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NBA PM: Warriors Face Important Roster Decisions

The Warriors deserve to celebrate now, but they’ll have to make big roster decisions soon.

Cody Taylor

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Warriors Face Important Roster Decisions

It hasn’t even been 24 hours since the Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games to win the NBA championship.

The feeling of winning the championship is still fresh on everybody’s mind. The feeling is so fresh that talk show hosts are still dissecting last night’s game. The smell of champagne may still be present throughout Quicken Loans Arena. Fans are still in shock that their 40-year championship drought is over and players are still nursing their celebratory hangovers.

Once the high of winning the NBA championship wears off, the Warriors will face some tough decisions regarding their roster. Those decisions won’t be made today. They won’t be made tomorrow. But they’ll be made soon. That’s the nature of basketball as a business. The window for teams to legitimately compete for championships is so small, teams must take advantage of their opportunities as much as they can. Free agency, trades and injuries are just a few things that can change the landscape of a team in the blink of an eye.

Players know things can change quickly. Draymond Green said months ago that he knows that this team may not be the same.

“It’s easy to capitalize on this, when you enjoy being around the people you’re around every day,” Green said back in March. “This is a special group, a special bond, so let’s make the best of it, because this team will probably never be together again. That’s just the nature of this business. One addition, one subtraction, and the team isn’t together no more. So take advantage of it while you’ve got it because I’m sure this team will never be together again.”

Green was likely accurate in his statement in March. The Warriors are currently looking at a payroll in the neighborhood of $77.5 million for 2015-16 and that number only counts the qualifying offer of $2,725,003 for Green as he prepares to hit restricted free agency. The team already has eight contracts guaranteed for next season, but will face important decisions on other role players over the summer. The projected cap number for next year is estimated at $67.1 million so the team doesn’t figure to have any cap room to work with as things are currently constructed.

Green tops the list of priorities for the Warriors this offseason. His rise from a role player averaging around 20 minutes a game to a starter playing 31 minutes per game has been well-documented. Green proved this season that he’s more than a decorated college player from Michigan State that was drafted in the second round. As he infamously yelled out to his mother last night after clinching the championship, “Mom, they told me I can’t play in this league!”

Green averaged just 6.2 points and five rebounds per game last season before getting an increased role this season after an early hamstring injury to David Lee in the preseason. He went on to average 11.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game this year and increased those numbers to 13.7 points, 10.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game over the Warriors’ run in the postseason. He finished runner-up in both the Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player awards, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team and even threw in a triple-double last night against the Cavaliers to cap off the best year of his young career.

Much of the discussion all season long was whether Green was deserving of a max contract. It’s safe to say that Green has proven that he’s worthy of such a contract. The only question now becomes if he’ll ultimately sign that contract with the Warriors or another team in need of a player of his caliber. Warriors general manager Bob Myers hinted yesterday prior to Game 6 that the team will retain Green (as they can match any offer he receives, since he’s restricted), but a promise like that isn’t a guarantee and crazier things have happened.

Green will likely meet with prospective teams during the free agency process and listen to their presentations. People across all professions always want to hear how much they’re valued and appreciated and NBA players are no different. They want to enjoy the free agency process and be wooed by teams and Green has certainly earned that right. But at the end of the day, it’ll rest squarely on the Warriors and whether or not they want to match a max deal that’ll pay Green roughly $16.5 million next season. Bringing Green back would almost certainly guarantee that the team will be into the luxury tax next season, which is projected to be around $81.6 million.

One way to help alleviate some cap space would be by finding a suitor for the $15,493,680 owed to David Lee next season. Lee was the team’s starting power forward at the start of the year before suffering that hamstring injury in the preseason. He averaged 18.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game last season before those numbers slipped to 7.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game in a limited role this season.

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr made the conscious decision to go smaller in Game 3 and opted to insert Lee into the game. Lee responded by scoring 11 points in Game 3 and nine points in Game 4 and helped completely alter the series. Lee remained a professional throughout the entire season and into the playoffs as his playing time dwindled, but he’s even admitted that his time may be up at Golden State. Lee has shown that he can still be a capable contributor for teams, and Golden State will almost certainly try to trade him at some point during the offseason.

Moving down the roster, the Warriors will face a decision on Harrison Barnes. Although his deal for next season is guaranteed, Barnes figures to become a priority this offseason as he’ll be up for a contract extension on his current rookie deal. The Warriors can avoid Barnes hitting restricted free agency next summer if they can extend him by October 31. Barnes found himself in the starting lineup when Kerr took over and he’s improved as a result. He’s become a key contributor in the offense and came up big multiple times for the Warriors during the playoffs and could be in for a big pay day as a result.

Next up on the list is seven-year veteran Marreese Speights. The team holds a $3,815,000 option on his contract and could opt to bring him back next season. Speights averaged a career-high 10.4 points per game last season while adding 4.3 rebounds a game. Given his ability to score off of the bench, the team may elect to keep him given the small price tag attached to him.

Leandro Barbosa will become a free agent this summer and likely command a higher salary than the $915,243 he made this season. He came up huge for the Warriors on several different occasions during the playoffs, most recently in Game 5 when he scored 13 points in a 104-91 win.

Brandon Rush holds a $1,270,964 player option for next season while Ognjen Kuzmic and Justin Holiday are restricted free agents. While all these players may not represent a huge chunk of production, they all surfaced in big ways throughout the season, which added to their depth on the bench.

Despite these upcoming decisions, the Warriors will still be in pretty good shape next season. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Barnes and Festus Ezeli at the very least are all back next season, but some key role players may not be and their depth could change.

The team will be able to celebrate their championship some before having to deal with these issues. They’ll be celebrated in the Bay area for the next several days and will receive a proper party at some point, but big roster decisions loom in the coming days.

Dwyane Wade Upsets HEAT Fans

Miami HEAT guard Dwyane Wade caused HEAT fans some uneasiness prior to Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday night.

During the pre-game telecast on ABC, Wade responded to a question by saying, “When I was in Miami…” That phrase has left many fans wondering if Wade would really leave the only organization he’s known for 12 years.

It was reported last month that Wade and the HEAT are at a significant difference in contract negotiations. Wade must decide by the end of June if he will opt out of the $16.1 million player option that he holds for next season and become a free agent. Wade is reportedly seeking a three-year deal from the HEAT in a last attempt to collect as much money as he can as he enters the latter years of his career. The HEAT are said to be hoping that Wade exercises his player option in an attempt to stay flexible in the cap.

Should the HEAT not offer Wade what he’s seeking, he is prepared to consider other teams if the two sides can not agree to a deal.

It seems likely that Wade may be pressuring the organization into knowing that he is open to the idea of leaving in an effort to meet his contract demands. It also seems entirely possible that Wade misspoke on live television. In any matter, HEAT fans seemed genuinely nervous following Wade’s comment and they could be in for an interesting free agency with Wade.

In 62 games for the HEAT last season, Wade averaged 21.5 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds in a career-low 31.8 minutes per game.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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NBA Daily: The Young, Western Conference Bubble

The race for the West’s final playoff spot may seem crowded, but the last two months make it clear that two teams are already ahead of the pack.

Douglas Farmer

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We all jump to conclusions too quickly, this space and this scribe most certainly included. Three months ago, five weeks into the NBA season, the Western Conference playoff bubble looked like it would be a race between the Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves. That has assuredly not become the reality.

While the Kings and Suns can claim to still be in the playoff race, they would have to not only make up five-game deficits, but they would also each have to jump over four other teams to reach the postseason. The Timberwolves would delight at such challenges as they initiate a not-so-subtle tank with franchise cornerstone Karl-Anthony Towns sidelined for at least a few weeks with a fractured wrist.

Instead, the race to be swept by the Los Angeles Lakers has come down to a pair of up-and-comers, a perpetual deep threat and the NBA’s most consistent organization. Of all of them, it is the youngsters who are both currently playing the best and have the most control of their playoff hopes relative to their competition.

Between the current No. 8-seeded Memphis Grizzlies, the Portland Trail Blazers (3 games back), New Orleans Pelicans (3.5) and San Antonio Spurs (4), the next six weeks will feature eight key games. Five of those will include either the Grizzlies or the Pelicans or, in two instances, both.

That pair of matchups is still a month out, but they warrant circling already, nonetheless. Memphis and New Orleans have been playing at a high level for two-plus months now, and by the time they play two games within four nights in late March — when the basketball world is largely distracted by the NCAA Tournament — the two inexperienced teams may have completely separated from Portland and San Antonio.

After starting 1-5, 5-13 and then 10-19, the Grizzlies have gone 18-9 since Dec. 21. The Pelicans have matched that record exactly, down to the date, since starting even worse than Memphis did, bottoming out at 7-23 before finding an uptick long before Zion Williamson found the court. Winning two-thirds of your games for two months is a stretch with a sample size large enough to make it clear: Neither Memphis nor New Orleans should be dismissed in this playoff chase.

Their early-season profiles were examples of young teams sliding right back into the lottery — and there was absolutely no indication a surge was coming.

Grizzlies Pelicans
Offensive Rating 106.4 – No. 23 106.8 – No. 21
Defensive Rating 111.7 – No. 23 113.5 – No. 27

Through Dec. 20; via nba.com.

Then, for whatever reason, things changed. They changed in every way and in ways so drastically that one cannot help but wonder what could come next for the teams led by the top-two picks from last summer’s draft.

Grizzlies Pelicans
Offensive Rating 111.9 – No. 15 115.1 – No. 4
Defensive Rating 109.3 – No. 11 110.3 – No. 13

Since Dec. 21, through Feb. 23; via nba.com.

In a further coincidence of records and timing, the Blazers and Spurs have both gone 13-16 since Dec. 21.

If all four teams in the thick of things out west continue at these two-month winning rates for another month, then Portland and San Antonio will have drifted out of the playoff conversation before Williamson and Ja Morant meet for a second time. Of course, those rates would keep New Orleans a few games back of Memphis; the latter has 14 games, compared to 12, before March 21, so the gap in the standings would actually expand to an even four games.

If the Pelicans can just pick up a game or two before then, though, they have already beaten the Grizzlies twice this season. Doing so twice more that week would just about send New Orleans into the playoffs – at which point, perhaps Williamson could steal a game from LeBron James to put a finishing coda on his rookie season.

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NBA Daily: The Stretch Run — Southwest Division

David Yapkowitz finishes Basketball Insiders’ Stretch Run series with an overview of the Southwest Division.

David Yapkowitz

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We’ve hit that point in the NBA season approaching the final stretch of games before the playoffs roll around in April. The trade deadline has come and gone, the buyout market is wearing thin and most teams have loaded up and made their final roster moves in anticipation of the postseason.

Here at Basketball Insiders, we’re taking a look at each team — division by division– at what they need to do to get ready for the playoffs, or lack thereof. Looking at the Southwest Division, this was a division that used to be one of the toughest in the league.

It still is for the most part. The Texas triangle of the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs was no joke and hell for opposing teams on a road trip. Those are still a couple of formidable teams, but with the exception of the Rockets, it’s not quite near the level of yesteryear.

The Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans are a pair of young, up-and-coming teams that will give you 100 percent every night. While Memphis sits firmly in the eighth spot in the Western Conference, the Pelicans are on the outside looking in. Here’s a look at how each team might fare in the stretch run.

The Houston Rockets have been the best team in the Southwest all season long, and all that remains for them is playoff positioning. They currently sit in fourth place in the West, giving them home-court advantage in the first round, but they could just as easily slip a bit with the Utah Jazz essentially tied with them record-wise in the standings and the Oklahoma City Thunder a mere two games back.

The Dallas Mavericks have taken a huge leap this season behind Luka Doncic, who is rapidly becoming one of the best players in the league. They currently sit in seventh place in the West and a return to the postseason is in the cards for the Mavericks.

The rest of the teams in the Southwest is where things get a little interesting. The Grizzlies have been one of the surprises of the season, as they’ve defied expectations and are firmly entrenched in the playoff race out West. They have a three-game lead on the Portland Trail Blazers and a four-game lead on the San Antonio Spurs.

Out of the Grizzlies’ final 26 games, 15 of them come against teams over .500, more than either the Blazers or the Spurs. 14 of those final 26 are also on the road, again, more than the Blazers or the Spurs. They also play both the Spurs and Blazers one more time this season. If the Grizzlies end up making the playoffs, it will be very well earned.

The Spurs are knocking on the door, and they have one more game against the Grizzlies which could prove to be very meaningful. This is a team that has been one of the standard-bearers in the league for success over the past decade. Their streak of playoff appearances is in serious jeopardy.

They’ve won two of their last three games, however, and out of their final 26 games, 15 of those are at home, where they are 14-12. Based on how the Grizzlies are playing though, a close to .500 record at home probably isn’t going to cut it. They’re going to need to pick it up a bit over the next month if they want to keep their playoff streak intact. A lot can happen between now and then, and the Grizzlies do have a tough remaining schedule, but it looks as if San Antonio will miss the playoffs for the first time in 22 years.

The final team in the Southwest is the Pelicans, boosted by the return of prized rookie and No.1 draft pick Zion Williamson. Prior to the start of the season, the Pelicans were looked at as a team that could possibly contend for the eighth seed in the West. Then Williamson got hurt and things changed.

But the team managed to stay afloat in his absence, and as it stands, they’re only three-and-a-half games back of the Grizzlies with 26 games left to play. Out of the bottom three teams in the division, it’s the Pelicans who have the easiest schedule.

Out of those 25 games, only seven of them come against teams over .500. They are, however, just about split with home and away games. New Orleans is 8-2 over their past 10 games, better than the Grizzlies and Spurs. If Memphis falters down the stretch due to its tough schedule, and the Pelicans start gaining a little bit of steam, things could get interesting in the final few weeks.

In all likelihood, the Pelicans probably won’t make the playoffs as not only do they have to catch up to the Grizzlies, but the Spurs and Blazers as well. But it certainly will be fun to watch them try.

There are some big storylines in the Southwest Division worth following as we begin the final run to the postseason. Can the young Grizzlies defy expectations and make a surprise return to the playoffs? Will the Spurs get their playoff streak snapped and finally look to hit the reset button after nearly two decades of excellence? Can the Pelicans, buoyed by Williamson’s return, make a strong final push?

Tune in to what should be fun final stretch in the Southwest.

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NBA

NBA Daily: The Stretch Run — Southeast Division

With the All-Star Break behind us, the final stretch of NBA games has commenced. Quinn Davis takes a look at a few teams in the Southeast Division that have a chance at making the dance.

Quinn Davis

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Well, that was fast.

With the NBA All-Star break in the rearview, there are now fewer than 30 games to play for all 30 NBA teams. In other words, time is running out for certain teams to improve their seeding in the conference.

Here at Basketball Insiders, we will be looking at a certain subset of teams that are right on the border of making or missing the playoffs. In this edition, the focus will be on the Southeast Division.

The Southeast features three teams — the Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards — operating in the lower-middle-class of the NBA. These three will be slugging it out over the next month-and-a-half for the right to meet the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

The two remaining teams are the Miami HEAT and Atlanta Hawks. As this is being written, the former is comfortably in the playoffs at 35-20, while the latter is comfortably gathering more ping pong balls at 16-41.

In this space, the focus will be on the three bubble teams. The Magic are currently frontrunners for the eighth seed, but the Wizards and Hornets are within striking distance if things were to go awry.

Led by head coach Steve Clifford, the Magic have ground their way to the eighth seed behind an eighth-ranked defense. Lanky wing Aaron Gordon is the standout, helping the Magic execute their scheme of walling off the paint. The Magic only allow 31.3 percent of opponent shots to come at the rim, putting them in 89th percentile in the league, per Cleaning The Glass.

Following a post-break loss to Dallas Mavericks, the Magic sit at 24-32 and three games up on the ninth-seeded Wizards. While a three-game margin doesn’t sound like much, that is a sizable cushion with only 26 games to play. Basketball-Reference gives the Magic a 97.4 percent chance to make the playoffs.

The Magic have the third-easiest remaining schedule out of Eastern Conference teams. They have very winnable games coming against the Bulls, Hornets, Cavaliers, Knicks and Pistons. They also have multiple games coming against the Brooklyn Nets, the team they trail by only 1.5 games for the seventh seed.

The Magic are prone, however, to dropping games against the league’s bottom-feeders. It can be difficult to string together wins with an offense this sluggish. The Markelle Fultz experiment has added some spark in that department, but his lack of an outside shot still leaves the floor cramped.

After a quick analysis of the schedule, the most likely scenario appears to be a 12-14 record over the last 26 games, putting the Magic at 36-46 come season’s end. A record like that should not be allowed anywhere near playoff basketball, but it would probably be enough to meet the Bucks in round one.

If the Magic go 12-14, that would leave the Wizards, fresh off a loss to J.B. Bickerstaff and the Cleveland Cavaliers, needing to go 17-11 over their last 28 games. They will need to finish one game ahead as the Magic hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

The Wizards finishing that strong becomes even more farfetched when you consider their remaining schedule. They have the second-toughest slate from here on out, per Basketball-Reference.

The Wizards do have a trump card in Bradley Beal, who is the best player among the bubble teams in the East. He has now scored 25 points or more in 13 straight games and has been the driving force behind the Wizards staying in the race.

He has also picked up his defense a bit following his All-Star snub in an effort to silence his critics. The increased focus on that end is nice, but it would’ve been a little nicer if it had been a part of his game earlier in this season when the Wizards were by far the worst defense in the league.

Even if Beal goes bonkers, it is hard to see a path for this Wizards team to sneak in outside of a monumental collapse in Orlando. Looking at their schedule, it would take some big upsets to even get to 10 wins over their last 28. Their most likely record to finish the season is 8-20 if all games go to the likely favorites.

The Wizards’ offense has been impressive all season, but injuries and a porous defense have been too much to overcome.

The Hornets, meanwhile, trail the Wizards by 1.5 games and the Magic by 4.5 games. They have won their last three in a row to put themselves back in this race, but they still have an uphill climb.

The Hornets also may have raised the proverbial white flag by waiving two veterans in Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The goal coming into this season was never to make the playoffs, so they are likely more interested in developing young talent over these last 27 games.

If the Magic do play up to their usual levels and go 12-14, it would require the Hornets to go 18-9 to finish the season against the sixth-toughest remaining schedule in the East.

Devonte’ Graham and his three-point shooting have been a bright spot for the Hornets, but it would take some otherworldly performances from him and Terry Rozier down the stretch to put together a record like that. Basketball-Reference gives this a 0.02 percent chance of happening (cue the Jim Carrey GIF).

Barring a miracle, the eight playoff teams in the Eastern Conference are locked in place. The only questions remaining are how seeds 2-6 will play out, and whether the Magic can catch the Nets for the seventh spot.

The Wizards will fight to the end, but it is unlikely they make up any ground given the level of opponents they will see over the next six weeks. The Hornets, meanwhile, are more likely to fight for lottery odds.

At least the playoffs should be exciting.

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