Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Warriors nab Kerr; now what?

After a year off due to focusing on work, I finally found some personal time to dust off this blog. The timing of Steve Kerr's official press conference and the NBA Lottery results didn't hurt, either.

The meme on the left comes (courtesy of Steve McPherson) hilariously depicts just how much Warriors owner Joe Lacob wanted Steve Kerr to coach his team, while the picture of Kevin Love on the right (from two years back) happens to resemble Joaquin Phoenix in the Spike Jonze film that the meme orginiates.

Kerr said at his introductory press conference yesterday that this team could use a stretch 4.

Love shot 37.6% on 6.6 three point attempts per game this season, is threatening to leave Minnesota next summer, and is apparently intrigued with the Warriors.

See where I'm going with this?

Now that the Warriors have gotten the coach they set their eyes on, the next logical question is "where does he want them to go from here?" My answer is an all out trade for Kevin Love.

Steve Kerr
When it was first reported that Kerr was among the leaders for the Golden State head coaching position, I was flabbergasted that the Warriors would replace a point-guard-turned-broadcaster-turned-head-coach-with-no-experience with another point-guard-turned-broadcaster-turned-head-coach-with-no-experience.
I will say that Mark Jackson greatly exceeded my expectations from when he was hired, but this seemed like an ill-advised pursuit of a flashy name. It looked like Kerr was just becoming a hot commodity due to Phil Jackson and the Knicks' interest in him and his existing relationships with members of management in Golden State.

To me, the most logical coaching choice to take the Warriors to the next step was the other name most linked to them: Stan Van Gundy. However, once the Pistons swooped in with a lucrative deal to name him both coach and team president, it became apparent that he wasn't coming to the Bay Area. There's no salary cap for coaches' salaries, so it was never an issue of whether or not Lacob and company would take a hit to their bottom line to secure the best possible coach. The Pistons offered total team control, and the Warriors did not. Understandable.

Bob Myers has proven to be a creative GM, and Joe Lacob is a very hands-on owner. Steve Kerr knows this, and as a former GM himself, he understands how the dynamic between a coach and management should work:
"I think to me the healthiest situation for any coach is to have a say, but not have the ultimate decision. I think that’s what the GM is for and I got a really good sense from all the guys that it’s about a consensus. And I’ll be part of that."
That GM experience is what encourages me more about this move than when Jackson was hired. Furthermore, the rest of that transcript also describes how much more prepared Kerr appears to be than I initially realized. He sold the Warriors with his presentation, and his coaching philosophy sounds promising. Learning from greats such as Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, and Lenny Wilkens, he will have a system that has elements of the Triangle offense, but adapted to his team and era. The main emphasis will be on ball movement, flow, and spacing.


The Trade
Going back to his press conference comment about a stretch 4, Kerr definitely sounds like he wants a more wide open offense than the iso-heavy sets that Jackson leaned on. David Lee is a good passing big man, but he did not space the floor well this year. Compare his shot chart from the 2012-13 season to this year's:
Not only did he not shoot as well from mid-range, but he did not take many attempts as this year went on. He is also an already below-average defender who just turned 31 and has $30,505,680 owed to him over the next two seasons, per If you have the opportunity to replace him with a star like Kevin Love, you have to do it.

The tweet above came shortly after the Warriors were eliminated from the playoffs, and I had literally just brought the subject up with friends the previous night. TrueHoop writer Ethan Sherwood Strauss tweeted that in response to the Roster Reload series by Amin Elhassan and Bradford Doolittle, which brought back a rumor from the trade deadline: David Lee and Harrison Barnes for Kevin Love.

However, given the sophomore struggles of Barnes, there is no way that Minnesota accepts that deal, despite their lack of leverage. Even if Love says he will only sign a long term deal with the Warriors (which is possible, considering the roster and his west coast roots), the Timberwolves still have to make the best deal for them. Another team might still offer more than just Lee and Barnes and hope that they can convince him to stay after a strong season.

Recent comments that the Timberwolves won't trade Love "before the draft" indicate that they are ready to accept that they need to make a trade instead of risking losing him for nothing next summer. If so, then they are likely looking for four things: a promising prospect still on his rookie contract, a future draft pick, financial relief, and a veteran to fill in for Love and keep the team competitive this season. Thus, this would be the best proposal from Golden State:

Warriors trade:
  • Klay Thompson: $3,075,880 in '14-15, the last year of his rookie contract.
  • David Lee: $15,012,000 in '14-15, $15,493,680 in '15-16
  • Unprotected 2015 first round pick
Timberwolves trade:
  • Kevin Love: $15,719,063 in '14-15, player option for $16,744,219 in '15-16
  • Kevin Martin: $6,792,500 in '14-15, $7,085,00 in '15-16, player option for $7,377,500 in '16-17
Because Golden State traded 2014 and 2017 first round picks as part of the sign and trade for Andre Iguodala, this trade would have to be consummated after this year's draft since teams cannot trade first round picks in successive years (which is why I think a 2017 pick was traded instead of 2016: it allows for the 2015 pick to be traded). The Warriors will be counting on it being a low pick, but the fact that it is unprotected gives Minnesota a glimmer of hope since anything can happen in the NBA.

Thompson, set to hit restricted free agency next year, is eligible for an extension this summer, and early negotiations may play a part in the Warriors' willingness to include him in a deal. However, if a true star like Love is willing to come to the Bay Area, Thompson should not be a hold up in a trade. He is an excellent shooter and good defender, but his inability to consistently finish in the lane or get to the free throw line will likely prevent him from ever becoming a perennial All-Star. At 24, he is the type of promising young player that Minnesota should target in any trade, but he is by no means an untouchable trade piece.

Lee can serve as a facsimile to Love on a team that could still hope to compete with a core of Ricky Rubio, Thompson, Nikola Pekovic, and Gorgui Dieng. He is overpaid, but after this season, that large expiring contract could become a trade chip.

The reason that Martin is included over someone like Chase Budinger ($5 million this season, $5 million player option in '15-16) is because of his age (31), larger contract ($21,255,000 guaranteed), and positional overlap with Thompson. With his defense as poor as ever, he is best suited as a 6th man like he was on a 60 win Thunder team in 2013. Minnesota will be happy to get him off the books, and if they needed further financial relief, Marreese Speights (essentially a $3,657,500 expiring contract thanks to the team option in '15-16) could be included to add Budinger or Corey Brewer ($4,702,500 this season, $4,905,000 player option in '15-16).

This would result in a Warriors lineup of Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Kevin Love, and Andrew Bogut, with Kevin Martin, Draymond Green, Festus Ezeli, and (maybe) Marreese Speights off the bench. Depending on where the luxury tax line lands, they would likely still have the full mid-level exception to sign a backup point guard and/or any surrounding pieces. That roster would have a strong balance of passing, defense, and spacing. 

If possible, this is a trade that Golden State has to pull the trigger on.

The Competitors
Of course, Love may not be all that intrigued in the Warriors, as reports suggest. The Lakers are the most obvious competition for his interest since his family is from LA and he went UCLA. However, besides being able to sign there as a free agent outright in 2015, the only way for him to go home is for them to draft a prospect that the Timberwolves want in a trade. LA has next to nothing else in assets, so Love would have to explicitly indicate that that is the only place he wants to be. Does he really want to go to a barren roster that owes next year's first rounder to Phoenix and was dumb enough to give Kobe Bryant a $48.5 million dollar extension before he proved he was healthy?

Furthermore, the Lakers' chances were hurt by last night's lottery results.With just a 1.7% chance at the #1 pick, the Cavaliers became the most unlikely lottery winner since the Bulls in 2008, making it three out of four years that they will be selecting first overall. The result of that drawing is that LA's pick dropped to 7th, becoming even less of an appealing haul for the Timberwolves. (The biggest loser of the night was Detroit, who dropped from 8th to Cleveland's original 9th position, which meant that their top-8 protected pick goes to Charlotte. Maybe Stan Van Gundy shouldn't have chosen the franchise that Joe Dumars drove to the ground with moves like giving up this pick to trade Ben Gordon for Corey Maggette's slightly shorter order to overpay Josh Smith last summer. Ouch)

The Celtics also dropped last night, from 5 to 6, but they have a bevy of draft picks at their disposal after a series of savvy trades. The most appealing of which are unprotected first round picks in 2016 and 2018 from the Nets, whose aging roster looks to be on the decline. Combine those with the expiring contracts of Brandon Bass and Joel Anthony and Keith Bogans' non-guaranteed contract, and Boston is in business. The only question is whether or not Minnesota considers Jared Sullinger and/or Kelly Olynyk good enough prospects to supplement the draft picks. If so, the prospect of playing with Rajon Rondo for a storied franchise could be enough of a selling point for Love to choose Boston.

Going to the East could be the best choice for him, as it is the easiest route to contention. After all, the Suns won 48 games and still couldn't make the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference. They are a young team on the rise with a great young coach, and like the Celtics, they also have financial flexibility and an arsenal of draft picks to use. The aforementioned 2015 Lakers pick is only top-5 protected, and Minnesota's own future first rounder that is owed to Phoenix would make for an appealing trade sweetener. The asset that could really push the needle, via sign-and-trade, is Eric Bledsoe, who is set to hit restricted free agency. However, all of this could be a moot point: would playing for a questionable contender in a non-major market appeal to Love?

That is why the likeliest destination is the other team that reportedly "intrigues" him: Chicago. He would get to play in a major market with talented teammates, and even if Derrick Rose never comes back to full form, the Bulls would still be an annual contender in the weaker Eastern Conference. The Timberwolves could select from a multitude of draft picks, fill Love's void to some extent with Carlos Boozer for just one year, and add one of the best prospects in Europe: Nikola Mirotic. As a 2011 draft choice, he won't be subject to the rookie-scale and has a bit of a tricky buyout situation with his current team that could delay his arrival, but the fact that he is a member of the Spanish national team with Rubio certainly helps. The deal could something like this:

Bulls trade:
  • Draft rights to Nikola Mirotic
  • Carlos Boozer: $16,800,000 in '14-15
  • Tony Snell: $1,472,400 in '14-15, team options for $1,535,880 in '15-16 and $2,368,327 in '16-17
  • #16 pick in 2014 (via Charlotte), Sacramento's top-10 protected 2015 first round pick, and Chicago's unprotected 2015 first round pick.
Timberwolves trade
  • Kevin Love: $15,719,063 in '14-15, player option for $16,744,219 in '15-16
  • Kevin Martin: $6,792,500 in '14-15, $7,085,00 in '15-16, player option for $7,377,500 in '16-17
This would keep the Bulls just over the salary cap line, allowing them plenty of room to use the full mid-level exception and bi-annual exception to add to their core of Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Kevin Love, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, and Kevin Martin. The Timberwolves' cap sheet would become relatively clean after this season with this trade, but if this still isn't enough, it is possible that Sacramento's #8 pick could become involved since it is on the trade block.

If the Kings truly are looking for a veteran, then Taj Gibson would be the perfect fit for them since he can provide both defensive help and mid-range shooting next to DeMarcus Cousins. Getting the #8 pick involved as an extra conduit for Minnesota to trade its star power forward, much like the Warriors tried to do with the Bobcats before Kevin Garnett was traded, could be the last step for Chicago to seal the deal in a move that looks something like this (three-way trades are best described with a visual, even if ESPN's Trade Machine does not yet reflect updated salaries):
In this scenario, Minnesota would get Mirotic, the above draft picks, and the expiring contracts of Boozer and Terry, while also ridding themselves of the money owed to Martin and Brewer. Sacramento would be upgrading from Jason Thompson to Gibson in exchange for the #8 pick and adding Brewer, and Chicago would get their star in Love, along with solid bench pieces in Martin and Thompson, albeit at a hefty price.

If I am being honest, that is the best scenario for all of this to play out. Minnesota could get a great coach and convince Love to stay, but I think he forces his way to Chicago. No matter what, you can be sure of one thing: all of these teams are going to go all out for his services, and the Warriors will be chief among them.

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