73 wins is a feat that we may never witness in the National Basketball Association again. However, despite the battles and efforts to accomplish the memorable record, the Golden State Warriors ended a heartbreaking series in June with no ring to show for it. Regular season records sometimes make minimal impact on the postseason as it’s a brand new game. Defenses play harder, offenses become tighter, and star players show out. Strength in Numbers is a slogan defined by depth during the stretch of a prolonged 82 game season. The playoffs are a whole new beast; that’s where the star players shine and the bench has short stints to converse the energy for the rest of the team.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, Steve Kerr played the bench a lot more than a coach normally would in the latter part of the season and it cost the team. Golden State’s depth was put to the test and they didn’t show up when they were needed most. It’s one of the main reasons why breaking up the 73 win team, one that’s been to the Finals in consecutive years was ideal. Too many no-shows from players who were counted on during the regular season led the Warriors to the biggest collapse in Finals history.
Harrison Barnes was the clear weak link among the starters. Playing alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson warranted him numerous open shots. Having two capable passers in Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut gave him even more assistance than the normal small forward would get in another starting lineup. While defenses shifted their focus on the Warriors stars, Barnes wasn’t able to seize the moment and take advantage of the open looks the opposition granted him. His confidence was shattered and as a result, a player that was once notorious for his playoff heroics faltered under the pressure and is now in another jersey.
Bogut, a force at times and non-existent usually more times than not, was a non-factor for most of the Western Conference Finals and Finals. He’s been injured when Golden State has needed him most and at times, his competitive nature was questioned. Ex-Warriors coach Mark Jackson was the first to call him out for the latter and reportedly players on the team were starting to get annoyed by the reoccurring issue. He had 15 rebounds in five Finals games against the Cleveland Cavaliers and could barely stay out on the court. And in the 2015 Finals, he was outplayed drastically by Timofey Mozgov, forcing him out of the starting lineup. With the Warriors leaning more towards the small ball direction and faster play, it was evident that Bogut didn’t belong.
Marreese Speights was hit or miss all season long. A fan favorite, Speights added a three-point jumper to his game which could have earned him much more money than he received by the Los Angeles Clippers. According to some initial reports that Speights and the Warriors had mutual interest; sources later said that the big man wasn’t even offered a contract by the Dubs. Consistently showing up to camp out of shape and his lack of commitment to the defensive side of the ball made him hard to play in meaningful games. To his credit, he was the Warriors best big man during the NBA Finals and deserved more playing time in Game 7. He would have been one of the few players worth bringing back, but he’s now headed to the other side of California to play for the rivals.
Leandro Barbosa is another player who deserved more minutes in Game 7. He was one of the few players that the Cavaliers didn’t have an answer for and he brought tons of energy off the bench. Like Speights, Barbosa didn’t bring much to the team defensively and wasn’t going to offer anything outside of scoring. He was expected to come back due to his ties with Steve Kerr, but the money spoke in Phoenix and he went back. Patrick McCaw will have some growing pains, but he’s younger and brings more defense to the team, if Kerr ends up giving the rookie some minutes.
The Warriors didn’t lose a beat when Brandon Rush was playing in the starting lineup when Harrison Barnes was injured earlier in the season, but he became an afterthought. Rush appeared in 72 games for the Warriors this past season after playing in just 33 the year before. He wasn’t able to stay in shape but he had a consistent three-point jumper earlier in the year. He wasn’t getting many minutes in Kerr’s rotations and ended up not playing much at all outside of garbage minutes. Rush’s career is on the downside, but he can offer veteran leadership in Minnesota. He’s very replaceable in Golden State.
The addition of Kevin Durant makes the team even more lethal. Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston have been the best bench players for the Warriors and will remain on the roster. The addition of Zaza Pachuila helps fill the center void with the departure of Bogut and David West is a better Speights.
Durant is the third best player in the world behind LeBron James and Stephen Curry and one of the few true superstars left in the league. Golden State now has two of the top NBA players in the league, which will make everyone else’s job that much easier. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will get easier shots, with defenses focusing heavily on Durant and Curry.
Pachuila isn’t a slouch on offense, either. He can make free-throws and isn’t afraid to go up strong. West plays more defense than Speights and gives the Warriors a much needed tough presence. He can be the guy who takes some of Green’s technical fouls away by getting them himself. Kevon Looney has reportedly added around 20 pounds of muscle and might see more time with Golden State than Santa Cruz this season, especially as the year progresses.
The core of Curry, Durant, Thompson and Green are all 28-years-old or younger. The Miami Heat and Boston Celtics didn’t have the talent or youth that these Warriors now possess. Teams around the league are taking note. The Warriors are built for now and in the future.
Imagine a locker room where Harrison Barnes is the highest paid player. Imagine another postseason run where Andrew Bogut is either hurt or isn’t giving it his all. Imagine another postseason where Stephen Curry is battling lingering injuries that defenses are catching up to him.
The addition of Kevin Durant numbs all of that.
The Golden State Warriors dismantling the replaceable pieces on their 2015-16 roster is genius. Trust Bob Myers, he knows what he’s doing. “Light Years Ahead” was once laughed at and mocked. Now, it looks like its Joe Lacob who might be getting the last laugh.