Numerous are the concerns about the 2021-22 Warriors, and four top the list: Klay Thompson’s effectiveness, Stephen Curry’s defiance of father time, Draymond Green’s shooting and also the potential shrapnel from his incendiary comments about management.
Beneath these issues, however, is a fifth that ought not be neglected. The roster is woefully thin on big men.
Only 7-foot-1 James Wiseman, who as a rookie last season missed 35 of 74 games, and 6-foot-9 Kevon Looney, the valiant veteran who perseveres with two surgically repaired hips, are listed at center.
Even in the “small-ball” era, with Draymond slotted for minutes at center, opening the season with this depth chart invites ugly luck.
That’s why the Warriors should be waiting, contract in hand if Marc Gasol wishes to continue his NBA career.
Gasol is out of the league for the first time since 2008. He was traded last week by the Los Angeles Lakers to the Memphis Grizzlies, the team with which he became a three-time All-Star. Memphis on Wednesday waived the 7-foot Spaniard, who now is expected to play for Girona, the team he owns in Spain.
Luring Gasol back to the NBA obviously will require persuasion. A lot of it. He clearly wants to keep playing basketball, but his ego took a hit as the Lakers basically strapped him to the end of the bench after acquiring Andre Drummond. Gasol, 36, might not be sure he still has anything to offer to the best league in the world.
This is something the Warriors would be wise to consider, and a league source says they are among several teams to have had internal discussions about Gasol this summer. The front office is smart enough to see what the roster is missing.
That would be a legitimate big man capable of providing 15-18 minutes a night on some nights while playing very little, if at all, on others. Consider it insurance, not unlike the late-season addition of Andrew Bogut in 2019.
Gasol could fill that void. He conceivably is the best passing center of his generation, even better than Bogut; the Grizzlies often ran their offense through Gasol. So, he’d fit nicely within the offense desired by coach Steve Kerr. Though Gasol is beyond his days as a top-tier defensive center, he’s still competent against most 7-footers.
The Western Conference has no shortage of those, from Denver’s Nikola Jokic, the reigning NBA MVP; to Utah’s Rudy Gobert, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year; to Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton, who posted double-double averages in each of his first three seasons.
Memo to those who believe the center position in the NBA is obsolete: The Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets finished 1-2-3 atop the conference last season. Memo 2: Jokic and 76ers big man Joel Embiid finished 1-2 in MVP voting.
It’s a lot to ask of Wiseman and Looney to survive the rigors of slugging it out for 82 games against these behemoths.
Should Wiseman and Looney pass that test, it would be downright unfair to expect them to repeat the feat in the postseason.
The Warriors last season ranked 22nd in the NBA in overall rebounding and 30th, dead last, in offensive rebounds. Even though they peaked with a small lineup featuring Looney starting at center, they lost five or six games simply because they were outmuscled.
There is a need for another big on the roster, and several are on the market.
Former Warriors big man DeMarcus Cousins is available, but that’s not happening unless there is a dramatic change of heart in the offices at Chase Center. Do not expect a Boogie reunion.
Jahlil Okafor is available, but everything about him screams “poor fit” with the roster.
Ed Davis, a terrific rebounder that offers little else is unsigned. So, too, are Aron Baynes and Bismack Biyombo. Jordan Bell remains without an NBA team.
These players have something to offer, but none can fill Golden State’s needs as well as Gasol. As teams sniff out his interest in returning to the NBA, the Warriors owe it to themselves, and to their roster, to be at the front of the line.