Warriors Las Vegas Summer League: Off-court observations from Sin City

Warriors Las Vegas Summer League: Off-court observations from Sin City

Editor's note: Grant Liffmann (@grantliffmann) is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 90 minutes before each home game and 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.

Las Vegas Summer League can be deceiving. Do not pay too much attention to statistics or records when analyzing the tournament.

The games are nowhere near NBA-level competition and the teams are assembled like glorified pick-up games. Instead, try observing the more subtle minutia of each individual player, like their willingness to shoot or pass, their overall basketball IQ or ability to find comfort in mayhem and slow the game down.

But not all observations of summer league are on the court. Let's jump around to some observations I made off the court during my time in Las Vegas:

The Warriors front office and coaching staff are optimistic and excited for the new-look Warriors: There has been a constant news cycle recently about the end of the Warriors dynasty, some even going as far as to say that this current rendition of the franchise will not even make the postseason next year.

But you would never know there is outside pessimism about the team when you around the actual team themselves. From top to bottom, there is a fresh enthusiasm in the air.

While roster question marks and concerns are accurately realized, there is a sense that the coaches and executives look at next season as a fun new challenge. They seem the cherish the role of underdogs after being the prohibitive favorites year after year.

Ron Adams is around and involved with the team: There had been reports that the Lakers were in hot pursuit of the defensive guru, and speculation had mounted over the last season that this might be it for Adams as a stalwart on the Warriors bench.

But Adams was present and engaged in Las Vegas, which makes one think that he will be back with the team in some capacity in the Chase Center.

Sure enough, Adams reportedly has agreed to return to the Warriors in a "revised role."

Willie Cauley-Stein's personality will be a great addition to the Warriors locker room: The new probable starting center is outgoing and fun to talk to, as he is generous with his stories and laughs.

He is happy to discuss his newfound love for fishing, or his excitement to join a team in Golden State that he has always admired.

Over the years, the team has always mixed in players onto their roster that could bring some levity and lightheartedness to a sometimes arduous season. Cauley-Stein seems like he could be that guy this year.

The combination of Eric Paschall and Jordan Poole deserves a reality TV show: The new-look Warriors are younger than ever, and with that comes some youthful energy.

The best example of this is the budding relationship between Paschall and Poole. The two rookies are inseparable, by choice and by circumstance, and they have a fun time showing it.

Whether it is crashing each other's interviews, or constantly laughing and poking fun at one another, Paschall and Poole bring some joy to the team that seemed to have been missing last season.

There is a strong consensus that Damion Lee deserves a chance in the NBA: Lee was present in Vegas, mingling with the Warriors staff and other NBA officials and players.

He is still a free agent, though currently restricted, and he is searching for a team to give him a chance after shooting over 40 percent in both the G-League and NBA last season.

There is a common sentiment from many that I talked to, that Lee deserves a real opportunity to compete at the highest level. Now it is up to a team to put him on their roster. The Warriors do not have much space, but perhaps they can get creative and find a way to bring him back.

[RELATED: Warriors' Jordan Poole, Eric Paschall showing flashes in Summer League]

Everyone still loves Quinn Cook: When Cook showed up at Thomas and Mack Center for the Warriors and Lakers summer league match up, he instantly became the most popular guy in the arena.

From NBA stars to agents, to coaches, to media, everyone just wanted a chance to reconnect with Cook. There is no doubt the Warriors will miss having him around the team.

Can Rockets replicate success Warriors had with Steph Curry, Kevin Durant?

Can Rockets replicate success Warriors had with Steph Curry, Kevin Durant?

When Kevin Durant first joined the Warriors in 2016, skeptics wondered if Golden State could make it work.

Would Durant and Steph Curry be able to co-exist? Would there be enough shots for Durant, Curry and Klay Thompson? Would everyone remain happy with their role and numbers?

Those questions were answered pretty quickly. It took a few months, but Durant, Curry and the Warriors gelled midway through their first season together. They went on to claim the 2016-17 NBA title and ran it back the next season en route to a sweep in the 2017-18 NBA Finals.

Everyone seemed happy. Everyone got their shots. The third season wasn't as smooth, but it still almost ended with a third consecutive title.

After losing the 2019 NBA Finals to the Toronto Raptors, Durant decided it was time to move on and signed with the Brooklyn Nets.

But looking back, the experiment was a success. Durant and Curry co-existed, forming one of the most dominant duos in NBA history. Thompson didn't "sacrifice" as much as people thought he would, and ended up signing a max contract with the Warriors this offseason.

Now, a new duo — James Harden and Russell Westbrook — has critics wondering if the players can co-exist.

Both are MVPs and two of the most ball-dominant players in the NBA. So, will the Houston Rockets' experiment work? Harden believes it will.

“When you have talent like that, it works itself out" Harden told The Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen. "You communicate. You go out there and compete possession by possession. You figure things out. Throughout the course of the season, you figure things out. That’s just what it is. When you have talent, you have guys with IQ, you have guys willing to sacrifice, it always works itself out.”

Harden used a key word there. Sacrifice.

The players on the Warriors were willing to sacrifice for the greater good.

Are Harden and Westbrook capable of making the same sacrifice? Harden is confident their longstanding friendship will help matters.

“It works,” Harden told Feigen. “It’s that trust factor. I trust him; he trusts me. And with the group that we already have and the things we already accomplished, it should be an easy transition for him to be incorporated right in and things are going to go.”

While Harden and Westbrook went to the NBA Finals in 2012 as members of the Oklahoma City Thunder, neither has returned since. Both have reached the conference finals in recent years but have gone no further.

Other Western Conference teams have loaded up, but Houston is bringing back a team that is mostly intact from last season and swapped Westbrook for an aging and injury-prone Chris Paul.

So maybe this is finally Houston's year.

[RELATED: Warriors could be 'terrifying' in 2019]

“That’s my boy right there, since I was like 10 or 11 years old,” Harden said of Westbrook. “Obviously, we were teammates for [three] years. Now, we’re at different stages of our careers. I’m excited for the opportunity. I hear a lot of negative things: you can’t, he can’t, they can’t. But we’ll figure it out. I’m excited for the opportunity. I know the rest of the organization is. It’s time.”

The Warriors were able to turn the Curry-Durant partnership into two NBA titles. How many titles, if any, the Rockets can grab with Harden and Westbrook is to be determined. But they certainly have the talent to bring the Larry O'Brien Trophy back to H-Town.

Why this ESPN analyst thinks Warriors could be 'terrifying' next year


Why this ESPN analyst thinks Warriors could be 'terrifying' next year

The Warriors will enter the 2019-20 NBA season in unfamiliar territory.

For one, they won't enter the season as title favorites for the first time since lifting the Larry O'Brien Trophy in 2015 after significant roster turnover headlined by Kevin Durant's departure in free agency. For another, they will begin the campaign without star guard Klay Thompson in the opening-night lineup for the first time since 2010 as he recovers from a torn ACL. 

But that isn't enough to write off Golden State as an NBA title contender, according to ESPN's Kirk Goldsberry. 

"I'm not a betting man, but if I were, I'd be all over this bet," Goldsberry wrote in a Friday column, referring to the Warriors opening the season as +1,400 championship favorites according to Caesar's Palace. "Why? Call me crazy, but if Klay Thompson returns to action by March or April, and the Warriors are in the playoffs, they're terrifying."

Placing them in his third tier of championship contenders, Goldsberry noted that the Warriors' experience could give them an edge over other title contenders. He also proposed that sign-and-trade acquisition D'Angelo Russell could "take another leap" under head coach Steve Kerr. Russell, who was an All-Star last season, doesn't have the same defensive upside as Thompson, but gives Golden State another credible scoring threat while one half of the Splash Brothers sits on the sidelines. 

[RELATED: Why Mychal Thompson has MVP expectations for Steph]

That defensive drop-off is what concerns Goldsberry the most, especially with Thompson set to miss so much of the season while Durant and Andre Iguodala no longer are playing in the Bay. The Warriors finished outside of the top 10 in defensive rating in each of the last two seasons despite the presence of all three players on the roster. As NBC Sports Bay Area's Grant Liffmann observed earlier this week, those absences leave the Warriors with a lot of question marks on the defensive end of the court. 

The best-case scenarios for the Warriors next season involve a lot of "ifs." If Russell can effectively fill in for Thompson and if Thompson can return healthy and if the Warriors figure out their defense, then Golden State could be a force in the postseason. The Warriors will have 82 games to figure it all out, but they are still a team few would want to face if and when they do.