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NBA Daily: Could Be A Tough Restricted Market

Steve Kyler takes a look at the impact restricted free agents who might be in store for a tough summer.

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Could Be A Tough Restricted Market

Last summer was a little brutal to some of the guys that bet on themselves and for teams that rolled the dice on restricted free agency. Most early cap projections have the 2018-19 NBA Salary cap increasing slightly from the $99.093 million it landed at this season to just around $101 million.

While the NBA is doing better than it ever has in the revenue department, the salary cap system is simply a mechanism to ensure the players, as a group, receive the agreed 49-51 percent of total Basketball Related Income. Part of the calculation to reach the cap figure is based on what’s already owed to players in salaries and benefits. Because NBA teams spent like drunken sailors when the salary cap exploded two seasons ago, the cap isn’t jumping up nearly as much as some expected when all the new television rights revenue started to pour in.

The end result is after two years of aggressive spending, most teams will be either over the cap or in some cases way over the luxury tax line before free agency even opens.

This will have an impact on the marketplace, especially for players hoping for a whopper of an offer sheet in restricted free agency.

Current cap projections peg the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, LA Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns and possibly the Indiana Pacers as having meaningful cap space.

While they say it only takes one team to set a market, having so few teams with meaningful cap space could make for a tough summer.

It is important to point out that restricted free agency is a multi-step process which starts with the issuance of a qualifying offer. A player does not have to accept the offer, and the team can, at any point, pull that offer making the player unrestricted.

All pending restricted free agent players have two values to keep in mind – the qualifying offer value and a cap hold value. Cap holds are in essence cap placeholders which take up a fixed and defined amount of cap space. While teams can exceed the cap to re-sign their own players, there is always a placeholder on the cap until a new deal is reached or the team renounces that player.

Here are some of the notable pending restricted free agents and what we know today:

Jabari Parker – Milwaukee Bucks

[$8.85m Qualifying Offer – $20.3m Cap Hold]

The Milwaukee Bucks entertained a number of offers on Parker at the trade deadline and at least seriously considering moving him. This is actually really common for teams that may be struggling to understand a player’s worth on the market.

Given Parker’s knee issues the balance of the season will be important for setting a real price on Parker.

Most NBA insiders believe the Bucks are not only going to pay Parker, but they may not force him to play out of the Offer Sheet game.

The Bucks are going to be way over the salary cap, so there is zero reason not to retain Parker on a new deal, simply because they won’t get below the salary cap line with or without a new Parker deal, so in essence any money paid to Parker is money that’s only available to Parker and no one else.

There are Luxury Tax concerns, and that would be meaningful for a smaller revenue market like Milwaukee, but with a brand-new area ready to come online, the word is Bucks ownership isn’t worried about the cost of the roster.

Aaron Gordon – Orlando Magic

[$7.26m Qualifying Offer – $16.51m Cap Hold]

Like Parker, the odds that Aaron Gordon is not re-signed in Orlando is pretty small; however, unlike Parker, the Magic may let the market drive the value of the next deal.

That’s not a reflection on how management views Gordon, simply that they are trying to shed cap dollars and get themselves right sided on a number of fronts and overpaying for Gordon is a concern.

The Magic are a team in transition, and there has been a growing sense that if Gordon did not want to come back, they might be open to a sign and trade, especially if the NBA draft yields a better fitting cornerstone player.

Like Parker, the Magic are going to be over the cap in a significant way, so money paid to Gordon is only available to him, and he would become tradable in January.

There is a scenario in which someone tries to poach Gordon with a max. level offer, but even then, the Magic would be smarter to match a deal unless it’s loaded with unfavorable terms to the Magic’s rebuild plan.

Dante Exum – Utah Jazz

[$6.61m Qualifying Offer – $14.97m Cap Hold]

Injuries have derailed Dante Exum’s NBA career, but there is a window this season for him to establish something of a market value in Utah with the team’s push toward the playoffs.

Unfortunately for Exum, he hasn’t done enough to live up to his draft hype, and he may be a player that takes the qualifying offer. In his case, one more year in Utah at $6.61 million, and the ability to veto any trades might be smarter than trying to find a deal that doesn’t tie him into a lower dollar deal.

The prevailing thought is the Exum will be back in Utah, but it would take something pretty spectacular to think its on a new long-term deal.

Marcus Smart – Boston Celtics

[$6.05m Qualifying Offer – $13.61m Cap Hold]

The Boston Celtics had numerous offers for Smart at the trade deadline and opted to hang on to him. That bodes well for him staying in Boston beyond this season; the question becomes does another team test Boston’s taste for luxury tax?

Smart seems to be a player that will get offers; the question is will anyone offer more than the $13.6 million cap hold?

It is going to be hard to pry Smart out of Boston at value—it’s going to take an offer sheet that’s more than Boston will match, which means something in the $12-$14 million per year range on a multi-year deal.

With Celtics guard Kyrie Irving’s future a little uncertain (Irving is eligible for a contract extension this summer) would the Celtics be wise to let Smart leave before getting an answer from Irving?

If there is a player on the list that reasonably could be elsewhere next season, it might be Smart, but that seems far from certain.

Julius Randle – Los Angeles Lakers

[$5.56m Qualifying Offer – $12.44m Cap Hold]

Randle’s future is squarely tied to the Lakers pursuit of marquee free agents. While there is little doubt Randle has emerged as a promising young star, the Lakers are going to have a hard time clearing the necessary cap space to pursue two max-level free agents and hang onto Randle’s Bird Rights.

While Randle’s $5.56m qualifying offer is an easy number for the Lakers, it’s his $12.44 million cap hold that handicaps things. Unless the Lakers can find a way to jettison the lingering contract of forward Luol Deng without taking anything meaningful back against the cap, it’s going to be nearly impossible to get to two max slots and retain Randle.

There are scenarios where it becomes possible to add players and retain Randle; it would simply require the added player to not receive max level money.

The danger for the Lakers is that there appear to be two early suitors for Randle that may force the Lakers’ hand. The Dallas Mavericks have had an eye on Randle for some time and is the team most expect to be on Randle’s doorstep at 12:01 am on July 1.

Another team to watch is the Sacramento Kings. After dumping George Hill’s contract off on the Cavaliers, the Kings could have some cap money, and Randle is a name linked to them as well.

The easy answer for the Lakers is to simply lock Randle up early, which means the front office will have to ask for quick decisions from would-be free agents before another team puts an offer in front of Randle he is willing to sign and start the clock on the matching rights of restricted free agency.

Elfrid Payton – Phoenix Suns

[$4.53m Qualifying Offer – $9.99m Cap Hold]

The Orlando Magic dealt Payton to the Suns at the trade deadline after finding very little interest from other teams. The Suns, according to sources, were high on Payton and wanted to the opportunity to try out the fit before committing.

So far, Payton has been productive enough to think the Suns may hang on to him.

The wrinkle to watch in all of this is what could be as many as three first-round draft picks (most insiders believe one of those later first round picks is going to be traded), and a boatload of free agent money.

Assuming the Suns don’t find a better option in the draft, there is a good chance Payton is back in Phoenix on a new deal, but its unlikely the Suns are going to break the bank for Payton – meaning he might be poachable.

Zach LaVine – Chicago Bulls

[$4.42m Qualifying Offer – $9.60m Cap Hold]

There has been a lot of talk in Chicago about how much Zach LaVine is really going to command. Given the lack of cap money around the NBA and the Bulls ability to match anything reasonable, LaVine may be in a tough spot if he is expecting the marketplace to boost his deal.

Sources close to the situation said it would take a whopper of an offer for the Bulls not to match. The NBA has cautioned teams about declaring their willingness to match offers publicly, but Bulls sources that would comment on the subject found it laughable that LaVine wouldn’t be back in Chicago on a new contract, the question remaining is what’s the amount that gets it done?

Jusuf Nurkić – Portland Trail Blazers

[$4.14m Qualifying Offer – $8.84m Cap Hold]

It seems for some time that maybe the Blazers had cooled on Nurkić, as they explored trades for other centers for several weeks leading up to the trade deadline. In the end, the Blazers held firm and have gone a crazy run—enough to suggest that Nurkić might actually get a new deal in Portland.

The big issue facing both the Blazers and Nurkić is their proximity to the luxury tax. It’s possible the Blazers look to shed some contract money this offseason to clear up their cap, but with both Nurkić and fellow potential restricted free agent Shabazz Napier looking for new deals, the long-term may impact the short-term.

Blazers ownership has never had a problem spending money, but once a team rolls over the luxury tax line, it becomes harder and more expensive to make trades.

Given how well Nurkić has played (especially recently) it seems unlikely that Portland doesn’t retain him, especially considering how low both his qualifying offer and his cap hold are, the Blazers are in the driver seat on a new deal.

Rodney Hood – Cleveland Cavaliers

[$3.47m Qualifying Offer – $7.16m Cap Hold]

The prevailing thought around the Cavaliers is that Hood is not a rental. The Cavs made the deal to acquire Hood not only for the short term, but to re-sign him this summer.

While the future of LeBron James is going to weigh on every decision the Cavs make, the belief if even if James leaves,Hood is a good future piece to build around making his next deal something of a formality.

There is a window in which another team could try to poach Hood with a hefty offer, but given where the Cavs are cap wise, there is zero reason not to match, even a crazy offer.

As some on this list, the money paid to Hood is really only available to him, as the Cavs won’t get anywhere near cap space in the next couple of years.

Clint Capela – Houston Rockets

[$3.42m Qualifying Offer – $7.0m Cap Hold]

The cap hold on Capela makes it nearly impossible that he won’t be back in Houston. While the Rockets do have big dreams of what could be possible this summer, they can make all of their moves and still exceed the cap to re-sign Capela.

There is always the chance a team tries to force the Rockets hand and timing, but at the end of the day, just because a team makes an offer doesn’t mean Capela has to accept it.

It’s pretty safe to say the only uncertainty on Capela is how many years and how many dollars.

There are other players who could be restricted free agents based on being a second-round pick, being undrafted or simply signing shorter-term deals. As we get closer and closer to free agency, we’ll look at these in more depth.

Until then you can check out all the 2018-29 Free Agents here.

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, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, @mike_yaffe, @MattJohnNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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Aamir Simms Readying Himself for His Opportunity

Clemson’s Aamir Simms is a versatile big man built for the modern NBA. Drew Maresca spoke with Simms about the draft process, Clemson’s success last season and how he thinks he fits in the league.

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Clemson has produced some very good NBA players – including Elden Campbell, Dale Davis and Horace Grant – but not too many of late. The most recent Clemson Tiger who was selected in the NBA Draft was Jason Blossomgame in 2017. Before that, K.J McDaniels in 2014, Trevor Booker in 2010 and Will Soloman in 2001. Aamir Simms hopes to be the first in a while – and he hopes to stick in the league.

Statistically, Simms has everything you’d want in a prospect. He’s a 6’8” big who can defend multiple positions and shoot it from deep. He averaged 13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 2020-21, shooting 40 percent on three-point attempts and 82.5 percent from the free throw line.

Simms was also named to the second-team All-ACC this season, after being named to the third-team All-ACC last season.

But the NBA Draft is a crapshoot with hundreds of players competing for just 60 spots. Complicating matters is the fact that Simms was a four-year player – and age is not an asset in the NBA Draft.

But Simms proved a lot in his time at Clemson, and he feels that his ability and willingness to do whatever a team needs is an asset.

“My original position was the four,” Simms recently told Basketball Insiders. “But I’m comfortable playing small ball five (too). And later in my career, I want to work toward playing some three, too, like Jeff Green.”

Green, who played a major role in the Brooklyn Nets’ success this season, is among the players who inspire Simms. He obviously values what LeBron James and Kevin Durant do, but he sees the utility of players like Green, and he understands that mimicking players like this will be key in his success.

“Being a versatile four like Jae Crowder (would be ideal), Simms said. “Being able to defend guys his size. Having the mid-range and the face-up like Al Horford or Paul Milsap. The craftiness and versatility of Tobias Harris. And especially Jeff Green. He does a good job of shooting the ball, playing the post, guarding one through five.”

“And that’s something I’m excited to showcase in this combine, in workouts and even through summer league.”

Achieving that success requires serious skill and versatility, but Simms believes he’s already on his way. If you’re thinking “but there isn’t evidence that he can do that,” you’re not wrong. But it’s not uncommon for players to sacrifice their own success for the greater good of a college program – and that’s exactly what Simms did.

“My perimeter defense is something I am really ready to showcase,” Simms said. “At school, I was an undersized five, so I didn’t switch much for the sake of the team,’ Simms said.

But he can – and he knows it.

Clemson’s entire roster had only three players taller than Simms. Two of the three were Freshmen and the other – Jonathan Baehre – started just 10 games. Clearly, Clemson coach Brad Brownell had a vision for his team, which included Simms as an undersized center. And considering their entry into the NCAA tournament after the media predicted they finish 10th in the ACC in a pre-season poll, it’s fair to say it worked.

“I think there’s a lot of things that teams look at (in the draft process): winners, individual growth, changes in your stats, and consistency,” Simms said. “I think I’ve shown all those areas throughout this season.”

“Just the way I led my team, (along) with other guys on the team, I got us back to the tournament – because people didn’t really expect us to. We got ranked pretty highly. My shooting and numbers improved, especially my field goal percentage. I was a little streaky with rebounds, but I think I showed improvements in areas that would progress me in the prospect rankings.”

With Simms, shooting will initiate interest.  As mentioned above, Simms shot better than 40 percent on three-point over the past two seasons – but he wasn’t a knock-down shooter early in his Clemson career.

As a Freshmen, Simms shot a pedestrian 32.6 percent on three-point attempts. But credit Simms for identifying the problem and working to fix it

“The reason why I shot so low as a freshman was that my form was coming across the left side of my face, so when I released the ball I couldn’t see as much,” Simms explained. “From the middle of my freshmen year to Senior year, I worked with (assistant) coach Smith before he went to Florida State, as well as (assistant) coach Dean and (director of player development) Terrell Mcintyre.”

“And those guys helped me improve my form and stick with it. And then, it was just spending my summers getting up hundreds of shots – 500 every morning and 500 every night to get that muscle memory down.”

But there’s more to Simms game than just shooting, and that’s what he hopes to prove throughout the draft process – beginning on Sunday, June 20 at the G-League Elite camp.

The G League Elite camp is an opportunity for 40 players to showcase their abilities in front of NBA and G League scouts, as well as coaches and front-office executives. The camp will consist of five-on-five scrimmages, as well as strength and agility drills. Top performers will earn an invite to the 2021 NBA Draft combine, meaning the camp can catapult players into very real consideration by NBA clubs. And Simms understands the opportunity at hand.

“Getting invited to the combine (is the goal),” Simms said. “That’s where the best of the best goes. I belong, but I’m fortunate to get the invite because there are other good guys who didn’t get an invite.”

This season, Simms faced off against at least two lottery prospects in Scottie Barnes (Florida State) and Jalen Johnson (Duke). Both will probably be used as measuring sticks of Simms’ potential; but considering defensive schemes, all matchups aren’t equal.

Simms underperformed against Florida State, scoring just 5 points on one-for-three shooting. But Florida State eliminates post opportunities and is known for its swarming defense.

“Florida State gets up in you, (they) switch one through five. They sit on you and take you out from catching the ball deep in the post,” Simms said. “I understood I wasn’t going to be as involved as I wanted entering it.”

But regardless of how you view Simms’ performance against Florida State, he demonstrated a big heart in coming back and playing well against Duke just one week later. While Clemson lost by 26 points, Simms performed well in a head-to-head matchup with another high-profile forward, scoring 19 points on seven-for-thirteen shooting.

“I have shown since my junior year that your ranking doesn’t matter,” Simms explained. “You play lottery picks a few times every year. That one was more of a bounce back after Florida State. That’s another one where we weren’t together, but the individual performance was what it was. It was in a losing effort so I didn’t focus on it, but it shows that I can play with anyone. I don’t care if you’re top 10 in the draft or wherever. I always feel I perform at a high level against highly projected players, and that was an opportunity to remind people who I am.”

Having to prove oneself self after four seasons at a big-time program would probably bother a lot of prospects, but it doesn’t bother Simms. On the contrary, Simms uses it as motivation.

“I am just thankful to be in the position I am because a lot of guys work for it and don’t get the opportunity,” Simms said. “It can be frustrating to be asked to prove yourself over and over, but the majority of great guys in the game have to do that at some point, too, so that’s fine.”

“I (already) have a chip on my shoulder,” Simms continued. “I come from the worst situations you can imagine, so being asked to keep showing my game and my progression is easy. Being able to put the ball in the basket and play hard isn’t something I stress over.”

“I’ve been through way darker times,” Simms continued. “Playing basketball is fun. I’ll have to show it over and over, but at least I’m doing what I love. Passion takes care of all of that. My faith pushes me through, God pushes me through. So if they ask me to do it 100 times, I’ll do it 101. I belong in the league. I believe I’m NBA-ready. If they want me to do it this week and another week after that, I’m ready.”

Simms is focused on getting the right opportunity with the right team. He’s spoken to his friends in the NBA including Mamadi Diakite (Milwaukee Bucks) and Nic Claxton (Brooklyn Nets), both of whom speak about the mental toll of going from being “the guy” to getting DNPs. But they’re not bitter. They emphasize the importance of getting into a good situation with a patient team and how it enables players to build confidence away from the pressure of the NBA game.

Still, you never know when your number will be called and rookies have to be perpetually ready. They also have to understand a team’s needs and the system that’s run. But Simms isn’t worried about that aspect. As the 2021 “Skip” Prosser Award winner, emblematic of the top scholar-athlete in men’s college basketball, he’s always been one to hit the books – and he intends on approaching an NBA opportunity the same way.

“If I am lucky enough to get drafted, I am going to spend that time starting the first night to get a feel for the team,” Simms said. “Learn the roster, who’s the primary and secondary guys and seeing where I fit.”

“No matter what, one thing you can do is rebound and defend. So that’s something I am going to do from the jump, (as well as) doing what coach asks of me. I’ve always been very coachable.”

Getting drafted is obviously the goal. But Simms understands that there is an opportunity beyond the draft. And conversely, he knows that getting drafted doesn’t guarantee success.

“Too many guys get caught up with their name being called, and that can land them in a bad situation,” Simms said. “It takes a lot of maturity to understand that it’s OK if you’re not drafted. A lot of guys who aren’t drafted or are taken late second-round are standing out (currently). Look around the league, guys come from the G League or overseas… if you can get over the idea of getting drafted and just focus on getting your foot in the door, that’s most important. That’s what I’m focused on.”

Simms has spent at least the last four years preparing himself for this moment – now it’s time to prove that he belongs. His mix of athleticism, size and skill will get him noticed, but his patience and cerebral approach are real differentiators. Even if Simms’ name isn’t called on July 29th at the draft, this writer believes he’ll find his way onto an NBA roster for the 2021-22 season, one way or another.

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Now What? – Portland Trail Blazers

From Neil Olshey’s top choice to replace Terry Stotts to whether they should trade CJ McCollum and who they might get for him, Bobby Krivitsky examines what’s next for the Portland Trail Blazers as they work to convince Damian Lillard to stay.

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The Portland Trail Blazers’ search for a new head coach has not gotten off to a smooth start. Less than 24 hours after Damian Lillard made it known Jason Kidd was his top preference to replace Terry Stotts, Kidd withdrew his name from the running.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Chauncey Billups, San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, University of South Carolina and USA Women’s coach Dawn Staley, Brooklyn Nets assistant Mike D’Antoni, and Spurs executive Brent Barry are among Portland’s top candidates.

It’s vital that throughout this process, the Trail Blazers respect Lillard’s opinions. That doesn’t mean they have to hire one of their franchise player’s top choices, but if what he has to say isn’t holding the proper weight, it could fracture the relationship. According to NBA reporter Sean Highkin, Billups, who has a good relationship with Lillard, is Olshey’s preferred candidate.

Speaking of Olshey, in an attempt to deflect blame, he took an unnecessary parting shot at Stotts during his exit interview following the Trail Blazers getting eliminated by a depleted Denver Nuggets team in six games. 

He also said not to expect many changes to the Trail Blazers roster.

To put it mildly, it’s in poor taste for Olshey to show prospective head coaching candidates they shouldn’t expect him to have their back if the situation turns sour. On top of that and the uncertainty regarding whether Lillard will ask to get traded this summer, those interviewing for this position shouldn’t anticipate many roster changes despite Portland’s first-round exit, which marked the fourth time that’s happened in the last five years.

There’s also the possibility the amount of roster turnover is small but significant. To that effect, it may be time for Portland to break up its potent backcourt of Lillard and CJ McCollum. The latter can still play at a high level, as evidenced by him averaging 23.1 points, 4.7 assists, 3.9 rebounds, and only 1.4 turnovers per game during the regular season. He then produced 20.7 points, six rebounds and 4.3 dimes per contest in the six-game series against the Nuggets.

However, the Trail Blazers have struggled to overcome their lack of balance between their offensive proficiency and defensive shortcomings. McCollum turns 30-years-old in September, and while there may not be a dip in his performance, it’s hard to believe now is when Portland will start experiencing more postseason success, especially if Olshey’s telling the truth about minimal changes to the roster.

Trading McCollum for someone who can help make the team more dynamic while flanking Lillard as the team’s second-best player could lead to lengthier stays in the playoffs. Two names that come to mind are Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram. The former is again experiencing postseason struggles, which could prompt Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations, Daryl Morey, to reconstruct the team’s roster around Joel Embiid. The Sixers’ top-two players remain a clunky fit without a more reliable closer. However, Simmons is a three-time All-Star, he recently got named to the All-Defensive First Team for the second time in his career, and he’s an elite floor general when pushing the tempo. Simmons could also form a potent pick-and-roll partnership with Lillard, including when he turns to one of his most reliable scoring methods in the half-court, faking the handoff, then darting to the rim.

As for Ingram, an All-Star in 2020, this season, he averaged 23.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game while converting 38.1 percent of the 6.1 shots he attempted from beyond the arc, which is reflective of his growth as a three-point shooter. He’s far from a lockdown defender, but at 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, he’s more versatile on that end than McCollum.

The other decision the Trail Blazers have to make is much easier; whether to re-sign Norman Powell. The former Toronto Raptor quickly acclimated to his new team after Portland acquired him at the trade deadline in exchange for a package centered around Gary Trent. Powell averaged 17 points per game in 27 regular-season contests with the Trail Blazers and maintained that production during the playoffs. It’s a safe bet he won’t exercise his $11.6 million player option. At his exit interview, Olshey reiterated the franchise’s desire to work out a new contract with Powell, saying they “made the Norman Powell trade hoping that he’d be a part of the future.”

As the Trail Blazers work to make sure one of the most loyal athletes in sports doesn’t decide it’s time for him to take his talents elsewhere, it starts with hiring the right head coach. In regards to their roster, the challenge is figuring out how to add upgrades while handcuffed. Portland doesn’t have a first-round pick this year due to the trade to get Robert Covington. They also lack cap space and players who hold great value on the trade market. Parting with McCollum is a choice that could backfire; it’s also possible Lillard voices his opposition to such a move, in which case, the return would have to be better than expected to go through with that decision. Otherwise, the Trail Blazers’ path to improvement centers around making the difficult choice to trade a fan favorite in the hopes that becoming a better-balanced team translates to more success in the playoffs.

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Now What? – Golden State Warriors

The past two seasons have been incredibly difficult for the Golden State Warriors. While they are eager to return to their winning ways, their path back to championship contention could take some time – if it happens at all.

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For the better part of a decade, the Golden State Warriors were the darling of the league. After three championships and five consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, the Warriors fell off the horse. Injuries to their star players and the departure of Kevin Durant left the franchise in a state of despair. Now that they have picked up the pieces, they are ready to get back to being championship contenders.

Nothing in life is that easy though, especially when so many other teams have improved and accumulated their own star power. With another brutal injury to Klay Thompson, an aging Stephen Curry and a devastating injury to their prized rookie James Wiseman, the path back to greatness doesn’t look so golden after all.

The Curry show was in full effect this past season, as the two-time MVP dazzled fans with his play on the way to winning the scoring title. The 33-year old is ready to share the load with his teammates but it could be a rocky start for them as they try to shake the rust off as they battle in the loaded Western Conference.

Several key items must be examined before the Warriors can go back to being a championship-caliber team.

Strengths

Everything the Warriors do rests on the shoulders of Curry, who was spectacular once again this season. The seven-time All-Star earned his second scoring title this year in an epic duel with Bradley Beal. The first time he did so was the 2015-16 season when Golden State won a record 73 games in the regular season but fell short in Game 7 of the Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers. This year was quite different, as they finished 9th in the Western Conference with a 39-33 record.

A healthy Curry is incredibly important but a healthy Thompson is crucial to their success. After missing two full seasons due to two significant injuries, his return to the court is everything to this team. When at 100 percent, the Warriors have the best backcourt in the league but it will take Thompson some time to ease into things and to clear the mental and physical hurdles associated with his return to play.

Draymond Green reminded everyone of his value and his impact on the game. The former Defensive Player of the Year demonstrated that he is still arguably the best defender in the league, capable of guarding multiple positions. His passing and ability to get guys open have always been his greatest strengths. His impact might not be the same if he were playing for the Orlando Magic but he is the perfect fit alongside Curry and Thompson.

Outside of their core three players, one other person to keep in mind is head coach Steve Kerr. With Rick Carlisle’s resignation yesterday, Kerr now becomes the third-longest tenured head coach in the league behind Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra.

Even with a constantly changing roster, Kerr was able to guide this team to the Play-In Tournament. They were able to finish the regular season with the fifth-best defensive rating in the league, and while much of the credit goes to Kerr and Green, Andrew Wiggins deserves some praise as well.

Known as a defensive liability for most of his career, Wiggins finally took pride in his defense this season. He has always had the tools with his length and quickness, but his energy and effort always seemed to be lacking. Whether or not Kerr and the staff challenged him before the season, the fact is he made a major stride in that area, which ultimately helped the team win many close games. If he continues that heading into next season, it will go a long way in getting them back into the mix.

Weaknesses

One major weakness for Golden State this year was rebounding. They ranked 22nd in the league overall and dead last in the offensive variety of that category. This is not a product of playing small ball or just a lack of size in general. The Warriors were notorious for not boxing out and being out-hustled on the glass. The second-chance opportunities for their opponents to score often killed them in close games. This is something that must be addressed both in free agency and with the current players on the roster.

Another area of weakness that can be solved this offseason is the lack of veterans on the roster. Aside from their top four players, nearly everyone on the roster has three years or less of experience. The good news is that many of these guys seem to have some potential. Damion Lee, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Jordan Poole, Eric Paschall and Mychal Mulder all played a lot of minutes for the Warriors. Sharing the floor with Curry and Green will ultimately help them achieve their goal of becoming a key contributor for this team.

Turnovers were another trouble spot for this team, as they committed 15 per game during the regular season. Only four teams averaged more per game but the Warriors were often dealing with new young players that didn’t have the experience to negate many of those. They also committed 21.6 fouls per game, which was the second-most in the league trailing only the Washington Wizards. Those are two areas that will need to be cleaned up, regardless of who is or isn’t on the floor.

Opportunities

The Warriors will be back in the lottery for next month’s NBA Draft but they likely won’t have a top pick as they did a year ago. They should still be able to acquire some talent that can help them right now, either on the floor or in a future deal. With Thompson and Wiseman still easing their way back, and impending free agents of their own, it will be important for whomever Golden State selects to be ready to contribute immediately.

The Warriors only have two hitting free agency players this summer, in Kelly Oubre Jr and Kent Bazemore. Despite his roller-coaster season, Oubre is seeking around $20 million annually, which the Warriors simply cannot afford. He won’t be needed as much this season with Thompson eventually reclaiming his starting role. Golden State won’t have much to spend but they should be able to find what they are looking for in free agency.

Only six players are under contract after next season, which could open the door for some of the younger players should they carve out a role for themselves. Seven players are set to be on expiring contracts heading into next season. Curry is one of them, as his salary for next season is just under $46 million. The other six players have a combined salary of around $14 million. This will give Golden State some flexibility in terms of trades next season.

Threats

Obviously, the largest threat that looms over this franchise is another setback for Thompson or another injury to one of their other stars. The same can be said for every organization but the way things have transpired for this team over the last two years makes it even more critical. Curry is not getting any younger and while he has reaffirmed his desire to stay with the Warriors, he will be a free agent after next season. If the future looks cloudy at all, it could be in his best interest to explore other options.

Thompson will turn 32 next season and his comeback will be closely monitored around the league. While being a prolific shooter himself, he has much more to offer on the defensive side of the ball than Curry. Earning All-Defensive honors during the 2018-19 season, Thompson has always been an elite-level defender, especially on the perimeter. He uses his feet well to stay in front of his man while not getting his hands in the danger zone against crafty offensive players like James Harden and Trae Young.

While the focus from the outside will be on his offensive game, the key to Golden State’s return to the top-tier will depend on how well he plays on the other side of the ball. Coming off of two devastating injuries, will he still be able to lock down players on the perimeter at his age? Only time will tell, but everyone in this organization will be holding their breath every time he is on the floor.

One thing that Golden State has going for them is the culture they have created. The environment between the players, coaching staff and the front office is a good one. Everyone appears to be on the same page and there is never any panic. The continuity and chemistry they have with each other can be utilized to their advantage over less tenured teams.

The other thing that threatens their future is out of their hands. The Western Conference is oozing with talent. That is nothing new, but the way they are set up doesn’t bode well for Golden State. Playoff teams are loaded with young star players, who will only get better as time marches on.

Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker, Nikola Jokic, Michael Porter Jr, Jamal Murray, Kawhi Leonard, Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr, Zion Williamson, De’Aaron Fox, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. These are just a handful of names that reside in the Western Conference.

A return to glory would be a wonderful story for this organization, but it won’t be easy. Knowing how this group is wired, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

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