainly one of them. That’s especially interesting to note considering the fact that the Warriors may have been champions in 2016 had they had their team at full strength. Mind you, both Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala were severely limited in their abilities, while Andrew Bogut missed the fateful and decisive Game 6 and Game 7 of those Finals with injuries to his left leg.

At the end of the day, injuries are a part of the game. The best teams are often able to overcome them, while the luckiest teams often don’t have to deal with them. To this point, the Warriors have been both the best and incredibly lucky, but at a certain point, the sheer volume of basketball games is likely to have an adverse effect on at least a few members of the team.

We may be seeing that now.

En route to winning the 2015 NBA Finals, the Warriors turned in a playoff record of 16-5. In 2016, they were 15-9 and in 2017, they were 16-1. In total, the 62 playoff games would have worn a bit of tread off of their collective tires, just as their 73-9 regular season record may have.  In becoming a historically great team, the Warriors have expending the energy necessary of a team wishing to remain a contender, and that’s not easy.

As an aside, those that understand the difficulty in competing at a high level every single night are the ones who rightfully give LeBron James the respect he’s due for even having the opportunity to play into June eight consecutive years. Win or lose, in terms of consistent effort and constant production, James has shown as things we’ve never seen before.

Today, it’s fair to wonder whether the Warriors have that same capability.

We’ll find out in short order.

* * * * * *

As the Houston Rockets appear headed toward ending the Warriors’ regular season reign atop the Western Conference, there’s something awfully coincidental about the fact that the team seems to have taken the next step after the addition of Chris Paul.

Paul knows a thing or two about attrition and how unlucky bouts with injuries at inopportune times can cost a team everything. As much as anything else, it probably has something to do with why Paul continues to believe in the ability of the Rockets to achieve immortality.

On the first night of the regular season, mind you, in one horrific moment, Gordon Hayward and the Boston Celtics reminded us that on any given play, the outlook of an entire season—and perhaps, even a career—can change.

A twisted knee here, a sprained ankle there, and who knows?

With just over three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Warriors—the team that everyone knew would win the Western Conference again this season—has some concerns. Their primary weapons are hurting, their chances of securing home court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs are all but nil and their road to the Finals may end up being more difficult than they could have possibly imagined.

If the season ended today and the seeds held, the Warriors would draw the San Antonio Spurs in the first round and the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round before squaring off against the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals.

Of all teams, the Spurs are probably the last team the Warriors would want to see in the playoffs, much less the first round. While the outcome of that series would be determined by the health of Kawhi Leonard, there’s no doubt that Gregg Popovich would at least be able to effectively game plan for Golden State.

While the Blazers might not provide incredible resistance to the Warriors, the Oklahoma City Thunder will enter play on March 18 just two games behind the Blazers for the third seed out West. With the two teams squaring off against one another on March 25, it’s possible for Russell Westbrook and his crew having the opportunity to square off against the Dubs in the playoffs.

For Golden State, their path to the Finals having to go through San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Houston would absolutely be a worst case scenario. The only thing that could make it even more terrible for Steve Kerr would be having to do it with a platoon that was less than 100 percent.

Funny. In yet another season where everyone thought that it was the Warriors and everyone else, there are quite a few questions facing the defending champs heading into the final few weeks of the regular season.

Indeed, the Warriors are wounded. And whether they can be nursed back up to full strength is perhaps the most interesting thing to watch as the calendar turns to April and playoff basketball draws nearer.

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NBA Daily: The Golden State Warriors Need to Enter Rest Mode

With a bevy of injuries to their stars, the Golden State Warriors should rest up the remainder of the regular season to avoid any playoff letdowns.

Dennis Chambers



After a three-year-long run of dominating the NBA, the Golden State Warriors are showing some cracks in their armor.

Granted, those cracks aren’t a result of a botched system or poor play, but rather the injury bug biting the team in full force as they come down the regular season stretch.

First, it was Steph Curry and the ankle that’s bothered him all season — and for most of his career — when he tweaked it yet again on March 8 against the San Antonio Spurs. Golden State announced he would miss at least four games. Then it was Klay Thompson, who fractured his thumb three days later against the Minnesota Timberwolves — he’ll miss at least two weeks.

Now it’s Kevin Durant. Last year’s Finals MVP suffered an incomplete rib cartilage fracture and was ruled out of Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings. Durant is expected to be sidelined for at least two weeks. The Warriors would go on to lose that contest 95-93.

In about two weeks time, the Warriors went from having one of the most formidable offenses and scoring trios in the entire league, to having  Quinn Cook and Nick Young logging starter minutes.

Luckily for the Warriors, they’ve built up a big enough lead in the standings to achieve a 52-17 record, good for second place in the Western Conference. But the issue for the remainder of the season now becomes how healthy will the Warriors be come playoff time?

Curry and Durant have injury histories. Curry particularly has been bothered by this ankle since he entered the league. Without either of them, the Warriors — while still incredibly talented — will be on a completely even playing field with the Houston Rockets, and possibly other teams in the gauntlet that will be the Western Conference playoffs.

The bigger issue on top of the pending injury concerns becomes whether the Warriors should just pack it in for the rest of the regular season, and regroup for another expected title run.

Steve Kerr doesn’t seem to be thinking that way, however.

“All these injuries seem to be temporary,” Kerr told reporters. “A couple weeks, a week, two weeks – whatever. We’re in good shape. We’ve just got to survive this next slate of games and hopefully, start getting guys back and get rolling again for the playoffs.”

That’s true. None of the aforementioned injuries seem to be anything more serious than a few weeks of rest and relaxation. But that’s assuming the best case scenario for these players.

Should we assume that the Warriors are without their scoring trio for the next couple of weeks as their health updates have indicated, that would put their return roughly around April 1. At that time, Golden State would have six games remaining on their schedule. Four coming against playoff teams (Oklahoma City, Indiana, New Orleans, and Utah) with the other two games against Phoenix.

After missing the last few weeks on the court, with injuries that most likely won’t be at 100 percent, tossing their most valuable contributors back into the fray against a slate of playoff teams probably isn’t the smartest idea.

At this point, the Warriors postseason position is locked up. They likely won’t take the top seed away from Houston, and their lead is big enough to keep their second seed intact regardless of who’s on the court. The only thing left now is the determining who Golden State will play in the first round. With the revolving carousel that is the playoff standings out West, that’s anybody’s guess right now.

The only thing that’s certain is whichever team coming into Oracle Arena for that first round will be battle tested and talented based off of the dogfight they had to survive just to make the playoffs. The last thing the Warriors need to be is a banged up in a postseason with their first opponent smelling blood in the water.

In all likelihood, the Warriors — should everything go according to plan — will play the Houston Rockets for a chance to return to their fourth straight NBA Finals. Only this time, a potential Game 7 won’t be at Oracle Arena. It will be in downtown Houston, at the Toyota Center.

An advantage as big as the Warriors’ homecourt can never be understated. Operating in a do-or-die situation away from home will be newfound territory for this bunch. Regardless of talent or team success, at that point, it’s anybody’s game.

It won’t be easy for the Golden State Warriors as they try to extend their dynasty’s reign. This might be their most difficult year yet.

Durant, in his own words, can’t even laugh right now without feeling pain. The league’s only unanimous MVP is operating on one and a half ankles, and the team’s second Splash Brother has an injury on his shooting hand.

Resting up the team’s stars should be the team’s top priority right now, at risk of entering the postseason hobbled. Track record means nothing if the Warriors don’t have their full arsenal at disposal when the games matter most.

Hey, a 16-seed finally won a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. Anything is possible on a basketball court, and the Warriors should do everything possible to ensure they’re not the next major upset candidate in line.

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