Assessing these teams during preseason, and with limited knowledge of training camp is a dangerous exercise. Then again, Rufus dunks off trampolines. In other words, I’ll man up.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Forget those teams that made splashy personnel moves during the offseason. This is by far the most interesting team in the Western Conference. Though most analysts think GSW took a huge step backwards, I cautiously disagree and think they've set themselves up to be a true powerhouse not too long down the road. They are feisty and will give teams a lot of trouble, precisely because they've always been better than one spectacular player. Which leads us to...
1 -- Baron bolted 'cause he was offended. But in the end, we found out the only thing that can hold this team back is Monta's moped. Who can blame him for the cover up? To paraphrase a PR hack I once knew, he has 67 million reasons to lie.
Conventional wisdom says Nellie's system needs a point guard more than most. Hence, Marcus Williams or CJ Watson should get the call. CJ has played well enough to challenge for the position, but I think it will ultimately go to Captain Jackson. No. Really. Stephen Jackson is the favorite to start the season at PG for the Warriors.
(It's a point I've made for a couple years now: Video game lineup management might not work perfectly in real life, but it's hella fun. Witness Jax at point. He did it for stretches last year, and he can ballhandle like you'd expect from a combo guard, but the move is ultimately dependent on creating a matchup problem for the opposition. If Cap'n Jax is bringing the ball up, with Azubuike and Maggette on the wings, and Anthony Randolph and Al Harrington cutting to the corners... no team can guard that.
Or they could just have Williams, Watson, and Dickau share point minutes until Monta comes back. Seems like an easy call to me.)
2 -- Unlike Nellie teams in the past, this team has limited three-ball threats (Maggs, Jax and Jeff on a good day), but if Randolph is as good as billed, this unit is a long and athletic lineup that’s going to be running at every chance. They won't need quite as many threes, because everyone will be at the rim. On top of that, this squad has a chance to be a great defensive team.
(If no one's able to guard them, that doesn't mean they won't be able to guard anyone else. They'll always be quick enough to run with anyone, but depending on the matchup, they have Biedrins and, now, Turiaf to throw out there.)
Shaq probably eats more than this entire team combined... until you count Ro-Knee, who will be the designated boulder in the middle.
3 -- Any NBA team that has this many young and unproven players in its rotation is flirting with disaster. The interesting thing about this team is while expectations are low their risks are very well managed. If Randolph really can run the Point Forward at times, they'll be closer to Nellie's utopian vision than ever before. Keep in mind, every team with young players in their heavy rotation suffers with consistency problems, since coaches usually don't know who's truly better than the others until late in the season.
It'll also be interesting to see how Wright, Williams and Belinelli respond. For all three, this is a make or break year and a lot is being demanded and expected of them.
4 -- When did Isiah take over the Warriors? Maggs went from underrated to overrated the day he signed his deal. In year two they are going to be trying to find a sucker to take that on.
Ro-Knee is a nice player but he'll never be worth the 4.5 they paid. If a player has no upside but you really want him, you're better off signing him to a short contract paying a little more per year than your comfortable with. GSW should really have set themselves up with more cap flexibility, considering how well positioned they were for the 2010 free agent class.
(The Foyle deal is still on the cap. Chris Mullin can NOT be excused for that monstrosity.
How the Warriors deal with Stephen Jackson might be the real turning point of the We Believe Era. Losing Baron hurt, but the Cap'n brought it all together, and it's an essentially different team without his pitbull nature at the heart of things.)
5 -- The final verdict: I think with Ellis this was a .500 team in the unforgiving West. Now, even if Randolph plays like the Point Forward we are all begging him to become, they'll max out as a high 30 win team.
(According to 14/16 voting, NBA fans think Golden State is not a playoff team. I agree.)