Warriors

Ask Kerith: Can Steph somehow lead Warriors to the Finals?

Warriors
Steph Curry

Hello everyone! This is the last mailbag of the regular season. The Warriors are staring down the final three games before the play-in tournament after beating the Utah Jazz Monday night. 

The Warriors are guaranteed a spot in the play-in tournament. Now they play for seeding.

Some changes are on the horizon, and I can tell fans are thinking about the big picture. Let’s get to your questions. 

On Instagram @petesanjr asked, “Will Jordan Bell make an impact?”

Maybe! I hope so. I’m thinking of Jordan as an insurance piece for a team that has been playing with an eight-man rotation. He’s familiar with the Warriors’ offense, and he fits as a small-ball center. Small-ball has helped Steph Curry be the NBA’s top scorer, so they won’t change that heading into the playoffs. 

Warriors insider Monte Poole confirmed the Warriors want to sign Bell to a two-way contract, and convert Juan Toscano-Anderson’s two-way deal into a full NBA contract.

Bell is an affordable option with ties to Golden State and a desire to prove he belongs in the league. Why not give it a try?

The window for Steph’s prime is closing. This was supposed to be the championship season with a healthy Curry coming off last season’s broken hand and the nine-month COVID-19 layoff. Steph was rested, well-conditioned and focused. His preparation for this season helped him become the NBA’s leading scorer at 33 years old. 

 

A supercharged Steph was supposed to join a healthy Klay Thompson with about 15 months to heal his torn ACL. Mix in an inspired and fit Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins gaining comfort in his role, plus the promising James Wiseman as the No. 2 pick and the Warriors seemed loaded for a championship run.

It fell apart with Klay’s Achilles injury. Wiseman missed training camp and started behind. Draymond missed training camp too. Kelly Oubre was a new piece who needed time to figure out how to play alongside Steph. These factors quickly added up to a less-than-smooth start. 

The time to act for another championship is this offseason. But the luxury tax is a big hit for the Warriors. And for the team owners coming off a COVID-19 season without fans in the building, without hosting concerts and without the concession stand money the franchise would make as the owners of Chase Center, money is an issue. 

Here’s a recap of what the Warriors were up against financially this season. Here’s a recap of the luxury tax rules that favor them. 

Steph, Draymond, Klay, and Andrew Wiggins have pricey contracts. They’re also paying James Wiseman’s rookie deal as a high pick, and they’ll owe a chunk of change to whomever they draft this year in the first round.

The Warriors urgently want to make a move for another championship with this core, but they probably cannot afford it. Unless ...

If the Warriors choose a splashy win-now move in the offseason, a trade might be the best option. 

However, the most enticing trade would likely involve Wiseman and the pick the Warriors hopefully get from Minnesota. (And more?) 

Moving Wiseman after one season would be a big deal. The optics would look funky, like they’re giving up on him, which could open the Warriors up to criticism that they didn’t use him correctly in the first place. Or criticism that the Warriors should have bundled a trade with the No. 2 pick last season.

Trading Wiseman would go against what we know about the Warriors’ dedication to letting players develop. Wiseman deserves time to grow. So, that leaves retooling the bench and hopefully getting a good deal on a veteran shooter? Will that be enough for a championship? I don’t know.

Any huge, win-now moves could result in a long span of rebuilding seasons as the aftershock. However, not making the most of this core when you have them doesn’t feel great either. This is a pivotal point for the franchise. Whether Minnesota’s top-three protected pick conveys to the Warriors could determine the course of action. 

 

Wiseman’s surgery to repair a torn right meniscus injury occurred April 15, 2021. The Warriors said his next evaluation date is in September. He is expected to play next season, but it’s unclear right now if his recovery timeline runs up against training camp. 

Steve Kerr said Wiseman is around the team and he can do upper body workouts and cardio that makes sense for each stage of his recovery. 

On Instagram, @kevinandrews_28 asked, “Will Kelly and Eric be OK to play come play-in tournament time?"

Oubre’s re-evaluation date is around May 13, so some clarity about his situation should come the weekend before the play-in tournament. 

Eric Paschall is close to playing. Steve Kerr calls him “day-to-day” with “hope” he returns by the end of the regular season. Paschall has been doing 3-on-3 workouts to ramp up his conditioning. Remember, the Warriors aren’t practicing often so it’s tough to simulate game speed. 

I know fans are looking for some good news to help a thin team, but return dates aren’t firm right now.

As of Monday before the Jazz game, Andrew Wiggins was averaging 18.3 points per game and tallied a career-high 69 blocks this season. I definitely think he’s happy. 

He knows where he stands here. The coaching staff communicates well. His teammates are easy-going. The culture is healthy. It adds up to a place where Wiggins can thrive. 

RELATED: Sweeping Jazz, Suns would show Warriors finally are peaking

On Instagram @matheusmacedbr29 wondered, “Do you think the Warriors have a chance to go to the Finals? Obviously they have to play like Steph is playing right now, but it is not impossible, is it?"

Impossible? No. Unlikely? Yes.

It will be difficult for the Warriors to reach the Finals because the fatigue from playing small and short-handed will catch up to them. I’m not sure the Warriors have enough scoring outside of Steph or enough consistency from the bench to play for a title. 

However, the Warriors are impressing with a span of 12 wins in 17 games. They’re peaking at the right time. 

In the first mailbag of the season, I predicted the Warriors would be a .500 team and that would be good enough for the playoffs. Beyond that, it’s up to the Warriors to sense how much they have in the tank for a long playoff run.

If defeat comes in early rounds, they can be proud this was a hard-fought season. 

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