Sports – Martinez Tribune https://martineztribune.com The website of the Martinez Tribune. Tue, 05 Nov 2019 22:10:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.4 Game effort by Warriors MASH unit falls short against Hornets https://martineztribune.com/2019/11/02/game-effort-by-warriors-mash-unit-falls-short-against-hornets/ https://martineztribune.com/2019/11/02/game-effort-by-warriors-mash-unit-falls-short-against-hornets/#respond Sun, 03 Nov 2019 06:58:53 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=13590 BY MASON BISSADA Stephen Curry. D’Angelo Russell. Klay Thompson. Draymond Green. Kevon Looney. Sounds like a pretty formidable starting five, right ? Many teams in the league would kill for any one of those five names, including the Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately, that lineup was just a fantasy for Golden State on Saturday as they …

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BY MASON BISSADA

Stephen Curry. D’Angelo Russell. Klay Thompson. Draymond Green. Kevon Looney. Sounds like a pretty formidable starting five, right ? Many teams in the league would kill for any one of those five names, including the Golden State Warriors.

Unfortunately, that lineup was just a fantasy for Golden State on Saturday as they squared off against the Charlotte Hornets. Curry (broken hand), Russell (tweaked ankle), Thompson (torn ACL) Green (torn ligament in finger), Looney (hamstring injury) and Jacob Evans (abductor strain) were all sidelined, forcing Head Coach Steve Kerr to run out a starting five composed of Glen Robinson III, Willie Cauley-Stein and rookies Ky Bowman, Jordan Poole and Eric Paschall. It is debatable whether the Warriors have embraced the tank, but it is undeniable that the tank, manifesting itself as an injury plague, has embraced the Warriors.

And yet, Golden State looked competitive throughout their 93-87 loss. This can largely be attributed to the fact that they were facing off against Charlotte. The Hornets, while holding a respectable 2-3 record coming into tonight’s game, also had the worst point differential in the Eastern Conference. Their offensive and defensive deficiencies gave the Warriors a puncher’s chance despite their seemingly endless list of injuries.

Golden State led by five at halftime and three at the end of the third quarter, but relinquished their lead midway through the fourth. With seconds left, Golden State gave up multiple offensive rebounds off of missed free throws by the Hornets and did not give themselves a chance to either win the game or send it to overtime. Head Coach Steve Kerr took responsibility for the crunch time failure. “I decided to screw things up at the end,” Kerr said postgame. “Tough way to lose. I was just so proud of the guys and the way they competed.”

Eric Paschall played the best game of his young career, scoring 25 points on 10 of 18 shooting. Paschall looked decisive, knowing when to drive and when to pass. The Warriors would frequently play through him in the post, running shooters off the ball around him as he surveyed the court. When facing up, Paschall used his surprising first step to his advantage, getting to the rim and using his big body to finish through contact. He has just enough of a handle to create seperation and wrong-foot his defender before knocking them off balance with his strength. Though his jumpshot is a bit unorthodox, Paschall was able to knock down a few mid-range jumpers. His 3-point shot is another story, as he went 0-4 on the night. Still, he answered the call as a number-1 option on a team desperate for shot creation.

“Eric’s just so confident,” Kerr said postgame. “He knows who he is. He’s got an interesting game. He’s an undersized 4-man but can put the ball on the floor and just bull past people and get to the rim. He also showed he could knock down a jumpshot. He’s doing a hell of a job.”

Ky Bowman, the Warriors’ two-way rookie out of Boston College and once the fourth-string point guard on the roster, also stepped up in terms of offensive creation as the starting 1, putting in a solid line of 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists. His ball-handling and dribble penetration were crucial, and he showed flashes of being a pest defensively.

Glenn Robinson III also pitched in, knocking in four of his seven 3-point attempts. This is a positive sign for Robinson. He’s always been an efficient shooter, but never attempted enough shots from beyond the arc to keep defenses honest. If seven attempts from behind the line can be his new normal and he can maintain decent efficiency while doing it, he suddenly becomes a valuable player at a position of need.

For the Hornets, shooting guard Dwayne Bacon led the way with 25 points on 10-21 shooting. Bacon poked holes in the Warriors’ defense, both in the half court and in transition. Centers Willie Caulie-Stein and Omari Spellman often looked lost defending the paint, and Bacon was able to take advantage. Going forward, this is where Draymond Green will be missed the most. Terry Rozier (8-17) added 20 points and seven assists.

As this Warriors’ season transitions from competitive NBA basketball to rookie-scouting summit, it’s a positive sign that Golden State’s young guns didn’t shy away from the moment. Paschall looks like a real player, and he has another 76 games to continue his ascent.

The Warriors next host the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night at 7:30 from the Chase Center.

 

 

 

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What Curry’s Broken Hand Means for the Warriors Season https://martineztribune.com/2019/10/31/what-currys-broken-hand-means-for-the-warriors-season/ https://martineztribune.com/2019/10/31/what-currys-broken-hand-means-for-the-warriors-season/#respond Thu, 31 Oct 2019 07:32:07 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=13587 BY MASON BISSADA Warriors guard Steph Curry broke his left hand Wednesday night during the third quarter of a game against the Phoenix Suns. Curry was going up for a layup before he collided with Suns center Aron Baynes. Curry landed hand-first before Baynes landed directly on his hand at an awkward angle. ESPN’s Ramona …

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BY MASON BISSADA

Warriors guard Steph Curry broke his left hand Wednesday night during the third quarter of a game against the Phoenix Suns. Curry was going up for a layup before he collided with Suns center Aron Baynes. Curry landed hand-first before Baynes landed directly on his hand at an awkward angle. ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported via Twitter that “Curry will get a CT scan on his hand before determining a timeline but initial diagnosis is he’s got a broken second metacarpal in his left hand.” 

The injury came as a proverbial punch in the gut for fans who had already been proverbially punched in the face. The Warriors would go on to lose to the Suns 121-110, though they trailed by over 30 points at one point during the game. This drops their record to 1-3 on the season, including embarrassing 20-plus-point losses to the Clippers and Thunder. Combine this with Head Coach Steve Kerr stating that Klay Thompson is “unlikely” to play this season after suffering an ACL tear, and it isn’t surprising that many fans and media members were already writing Golden State off as a lottery team. Their only hope for turning their season around was for Curry to go supernova by carrying the team offensively. Now, it seems all hope is lost.

In terms of recovery, whether or not surgery is required is a big factor. If it is indeed required, a comparable recovery would be that of Russell Westbrook’s. Westbrook broke his right hand on October 30th, 2014. He underwent surgery two days later, and returned to the court 29 days after the surgery. This projection might be a bit rosey for Curry, as he is not the cyborg-like healer that Westbrook is known to be.

A month-long recovery might seem tolerable upon first glance, but that month could be a death knell for the Warriors’ playoff chances given their remaining talent. Curry is one of two above-average offensive creators in their lineup, and while D’Angelo Russell has shown some flashes of offensive prowess as a Warrior, he’s been a bit disappointing so far in his first four games.

In a loaded Western Conference, a month can make or break a season. If the Warriors were 1-3 with Curry, it is not absurd to think that they’ll go 4-12 or worse without him. If that is the case, Golden State’s season is essentially lost.

The Warriors’ coaching staff and front office seemed to be priming the media and fans for a sort-of bye-year even before this injury. Kerr’s comments about Thompson’s prolonged return and his reiteration that his team had lost its veteran basketball IQ sounded as if he knew that this season was a bit of a wash. Their current roster lacks depth and versatility (and  talent) and the hard-cap restricts them from adding new pieces.

 Perhaps this injury can act as confirmation. A nail in the coffin for a season that was already beginning to decay. If there was any pressure at all for Thompson to return early, it is now erased. Fans should now turn their focus to the young players, who are going to get all they can handle in terms of minutes. Expect Draymond Green to be load-managed, along with Curry himself when he does eventually return. There are still plenty of things to watch for this season, but playoff basketball is probably not one of them.

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Astros rebuilding model just a game away from second title https://martineztribune.com/2019/10/29/astros-rebuilding-model-just-a-game-away-from-second-title/ https://martineztribune.com/2019/10/29/astros-rebuilding-model-just-a-game-away-from-second-title/#respond Tue, 29 Oct 2019 07:01:21 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=13571 BY J.A. SCHWARTZ From 2011 through 2013, the Houston Astros were the worst team in baseball. They lost 106, 107 and 111 games in that three year stretch, going a combined 162-324. Those results were not entirely unexpected, as the franchise embarked upon a “rebuilding” process that would begin in earnest entering the 2011 season, …

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BY J.A. SCHWARTZ

From 2011 through 2013, the Houston Astros were the worst team in baseball. They lost 106, 107 and 111 games in that three year stretch, going a combined 162-324. Those results were not entirely unexpected, as the franchise embarked upon a “rebuilding” process that would begin in earnest entering the 2011 season, and would continue under the guidance of new GM Jeff Luhnow, who took over in December of that year.

No reasonable investigation of the Astros ascension can be undertaken without first addressing the issue that hangs over the club in the aftermath of a very unseemly front office display of both insensitivity and tone deaf public relations.  In May of 2018, Toronto closer Roberto Osuna was arrested in Canada and charged with assault on the mother of his three-year-old son. He was swiftly placed on “administrative leave” from baseball by commissioner Rob Manfred, and was ultimately suspended 75 games without pay having violated the league’s policy against domestic violence. He would never pitch for the Blue Jays again, and was traded to Houston in late July of that year.

The Astros faced a firestorm of displeasure from their fans in the wake of the acquisition, but his new teammates, manager and the front office all stood in support of Osuna while trying to sound sensitive to the issue of domestic violence in general. “The due diligence by our front office was unprecedented”, Luhnow noted in his statement addressing the trade. “We are confident that Osuna is remorseful, has willfully complied with all consequences related to his past behavior, has proactively engaged in counseling, and will fully comply with our zero tolerance policy related to abuse of any kind.”

When the Astros clinched the ALCS, Brandon Taubman, assistant GM and a rising star young front office executive, was quoted as saying “Thank God we got Osuna ! I am so f**king glad we got Osuna,” several times. His outburst was directed towards a group of female reporters in the clubhouse, one of who wore a purple domestic violence awareness bracelet. When Sports Illustrated writer Stephanie Apstein reported this encounter, suggesting that Taubman was directing his comments towards the female reporters in the clubhouse, the Astros released a statement in response. “The story by Sports Illustrated is misleading and completely irresponsible. We are extremely disappointed in Sports Illustrated’s attempt to fabricate a story where one does not exist.”

 

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Houston’s Roberto Osuna delivers a pitch during an August game in Oakland. The Astros closer led the American League with 38 saves, but continues to be a lightning rod following his 2018 arrest for domestic violence.

 

After multiple eyewitness accounts were published in support of Apstein’s characterization of the exchange, the Astros back-tracked and fired Taubman before Game 3 of the World Series, issuing an aplogy in the process. In the few days that passed between the episode and the decision to fire Taubman, the organization showed incredibly poor judgment, and was pilloried in the court of public opinion.

It’s difficult to identify what draws a fan to a specific team, and why that partisan would stay loyal to his or her chosen target of adulation for decades, even lifetimes. The Astros aren’t the only club to employ a player such as Osuna. The Yankees traded to acquire LHP Aroldis Chapman from the Reds in the winter of 2015 in the wake of Chapman’s own brush with domestic violence. Chapman was the first player suspended under MLB’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse policy in early 2016. The Yankees continued to employ him after the suspension, and even after trading him to the Cubs later that summer of 2016 (he would help Chicago win the 2016 World Series), New York would re-sign Chapman as a free agent prior to the 2017 season.

The Cubs invited criticism for having traded for Chapman, a known violator of the new policy, and their franchise was again embroiled in controversy when their own starting shortstop Addison Russell (acquired via trade with the A’s) was suspended in late 2018 for running afoul of the new policy. Despite renewed backlash from their fans, the Cubs welcomed Russell back to the team this past season after his 40 game suspension had been served. These are only the most recent examples of players (or coaches/executives) who, by their own actions and decisions, bring shame and negative attention to the franchises who employ them. They will not be the last.

Despite brave and carefully crafted public pronouncements from the team in the wake of such controversies, the unmitigated facts remain: If a player has the talent to improve a team’s on the field fortunes, all manner of evils will be tolerated or rationalized in the quest for victories. It seems that it is the exception, not the rule, that franchises take a stand in their refusal to seek to acquire as distressed assets (as the Yankees did when they traded for Chapman, who the Reds desperately wanted to be rid of) or harbor such personalities such as Russell or Osuna. It is thus left to the fan to decide how much of their heart and soul they are willing to invest in such teams, and at what point their moral or ethical positions regarding players of questionable character begin to outweigh their sometimes lifelong allegiances.

In the light of such weighty considerations, it is still possible to appreciate the brilliance of a player, executive, or even an entire franchise for their accomplishments on the field of play, and to celebrate achievement in those areas while continuing to hold those same entities accountable for their decisions. Excelling in the one area does not abrogate responsibility for the other, just as the failings of one particular part of a franchise (who employ literally hundreds of people) do not erase the excellence achieved in competition. It is with that paradigm in mind that we investigate the indisputable superiority of the Houston Astros franchise, during a period in their history where the off-the-field behavior of their employees has rightfully earned them public and professional scorn.

Reality is fraught with good and evil at every level of existence. Is it roseate to expect that sports teams, the objects of our lifelong adoration, exist in a utopian state of morality, helping to justify our investment in them? It is undeniable that events such as the Taubman imbroglio strike deeply at the hearts of Astros rooters, and there are certainly many who have already decided to remove their support from the team over such issues. The relationship between fan and team has never been more fraught with complications, and like all connections of longstanding duration, it is left to the individual to decide when the merit of blind allegiance is nullified by the actions, or ethical positions, of the team in question. It would seem that the plight of the modern sports fan shares much in common with the tribulations of our entire country, enmeshed in ugly political upheaval and national dissonance.

We need sports to be a relief from the harsh realities of society, a safe haven for our affections, and a place where we can bond with like-minded people to celebrate and admire the physical and mental prowess of the professional athlete, who performs for our enjoyment in very public forums. It is when those pleasures are poisoned by the behavior of the people who play that we all suffer a sense of loss.

From 2017 through 2019, the Houston Astros have been the best team in baseball, going 311-175; a record nine games better than the next best team (Dodgers). They won the 2017 World Series, and reached the Fall Classic again this season.  How did such a wretched team go from the very bottom of the standings to arguably the best team in the game-and World Series Champions-in the span of four years ?

Step 1: Lose a lot of games.

In late July, 2010, the Astros traded franchise icons Lance Berkman and pitcher Roy Oswalt, moves that signaled the end of one era and the start of another. The following summer, they dealt outfielders Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, receiving young minor league talent in return in each transaction. Later in 2011, two Astros farmhands made their major league debuts: Jose Altuve and J.D. Martinez, the leading edge of a wave of talent that would gradually populate a roster now bereft of both ability and high salaries.

The Astros featured the game’s lowest payroll in both 2012 and 2013, bottoming out at $35.5 million in 2013, a season that saw them finish 51-111. While those three seasons were difficult (and embarrassing) for Houston fans to endure, the money saved during those campaigns would be reinvested in their player development department, and the draft picks earned by the ignominy of their last place finishes would help fuel the rebuilding effort. By losing so egregiously (and by paying rock bottom salaries and avoiding pricey free agent splurges), the Astros had paved the way for a steady rise from the ashes.

Step 2: Find brilliant front office personnel, and let them have control.

When the St. Louis Cardinals won the 2011 World Series in a thrilling seven game series over the Texas Rangers, Jeff Luhnow was the Cardinals Vice President of Scouting and Player Development, a role he held with the club since 2006. The drafts over which Luhnow presided from 2005-2007 produced 24 major leaguers, the most of any team during that span, several of whom would contribute to the Cards title in 2011. In December of 2011, the Astros would hire Luhnow to become their General Manager, replacing Ed Wade.

Luhnow immediately set about transforming the Astros franchise, making analytics and data utilization the driving force behind their organizational philosophies. The Astros have been among the most aggressive teams in baseball in terms of utilizing infield shifts for their defensive alignments, bolstering the efforts of their elite pitching staff. The franchise has also been remarkably adept at both developing pitching through their minor league system as well as helping to enhance and improve the performance of imported pitching using their internal pitch mix theories and analytically driven coaching staff. From the top down, Luhnow has populated the front office and minor league development staff with young, data driven professionals, who have collectively overseen the transformation of the franchise from laughing stock to juggernaut.

Step 3: Draft wisely.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
The Astros core of Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa (pictured L-r) are all home grown talent from Houston’s organization. None have played a Major League game for another team.

 

Wade made the most of his last draft as the Astros GM, choosing George Springer with the 11th pick in the June 2011 draft. Luhnow would have the luxury of drafting either first or second overall in the next four drafts,  adding Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and Alex Bregman to the minor league organization. Other drafted players would be would become trade chips used to acquire impact players from other teams.

Step 4: Invest in the International Free Agent Market

Two key players on the 2019 Houston roster were acquired via the international free agent market. Infielder Yuli Gurriel was one of the best hitters in Cuba, and when he finally chose to defect at age 32, the Astros scooped him up, signing him to a five year, $47.5 million contract. Back in 2007, a few weeks after having been sent home from a tryout in his native Venezuela, Altuve re-appeared in an Astros camp. The team agreed to sign the diminutive player for a meager $15,000, and he hit his way through the minors, though he never appeared on any top prospect lists, primarily due to his 5’6” frame.  Since his debut in 2011, Altuve hasn’t stopped hitting, winning the 2017 AL MVP. The Astros have utilized some of their international free agent signings in impact trades, bringing in C Brian McCann in 2016 in return for two such players. McCann would be the primary catcher on their World Series winning team the following year.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Cuban born Yuli Gurriel is coming off a season where he established career highs with 31 home runs and 104 RBI’s in just his fourth year in the Majors.

 

Step 5: Trade aggressively.

The Astros used their wealth of young talent, built through the draft and from trading off expensive veterans during their 2011-2013 nadir, to acquire impact players to compliment their young core.

In 2015, they dealt former top overall pick Mark Appel and four other minor leaguers to acquire reliver Ken Giles from the Phillies.  Three years later, they would package Giles and two more minor leaguers to acquire the aforementioned  Osuna to be their current closer.

In 2016, they moved pitcher Josh Fields to the Dodgers in exchange for recent international signee Yordan Alvarez. The tall Cuban is the presumptive 2019 AL Rookie of the Year.

At the 2017 trade deadline, they sent 2015 first round pick Daz Cameron and two other minor leaguers to the Tigers to snag future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander.In early 2018, they used four minor leaguers to import likely 2019 AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole from the Pirates. At the trade deadline this season, Houston utilized three recent first round picks to persuade Arizona to part with former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
The Astros trade deadline acquisition of Zack Greinke added a third elite starter to their rotation and has them a win away from their second World Series title in three years.

 

Not all the Astros wheeling and dealing ended up working out as well. Houston had reliever Josh Hader, acquired in a trade from Baltimore in 2013, but they moved him to Milwaukee in a 2015 deal to add righty Mike Fiers to their rotation.

Houston had drafted (2009) and developed J.D. Martinez, but the team didn’t buy into the young slugger’s new swing mechanics in 2014 despite his excellent spring training performance. The team released Martinez in late March of that year, and two days later, the Tigers signed him as a free agent. Martinez has gone on to become one of the top five hitters in all of baseball over the past six seasons.

Ramon Laureano was an Astros draftee (2014) and minor league star, but the team moved him to the A’s after their 2017 World Series victory in return for RHP Brandon Bailey. Laureano has emerged as a young star in centerfield for Oakland over the past two seasons.

Step 6: Add veteran free agents on short-term deals to the core young talent.

The Astros have largely avoided forays into the highest levels of the free agent market, though they have added key players on shorter-term deals.

Before the 2017 season, they added Josh Reddick (4 years/$52 million), Carlos Beltran (1 year/$16 million), and Charlie Morton (2 years/$14 million), each of whom played key roles in their title run.

Before the 2018 season, they added two relievers, Joe Smith and Hector Rondon as free agent upgrades to their championship roster. And prior to this season they signed outfielder Michael Brantley (2 years/$32 million), starter Wade Miley (1 year/$4.5 million) and catcher Robinson Chirinos (1 year/$5.75 million) to bolster their pennant hopes.

The core of the team, Altuve, Bregman, Correa, Gurriel, Springer, Reddick, Brantley, Alvarez, Verlander, Greinke and releiver Ryan Pressly are all under team control through at least 2020. Despite having such a loaded roster, the Astros have carried payrolls outside the Top 5 in baseball during their run of making the playoffs four of the past five seasons.  Their yearly rank among franchises in terms of spending has risen from 25th in 2015 (at $81 million), their first playoff appearance under Luhnow, to 20th in 2016, 17th in 2017, 9th in 2018 and 7th overall, at $168 million this year.

 

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Astros lead-off man George Springer set career highs with a .292 average along with 39 home runs and 96 RBI’s during the 2019 season. He was also the World Series MVP in 2017.

 

As their young and inexpensive group of players become more costly, the Astros, who have been hesitant to exceed the luxury tax threshold, could become vulnerable in the AL West. They are very likely to lose ace Gerrit Cole this offseason as he becomes a free agent, leaving them with only Verlander (37 next year) and Greinke (36 next year) as rotation certainties.

They do have some young pitchers who could step in, but their pitching might leave them vulnerable to a team like Oakland, who has built an excellent lineup and a formidable rotation. Assuming lefties Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk, top 25 prospects who made strong impressions as rookies in 2019, ascend to the rotation, the A’s could have a collection of starters that might be the best in the division. If Luzardo and Puk slot in behind Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas, the A’s would have four starters 27 years old or younger who collectively will earn less than $6 million.

That reality could make it easier for Oakland to augment their bullpen and lineup with wise investments on the free agent market. The team has $100 million in salaries on the books for 2020, which should leave room for the team to make upgrades if GM Billy Beane sees a fit via trade or free agency. If there is a way to finally dethrone the Houston dynasty, it stands to reason that a strong rotation, deep bullpen and elite defense will be the best weapons against the high-powered Astros lineup.  The AL West in 2020 should be significantly more competitive than it was this season, especially as the A’s see their young core of stars continue to develop.

No matter how the World Series turns out, Houston, led by Luhnow and his team of forward thinking, analytically driven minions, deserve immense credit for having guided the franchise from the very depths of the league to their current position, a win away from their second championship in three seasons. They’re the only franchise to make the LCS each of the past three years, and they figure to be favorites to be back in the postseason in 2020 as well.

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Clippers give Warriors Reality Check on Opening Night at Chase https://martineztribune.com/2019/10/24/clippers-give-warriors-reality-check-on-opening-night-at-chase/ https://martineztribune.com/2019/10/24/clippers-give-warriors-reality-check-on-opening-night-at-chase/#respond Fri, 25 Oct 2019 06:39:43 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=13555 BY MASON BISSADA  The Golden State Warriors were eviscerated by the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night, losing to their in-state rival by a whopping 141-122 on opening night at the new Chase Center in San Francisco. To say that the Warriors got off to a slow start would be an understatement, seeing as how …

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BY MASON BISSADA

 The Golden State Warriors were eviscerated by the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night, losing to their in-state rival by a whopping 141-122 on opening night at the new Chase Center in San Francisco.

To say that the Warriors got off to a slow start would be an understatement, seeing as how the Clippers went on a 14-0 run to start the game. D’Angelo Russell took it upon himself to stop the bleeding, scoring the Warriors’ first 10 points, including a pair of pull-up 3’s in transition. Russell looked passable offensively in his Warriors’ debut, going for 20 points on 4-8 3-point shooting. Thanks to Russell’s hot start and some competent bench play from Jacob Evans (4-9 from 3 for the game) and rookie Eric Paschall, Golden State was able to cut the lead to a reasonable 11 points at halftime. Then all hell broke loose.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Eric Paschall looks to get off a shot over the Clippers Lou Williams in his NBA debut for the Warriors Thursday night. Paschall scored 14 points, but Los Angeles routed the Warriors 141-122.

 

During the Kerr era, the Warriors have become notorious for going on huge 3rd quarter runs to either come back from a deficit or extend an already sizable lead. Thursday, however, the opposite happened, as the Clippers outscored the Warriors 46-33, effectively ending the game. The Warriors’ defense was abominable, as they were unable to slow down Kawhi Leonard (21 points) or the super-sub combo of Lou Williams (22) and Montrezl Harrell (18). The Clippers shot an eye-popping 62.5% from the field and 56.3% from three for the game.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Lou Williams of the Clippers goes up for a shot around Jacob Evans III during the Clips 141-122 win over the Warriors Thursday night. Williams led Los Angeles with 22 points off the bench to help spoil the opening night at Chase Center for the Warriors.

 

“Our defense was atrocious,” Draymond Green said postgame. You got to give [the Clippers] some credit but when you give them the type of rhythm they were allowed to get in, they’re going to make shots and a lot of them were open.They have a good team but our defense was pathetic.”

Steph Curry struggled mightily, turning the ball over eight times. It was also a rare off-night in terms of shooting for the usual 3-point sniper, going just 2-11 from beyond the arc. The Clippers clearly designed their defense around stopping Curry, constantly sending two players to the ball when he had possession and trapping him in pick-and-roll situations. Defensive pest Patrick Beverley hounded Curry, constantly toeing the line between fantastic defense and physical assault. Beverley even bated Curry into an offensive foul via a shove out of frustration.

“The easy answer is that it is one out of 82, but there is some glaring and there are things that we need to correct if we want to win basketball games consistently,” Curry said postgame.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Kawhi Leonard drives the lane against Glenn Robinson III during the Clippers 141-122 win over Golden State Thursday night in the opening game at Chase Center. The reigning NBA Finals MVP scored 21 points and dished off nine assists.

 

The Warriors’ defensive scheme appeared to include placing Draymond Green on Clippers forward Patrick Patterson, who has not shot the ball well in recent seasons past. Green played off of Patterson in an attempt to play free safety as a help defender, daring Patterson to shoot. Patterson did indeed, knocking down 6-10 3-point attempts and ending the night with 20 points, a higher total than he had in any game last season. This is something the Warriors will just have to live with, as the logic behind the scheme was sound.

 The Warriors bad injury luck also continued, as starting center Kevon Looney sat the second half after re-aggravating a hamstring injury. If this causes Looney to miss games, the Warriors will have to look to newly-acquired Marquese Chriss to start at center with Willie Cauley-Stein already out. Green also sat out for a short period in the first quarter with some sort of nerve issue in his shoulder, but was able to return in the second quarter. Green’s health is definitely something to keep an eye on as the season progresses, as the Warriors would likely fall off a defensive cliff without him.

Perhaps it is a good thing that the Warriors took such an emphatic loss this early in the season. It was a reality check they needed, conveying to them that they are no longer a juggernaut that can walk into any game and win with one hand tied behind their backs. This Clipper team might be the toughest opponent they’ll face this season, so at least they know it’s all uphill from here.

 “This is not a one-off,” Head Coach Steve Kerr said postgame “This is the reality. There are going to be nights like this during the year. You have to play through it and you have to keep fighting and keep getting better. That’s the plan.”

 The Warriors next travel to Oklahoma City to play the Thunder on Sunday at 12:30 p.m.

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New look Warriors entering 2019-20 season in uncharted waters https://martineztribune.com/2019/10/23/new-look-warriors-entering-2019-season-in-uncharted-waters/ https://martineztribune.com/2019/10/23/new-look-warriors-entering-2019-season-in-uncharted-waters/#respond Wed, 23 Oct 2019 13:00:41 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=13528 BY MASON BISSADA The Golden State Warriors are walking into foreign territory, entering the 2019-20 NBA season as anything other than the championship favorites for the first time in three years. The postseason and offseason were not kind to Golden State, as only two of the five players that make up the infamous “Hamptons 5” …

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BY MASON BISSADA

The Golden State Warriors are walking into foreign territory, entering the 2019-20 NBA season as anything other than the championship favorites for the first time in three years. The postseason and offseason were not kind to Golden State, as only two of the five players that make up the infamous “Hamptons 5” lineup will be returning on opening night. For fans, the sequential wounds of the Kevin Durant Achilles tear, the Klay Thompson ACL tear, the devastating Finals loss to the Toronto Raptors and the nearly-as-devastating (if not predictable) loss of Durant in free agency felt like multiple proverbial kicks while they were down. Still, many are optimistic that a core of two-time MVP Stephen Curry and former Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green is a formula for success. But two players does not a basketball team make, and there are quite a few new faces to whom fans will have to adjust, along with their season expectations.

 The Roster

Though not positionally, D’Angelo Russell is the Kevin Durant replacement, being the return the Warriors received in the sign-and-trade of Durant to the Brooklyn Nets back in July. Russell is in no way a similar (or as efficient) player to Durant, but it will be his job to keep the offense afloat when Curry is on the bench. Russell is a probing guard with a reliable jumpshot and excellent court vision who ran a playoff-level offense last year with the Nets. He relies heavily on screen-and-roll action to generate offense, something the Warriors have been averse to in the Steve Kerr era, though the head coach has said this will change to better fit this year’s personnel.

Defensively, Russell is a bit of a liability, easily losing his man on screens and back-cuts. He is also rather unathletic in terms of moving his feet. A Curry-Russell backcourt will be a feast for opposing offenses, particularly ones with dynamic scoring guards (looking at you, Portland).

Speaking of Curry, he is still a top-five player in the NBA, and is the most prolific offensive weapon a coach could ask for. Curry’s floor spacing, off-ball movement, dribble-penetration and court vision can turn any offensive lineup into an elite scoring group, which the Warriors likely will be in the minutes that Curry plays. The issue will be the minutes that he doesn’t. 

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
As the Warriors enter the new season with an overhauled roster, Steph Curry’s ability to stay healthy is more vital than ever to the team’s success.

 

If Curry does earn an MVP narrative, it’s going to be similar to that of Russell Westbrook’s 2016-17 campaign: A sixth-seeded team being carried by one superstar that would be a lottery team without him. If the Warriors can outscore teams on a nightly basis as Curry pulls off another 30+ points-per-game average on 50/40/90 shooting-percentage splits as he did during his unanimous MVP run, he’ll be heralded as a God among men. The 50/40/90 efficiency is unlikely, however, as defenses will design their entire scheme around stopping Curry, seeing as the Warriors only have one other scoring threat in their starting lineup. Were it not for Russell, defenses might try box-and-1 defensive alignments to stop Curry as the Raptors did in the Finals.

While much of the offensive burden is being placed on Curry, the entirety of the defensive burden will be placed on Draymond Green. Green will turn 30 this year, with five straight Finals worth of mileage on his tires. When engaged and in shape, Green is still one of the most impactful defenders in the league. He can guard every position, switching onto guards with ease and defending low-post threats with boulder-like stubbornness. His long arms and sneaky athleticism make him an excellent rim protector and weak-side shot-changer. However, Green will not be able to play free-safety as often as he did when he was playing alongside other versatile defenders like Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Durant. In the past, Kerr would often place Green on the opposing team’s worst offensive player (think Tony Allen in the 2015 playoffs), allowing him to roam freely and contribute helping defense wherever it was needed. This year, Green will likely have to guard the opposing team’s best player from the jump out of necessity, which may be taxing in the long-term. Green will have to maintain the level of fitness he was at in last year’s playoffs in order to raise Golden State’s defense above the league average.

“We don’t have as good of defenders as we had,” Green said matter-of-factly at Media Day. “I don’t think that’s any surprise. But at the same time, we’ve just got to find our identity. You know, before our identity was switching. That may not be our identity anymore.”

Starting alongside Green in the frontcourt will likely be Kevon Looney, one of the few holdovers from last year’s roster. Looney has grown into a legitimate starting-calibur center whose defensive mobility has flown a bit under the radar. Last year, Looney was often the best traditional option at the 5, even when DeMarcus Cousins was healthy. Looney has never played more than 18 minutes a game, so look for fatigue to be a factor as his role increases.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
One of the most impactful defenders in the league, an even larger burden will fall on Draymond Green’s shoulders in the upcoming season with less help than usual.

 

The other option Kerr may resort to as the starting center later in the season is new acquisition Willie Cauley-Stein. Cauley-Stein is currently recovering from a left-foot sprain that will likely keep him out for the first few games of the season, but when he returns, he’ll bring an athletic lob threat that the Warriors haven’t had since JaVale McGee left for Los Angeles. Cauley-Stein averaged 11.9 points and 8.4 rebounds on 56.6% true shooting as the starting center for the Sacramento Kings last season, and projects to be a decent rim-running pick-and-roll partner for both Curry and Russell.

A third option could be Marquese Chriss, whom the Warriors originally brought in as a training camp stop-gap in the wake of the Cauley-Stein injury. Chriss flourished both in practice and in the preseason, averaging 9.4 points, 8 rebounds and 3.4 assists on a whopping 66.8% true shooting in just 22 minutes of action. The Warriors clearly believe in Chriss, as they cut returning forward Alfonzo McKinnie (who was projected to start before the preseason began) in order to give Chriss their final roster slot. Chriss, still only 22, was a lottery pick who has bounced around the league in his first three seasons. If he can finally actualize his potential in a more stable situation, he may become found money for Golden State.

The talent dip becomes truly evident when focusing on the final starting slot and the bench behind it. The starting small forward position, which was once held by Durant and which will eventually be held by Thompson, will likely be filled for the time-being by Glenn Robinson III, who started three of the Warriors’ five preseason games. Robinson III is a 6’6 wing and a dunk-contest-winning-level athlete. In his three years with Indiana before a lost year in Detroit, he shot 39.4% from 3-point range, a number the Warriors would love to see continue into the upcoming season. The problem is that Robinson is hesitant to take those three’s, averaging just 1.5 attempts over that same span. Defenses will be made aware of this hesitance and may treat him as a non-shooter despite the percentages.

Behind him are names such as Alec Burks, Damian Lee and Jacob Evans. All undersized wings that are capable of scoring on second units but have never made a rotation-level impact in the NBA. None of these names necessarily fit the profile of a conventional Warriors swingman-type, though those types are few and far between across the entire league. The D’Angelo Russell sign-and-trade triggered a hard salary cap for the Warriors, prohibiting them from spending money on players with true two-way capability. Until Thompson returns, the Warriors will have to live with what they’ve got.

The Rookies

Jordan Poole, drafted #28 overall by the Warriors, is a 6’5 guard out of Michigan. Poole is an athletic scoring wing who is not shy about pulling the trigger from behind the arc, something the Warriors will value given their lack of spacing with Thompson sidelined. Poole attempted 39 three’s over the span of his five preseason games. Regardless of the number of makes (13), Poole’s willingness to shoot should keep defenses honest and give Curry and Russell a bit more space to operate. Poole looks to be getting the bulk of the backup shooting guard minutes, at least to start the season.

Eric Paschall, drafted #41 overall, is a 6’7 power forward out of Villanova. As a four-year college player at age 22, Paschall has had time to fully grow into his body, weighing in at 255 pounds. Paschall projects as a Draymond Green-lite type, bringing some switchability, a decent looking jumpshot and a malleability in terms of his position. He’ll be fighting for minutes, as the Warriors front court is slightly deeper than their guard/wing rotation.

 The Klay Dilemma

Thompson’s ACL tear is a complex issue. The Warriors have stated that there will not even be an update on his recovery until after the All-Star break, and General Manager Bob Myers made it clear that this does not mean he’ll return after the break. It just means there will be an update. The Warriors will be 55 games into their season by that point, and will have a vague idea as to where they stand in the Western Conference in terms of talent and playoff seeding. If they are not a clear-cut playoff-caliber team that looks like one All-Star away from being a title contender, it would stand to reason that they will not rush Thompson back and may even state publicly that he is ruled out for the remainder of the season.

Kerr has spoken on this particular topic, stating recently that Thompson was unlikely to play this season and later emphasizing the term “unlikely,” thus leaving the door ever-so-slightly ajar.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
It’s quite possible that the biggest moment of the Warriors upcoming season occurred four months ago in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, as Klay Thompson’s ACL injury threatens to force him to miss an entire season.

 

Projections and Predictions

Various NBA publications, writers and tweeters have pegged the Warriors to finish somewhere in the 6th-8th seed range of the Western Conference (ESPN has them as the 6th seed with 49 wins), far removed from the 60 win range Warriors fans have been accustomed to during the Steve Kerr era. But if one were to look up and down this Golden State roster, these predictions begin to seem reasonable, if not a bit generous.

This team has not only lost a ton of its past talent, it has also lost its intelligence. The Warriors as presently constructed will not be able to run the beautiful-game, Spursian-style motion offense that has perplexed teams for half a decade. An offense like that requires a certain type of player that the Warriors just don’t have beyond their top three players.

“Having lost a lot of passers,” Kerr said at Media Day, “a lot of veteran basketball players, Andre, Shaun, Kevin, even going back a couple years with Zaza and David West, our roster has really been filled with passers. And so it made a lot of sense for us to get the ball moving… [The new players] haven’t done it yet at this level. If you don’t have that kind of passing, then you tend to rely on more specific sets. So that’s what I would look for with this team as we go. We’ll figure out what we have.”

With their offense relying heavily on Curry and their defense relying heavily on Green, the Warriors need to pray to the basketball Gods that these two injury-prone stars (Curry has played an average of 66.3 games per season over the last three years; Green 70.6) can stay relatively healthy. The Warriors will likely be an underdog in any game in which Curry does not play.

This could easily become a bye-year for the Warriors. The hard cap has limited them in terms of acquiring assets midseason, and they will also owe their 2020 draft pick to the Brooklyn Nets as part of the Durant sign-and-trade if the Warriors finish with a top-10 record in the league. If Thompson’s recovery isn’t progressing rapidly and Golden State decides it’s just not their year, look for them to attempt to keep their pick, rest Curry and Green as often as possible and throw in the towel for the season.

It is with this very possible outcome in mind that I’m predicting the Warriors will win 43 games and finish just outside of the Top-8 in the Western Conference, missing the playoffs for the first time in eight years. At full strength, even without including Thompson, there are probably not eight teams in the conference that are better than Golden State. But the West has never been deeper, and the Warriors just don’t have the depth to sustain any sort of absence from Curry or Green. Compound that with their limited floor-spacing, lack of defensive versatility and a plethora of unproven role players, and the Warriors may find themselves on the outside looking in. It is also worth noting that Golden State has one of the smartest front offices in basketball, and they’re wise enough to realize that chasing the 8th seed and running their players into the ground just to be swept by one of the L.A. juggernauts is not beneficial for the long-term success of the franchise.

The Warriors themselves will be playing wait-and-see along with their fans when gauging the quality of this team. However, as it stands now, there is more that can go wrong than go right. Time will tell if this team can defy the odds.

 

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D’Angelo Russell is a Perplexing Puzzle Piece for the Warriors https://martineztribune.com/2019/10/19/dangelo-russell-is-a-perplexing-puzzle-piece-for-the-warriors/ https://martineztribune.com/2019/10/19/dangelo-russell-is-a-perplexing-puzzle-piece-for-the-warriors/#respond Sat, 19 Oct 2019 16:00:20 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=13509 By MASON BISSADA It goes without saying that D’Angelo Russell was not an initial target of the Golden State Warriors prior to the 2019 NBA offseason. Russell was a restricted free agent looking to garner a max-contract who played the same position as Steph Curry. The Warriors were instead focused on retaining their superstar free …

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By MASON BISSADA

It goes without saying that D’Angelo Russell was not an initial target of the Golden State Warriors prior to the 2019 NBA offseason. Russell was a restricted free agent looking to garner a max-contract who played the same position as Steph Curry. The Warriors were instead focused on retaining their superstar free agent, Kevin Durant. However when it became clear that Durant would not be returning, the Golden State front office attempted to make the most of an unfortunate predicament. For General Manager Bob Myers, his job temporarily ceased to be acquiring assets that fit his roster and became simply acquiring assets, period.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
As D’Angelo Russell begins his first season with the Warriors, questions remain about what type of fit he’ll be playing the same position as Steph Curry.

 

“It happened really quickly,” Myers said during Media Day. “But from our standpoint, it was either we try to get something from the situation…or we don’t get anything at all and Kevin goes, which he certainly had the right to do, and Brooklyn could have taken him into their (salary cap)  space.”

The Warriors were fortunate that the Brooklyn Nets also had an outgoing, max-level free agent, and even more fortunate that all parties agreed to a sign-and-trade. However, before inking Russell to a hefty 4-year, $117 million deal, Golden State was forced to trade Andre Iguodala and a protected first-round pick to the Memphis Grizzlies in order to clear the cap space necessary to sign Russell. Iguodala, though now age 35, is still a more-than-capable wing-defender that the Warriors would love to have given their current lack of wing depth. They are also incapable of replacing Iguodala, as sign-and-trade transactions trigger a hard salary cap for the team. Regardless, the Warriors walked away with a new, notable name on their roster, and Myers must now cede the floor to Steve Kerr with the hopes that he’ll validate his decision.

On the court, D’Angelo Russell is still somewhat of an enigma, though he does have distinct strengths and weaknesses. Last year, his fourth in the NBA, was a breakout year for the guard, as he averaged 21.1 points and seven assists on his way to his first All-Star appearance (though it was as an injury replacement). He was a clear-cut number one option for the Nets, posting a 31% usage rate, the fifth highest usage in the league, according to NBA.com. Most of this ball-handling was spent on his bread-and-butter, the pick-and-roll.

It might be misleading to say that Russell is at his best as a pick-and-roll ball handler, simply because it’s the only form of offense he’s ever known, at least as a Net (his Laker days playing alongside old-man Kobe Bryant and Jordan Clarkson don’t hold much weight in terms of analysis). In the 2017-18 season, Russell ranked 13th in the NBA in pick-and-roll frequency as a ball-handler amongst players who played more than 30 games, running the offense for 43.5% of his possessions. In the 2018-19 season, that number rose to 49.9%, good for fifth in the league.

The play is fitting for Russell’s skillset. He’s a shifty, probing guard with a silky jumpshot that he can hit either beyond the arc or in the mid-range. When defenses would go under the screen, Russell wouldn’t hesitate to pull up. This worked to some degree in Brooklyn when Russell was paired with an excellent roll man in Jarrett Allen. But are the Warriors going to shift their entire motion offense, the offense that has thrown so many teams for a loop the last five years, to cater to Russell’s strengths?

Head Coach Steve Kerr answered this question rather definitively. “We know D’Angelo’s really good in pick-and-roll, so we’re going to put him in pick-and-roll,” Kerr said.

If this turns out to be the case, Russell will be paired with a ball-handler’s dream pick-and-roll partner in Draymond Green. The Curry-Green pick-and-roll proved time and again to be an extremely effective tool in playoff scenarios when necessary, particularly last year while Kevin Durant was injured. Green is a genius passer out of the short roll, with point guard-level vision capable of finding lob threats and corner shooters. The jury is still out on whether the Warriors have enough shooting on their roster to keep defenses honest, but they know at least one of the players standing behind the arc will be a career 44% 3-point shooter with one of the quickest releases in NBA history.

Speaking of Steph Curry, it appears that he and Russell will be sharing the ball-handling responsibilities. Russell has experience with this, playing alongside point guard Spencer Dinwiddie in Brooklyn and assuming the role of off-ball shooter. Russell shot an extremely efficient 39% on catch-and-shoot 3’s last season. If he can continue this in Golden State, he’ll provide a much-needed pressure-release in terms of spacing.

“It’s getting him used to when we don’t call plays,” Curry said when asked what kinks needed to be worked out offensively between him and Russell. “It’s our second nature, our reads, spacing and overall expectations… It’s just make the reads and go. For the most part, just don’t stop moving and good things will happen.”

When Curry is off the floor, it’ll be the D’Angelo show. It’s a safe bet to assume that one of the two guards will be on the floor at all times.

“We’ll probably end up staggering them because they’ll be our two top scorers, and we’ll figure all that stuff out as we go,” Kerr said at Media Day.

Russell will get all he can handle in terms of usage, and the Warriors will need him to create seams in the opposing defense. He still has a lot of room to grow as a go-to option. He’s never reached league-average in terms of true shooting percentage, partially because he doesn’t get to the rim and doesn’t draw fouls. But if Kerr uses him as the back-up point guard, he should be able to break down bench-level defenses and at least buy his team time until Curry checks back in.

As a whole offensively, there doesn’t seem to be a scenario where Russell isn’t at least a slight positive for the Warriors. His jumpshot is crucial and his court vision is an added bonus that will keep the engine humming. 

“I think with this style of play that we play with here, the pass is valued,” Russell said. “The pass is what gets a guy the shot. The pass is what keeps the offense flowing. A lot of guys are forced to double-team, so you have to get off of it, and that creates an advantage downhill. I think just adding another passer on to the team, myself, it just can help the team.”

Where the question mark truly lies in terms of the Russell addition is on the other side of the ball. He’s never been known to be a good defender, despite decent physical tools. He’s long for his position, and has a heft to him that he could potentially use to switch onto larger offensive players in the post. But he refuses to fight over a screen and often loses his man off the ball.

This won’t fly with Golden State, a team that has notched a Top-11 defense each of the last six seasons. The Warriors cannot afford to hide him on the opposing team’s less-threatening guard, as they are already forced to cater to Curry’s defensive limitations.

Russell will likely never be an above-average defender, but the Warriors switching schemes should minimize his weaknesses to some degree. They may have lost their surplus of long-armed, strong-yet-mobile wing defenders, but they still have a former Defensive Player of the Year starting at power forward in Green who can clean up defensive mishaps when it matters most.

Russell’s fit overall is a bit round-peg-square-hole-ish, but if one were to squint, there’s a chance he can help bolster the offense while Klay Thompson is out and be just passable enough on defense for Steve Kerr to keep his remaining hair. He may very well be worth Bob Myers’ risk. However, if that is the case, the ball may not be completely out of Myers’ court in terms of asset management.

If Russell starts the season on a hot streak and his trade value increases, Myers may look to capitalize and flip Russell at the trade deadline (or any time in the next four years) for a piece that fits more seamlessly with the Curry-Thompson-Green core. But this scenario is a bit of a catch-22; if Russell is playing well enough to increase his trade value, and this play is translating to winning games, than the Warriors should want to keep him and hope that this success continues. If he underperforms, his value will diminish and the team might hesitate to trade him as they would likely take a loss on their investment. Either way, it seems more likely than not that Russell stays, at least in the short term. The Warriors seem to be viewing this year as a transition season, and should be willing to test Russell’s fit before making yet another hasty decision. At the very least, he’s an exciting, young variable that will give fans something to wonder about as the season unfolds.

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Lakers A-Team spoils Warriors Chase Center debut 123-101 https://martineztribune.com/2019/10/05/lakers-a-team-spoils-warriors-chase-center-debut-123-101/ https://martineztribune.com/2019/10/05/lakers-a-team-spoils-warriors-chase-center-debut-123-101/#respond Sun, 06 Oct 2019 05:09:15 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=13386 BY MASON BISSADA  The Los Angeles Lakers spoiled the Golden State Warriors’ first ever preseason game at the new Chase Arena, dominating them from the jump by a final score of 123-101 Saturday evening.  Essentially, two 24-minute games were played: the first by each team’s A-squad and the second by their B-squad, the latter being …

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BY MASON BISSADA

 The Los Angeles Lakers spoiled the Golden State Warriors’ first ever preseason game at the new Chase Arena, dominating them from the jump by a final score of 123-101 Saturday evening.

 Essentially, two 24-minute games were played: the first by each team’s A-squad and the second by their B-squad, the latter being made up of second units, young prospects, two-way players and a few end-of-the-bench veterans. The A-team game ended with the Lakers leading 59-51, at which point many season ticket-holders fled for the exits to avoid watching players whose names they don’t know.

 The Warriors’ poor luck with injuries may as well have sealed their fate before tipoff, as big men Willie Cauley-Stein and Kevon Looney were both sidelined and Golden State’s lack of frontcourt size was blatantly obvious and detrimental as a result.  In their stead at the starting center spot was second-year forward Omari Spellman, whom the Warriors acquired in the offseason from the Atlanta Hawks. When Spellman sat, his role was filled by rookie Eric Paschall and non-guaranteed contract player Marquese Chriss.

 “We need [Cauley-Stein and Looney’s] length and athleticism and that ability to play the center spot,” Head Coach Steve Kerr said postgame. “Hopefully their absences won’t last too long.”

 Los Angeles dominated the paint, out-rebounding Golden State 18-11 in the first quarter and 34-26 in the first half. Anthony Davis, the Lakers offseason superstar acquisition, looked like his usual goliath-like self, feasting on the boards with five offensive rebounds on his way to a 22-point, 10-rebound night in just 18 minutes of action. The Lakers were also able to establish deep-post position and benefited from the size of both their bigs and ball-handlers.

 The Warriors new all-star starting backcourt of Steph Curry and D’Angelo Russell struggled from deep, going a combined 1-9 in the first half (neither played in the second half). Part of these struggles can be attributed to simply missing shots, but it did feel at times as if the Warriors’ offense was more cramped than last year due to a lack of shooting, and the two guards were forced to throw up tough contested jumpers as a result. Russell looked particularly uncomfortable, clearly still adjusting to the Warriors’ motion offense (though he did run pick-and-roll at times). The 23-year-old also struggled on defense, losing sharpshooter Danny Green on screens and giving up wide-open 3-point attempts.

 “It’s all brand-new,” Russell said after the game when asked about the fit of the backcourt. “I think with more time, the more games we play, the more the chemistry will build.”

 “I think for the most part it’s getting him used to when we don’t call plays,” Steph Curry said postgame of Russell when asked about their still-in-progress chemistry. “Our second nature, our reads, spacing, just overall expectations. But I told him there’s nothing he needs to change about the way he plays.”

 The second half featured many of the Warriors young prospects, including #28 overall pick Jordan Poole. Poole looked aggressive in both halves, racking up 17 points on 5-11 from the field and 4-9 from 3. Poole provided some much needed spacing and shot-making that the Warriors will need if tonight is indicative of their offense for the season, at least until Klay Thompson returns from injury.

 “I felt pretty comfortable,” Poole said after the game. “Everybody was asking if I would get nervous…I feel like I’m confident in scoring.”

It’s just one game, and an exhibition game at that, but the lack of depth that many speculated would be one of the Warriors’ Achilles heels clearly manifested itself tonight. Time will tell if their luck with health improves and their young prospects develop into contributors.

The Warriors will continue their exhibition season on Thursday when they take on Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Chase Center.

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49ers and Browns typify why QB is the most vital role in sports https://martineztribune.com/2019/10/04/49ers-and-browns-typify-why-qb-is-the-most-vital-role-in-sports/ https://martineztribune.com/2019/10/04/49ers-and-browns-typify-why-qb-is-the-most-vital-role-in-sports/#respond Fri, 04 Oct 2019 07:00:47 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=13319 BY J.A. SCHWARTZ Stanford’s Andrew Luck was the top overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Colts. Indianapolis earned the #1 pick in that draft after going 2-14 in 2011, and Luck paid immediate dividends. Starting every game as a rookie, he led the Colts to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth, …

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BY J.A. SCHWARTZ

Stanford’s Andrew Luck was the top overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Colts. Indianapolis earned the #1 pick in that draft after going 2-14 in 2011, and Luck paid immediate dividends. Starting every game as a rookie, he led the Colts to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth, a stunning turnaround. He would propel his team to postseason play in four of his seven NFL seasons, playing in all 16 regular season games in each (2012, 2013, 2014, 2018). Injuries would cut short his 2015-2017 seasons, during which he played only 22 of a possible 48 games. The Colts missed the playoffs during those seasons, going 10-16 without him. During training camp in 2019, Luck stunningly retired from football. The Colts, whose odds to win the Super Bowl were 16-1 with Luck under center, quickly plummeted to 50-1 after his announcement.

How can one player exert so much control over the outcome of a game ? Watch any NFL contest, and focus on the QB when he’s on the field. As he comes to the line of scrimmage, he’s scanning the defense, looking for clues as to the type of defense that is being deployed against his teammates. Only he knows if the play that is called is likely to be successful against the defensive array he perceives, and only he can audible, changing the play call, to improve the likelihood that his team gains yardage that might sustain a drive, or lead to a score. He’s doing all of this within the 10-15 seconds of time once the play is wired from his coach into his helmet speaker, and he’s communicating his decisions to every teammate on the field by using hand signals, foot movements and verbal commands.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
The unexpected retirement of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck on the eve of the start of the 2019 season sent shockwaves throughout the NFL. The 30-year old Luck walked away with three years remaining on his contract.

 

Once the play actually begins, and the ball is in his hands, the QB is responsible for reading the defense in real time, finding the weak spots in their coverage, and identifying the receiver who represents the best chance for a successful completion. On a play that is designed to be a pass, he needs to process all that information within split seconds, so that he reads the defense, targets his receiver and unleashes the throw in 2.5-3.0 seconds, all while 300 LB defensive linemen bent on his destruction whirl and claw their way towards him to interfere violently with his efforts.  The acumen with which those decisions are made, and the accuracy with which those throws are delivered can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

The best quarterbacks are the ones who make the right decisions most often, and avoid costly sacks, fumbles and interceptions, all of which can doom or end a drive and minimize the potential for a win. Year after year, those select men lead teams to winning seasons, playoff opportunities and ultimately Super Bowl appearances. Their coaches, teammates and fans (most of the time!) agree on their value, and the men who own the teams who employ them are usually more than happy to pay them salaries commensurate with their impact on the game. What is remarkable is just how much more they are paid than the players on the field with them.

Professional athletes are compensated handsomely, and the elite level performers are paid a premium based on their talent. Quarterbacks, however, eclipse even the upper echelon of salaries paid to other players relative to the salary cap in the NFL.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Bears linebacker Khalil Mack is one of the few non-quarterbacks to crack the Top-20 in NFL salaries during the 2019 season.

 

Of the top 20 salaries being paid to NFL players in 2019 (based on the average annual value of the contract), 16 of them belong to QBs, including each of the Top 10 on the list. Only DE Khalil Mack, DT Aaron Donald, WR Julio Jones and DE DeMarcus Lawrence break into the Top 20. The Top 10 QBs, ranked by their salaries in 2019, average $30.55 million, which equates to 16.2% of the $188.2 million salary cap teams have to spend this year. That figure is nearly double the average of the Top 10 salaries being paid to other positions this season, led by DE and WR, who average $17.55 and $17.33 respectively (9.3% and 9.2% of the cap).

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
The Rams Aaron Donald signed a six-year contract extension worth $135 million with $87 million guaranteed prior to the start of the 2018 season, the largest contract for a defensive player in NFL history.

 

In every other major sport, there is no such stratification between positions. Pitchers and position players are represented among the highest paid baseball players. Centers, forwards and guards are sprinkled among the NBA’s largest salaries. In the NHL, the top 20 salaries are all within $3 million of each other, with goalies, wings, centers and defensemen all represented similarly among the biggest contracts. In each of those sports, there is no singular position that is regarded as being more valuable, or critical to team success, and the salary rankings reflect that. Quarterbacks, however, have dominated the upper stratosphere of league earners for decades, and 2019 is no different.

Why should the QB position be regarded as so much more important than any other position on the field? The results speak for themselves. In 2018, 11 of the 12 teams that made the playoffs featured a QB with a Quarterback Rating of 95 or better. Only three of the top 10 QB’s ranked by that metric failed to make the playoffs last year. If a team’s QB is not playing at a high level, the chances are good that that team will fail to qualify for postseason play. What about the Super Bowl ? Every team’s goal is to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy, not have a highly ranked QB. Going back to 2010, the Super Bowl has featured QB’s who are ranked in the top 12 by the Quarterback Rating in every year aside from 2015, when Peyton Manning, arguably one of the greatest QB’s ever to play, was at the helm as the Broncos defeated Carolina (and MVP Cam Newton). There is a very strong correlation between the quality of quarterback play and team success, and the entire NFL knows it.

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Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers is currently the highest paid player in the NFL, earning $45 million for the 2019 season.

 

When a franchise manages to draft a QB they believe is capable of being an above average performer, they rarely let that player leave the team. To insure that such stars stay on the teams that drafted and developed them, the teams have to pay their QB the going rate to retain their services, and that rate continues to escalate. The top salary being paid to an NFL player in 2019 is the $45 million the Steelers will pay QB Ben Roethlisberger, which is slightly more than the $44.75 million the Falcons will give QB Matt Ryan. In 2020, the top salary (for now) will be paid to Seattle QB Russell Wilson, who will earn $53 million for his services under center. Every passing season sees a new threshold of compensation for signal callers established, and Wilson’s current claim as the highest paid player for 2020 may not last very long. It will surprise nobody to see a new contract record set by the next franchise QB whose team wants to secure his future.

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Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is scheduled to earn $53 million next season.

 

Of the top 25 QB’s ranked by QBR for 2018, only three played for a team that didn’t draft that player out of college (Drew Brees, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kirk Cousins). Every other QB on that list is still with the team they broke into the league with. Teams without consistent play from the position are in a constant search for a solution to that problem, because without it, success on the field is difficult to come by. The Cleveland Browns have had 28 QB’s in the twenty seasons since 1999, and until they drafted Baker Mayfield in 2018, none of them were regarded as worthy of being a long-term fixture on the roster. It is not difficult to explain the Browns futility during those twenty seasons by noting their ineptitude at the position, which led them to an 0-16 season in 2017, fresh off a 1-15 season in 2016.

In contrast, the New England Patriots drafted Tom Brady in 2000, and he’s led that franchise to six Super Bowl victories in his 19 seasons. The 42-year old is still calling the signals in New England, and will do so as long as his body allows him to perform at an elite level. During roughly the same period of time that the Browns cycled through 28 QB’s searching for their savior, the Patriots have had the same singular superstar slinging missiles into the end zone for their franchise. During that period, New England has been to the playoffs 16 times, making the Super Bowl nine times. The Browns have yet to appear in the Super Bowl in the history of their franchise, and haven’t even won a playoff game since January 1, 1995.

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The most successful quarterback in NFL history, Tom Brady has led the New England Patriots to six Super Bowl titles and has them favored to win a seventh this season.

 

The men making decisions about the future of their teams place such a high value on finding the next star QB that those teams have routinely chosen a quarterback as the #1 overall pick in the draft. In the history of the draft, dating back to 1936, QB’s have been taken first in 34 of those seasons, far more than any other position. In the past 20 seasons, a quarterback was selected as the first player to come out of college that season 14 times (DT/DL were chosen four times, and OL twice). Teams that have poor records, thus earning the top pick in the draft that follows the season, are usually in need of improved QB play.

The impact of being able to finally find a quarterback to help change the fortunes of a franchise is dramatic. In 2017, the year before the Browns drafted current starting QB (and 2018 #1 overall pick) Baker Mayfield, their odds to win the Super Bowl was 200-1. In 2018, a year in which Mayfield was not projected to play much, Las Vegas estimated their chances of winning it all at 300-1. Coming into the 2019 season, after Mayfield established himself as the starting QB in Cleveland and showed flashes of greatness ( setting the rookie record for touchdown passes with 27), the Browns perceived chances to win the big game improved significantly. Before the 2019 season, the Browns were 14-1 to win Super Bowl LIV. They had made other moves that improved their roster (trading for Odell Beckham Jr., among others), but Mayfield’s play as their QB was the signal to the rest of the sports world that the Browns might finally be ready to compete at the highest level.

The history of the San Francisco 49ers is an excellent case study for the impact a QB can have on a franchise. Beginning in 1981, Joe Montana’s first year as a full time starter (he had started seven games in 1980 as the team transitioned from Steve DeBerg to Montana as their primary signal caller), the 49ers would make the playoffs nine of the 10 seasons Montana was under center. During the prior eight seasons, they had not qualified for a single postseason, and had only had one season above .500 (1976, when they went 8-6). Montana would rank in the top 10 in passer rating in every season he played in San Francisco, leading the team to four Super Bowls, each of which they won.

San Francisco would be blessed with another Hall of Fame quarterback, Steve Young, who took over as the starter in 1991. Young led the 49ers to the playoffs in seven of his eight seasons with the franchise, winning the Super Bowl in 1994. San Francisco would win at least 10 games in every year Young was at the helm, and Young was never rated lower than the sixth best QB in the league during his tenure as the starter. In fact, Young led the entire NFL in passer rating an astounding six times in eight years from 1991-1998, and he ranks seventh on the All-Time list of quarterbacks by that rating.

The team would transition to other quarterbacks once Young retired, from Jeff Garcia to Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick to the current starter, Jimmy Garappolo. During the period from 1999 (Garcia’s first year as a starter) through the current season, San Francisco has made the playoffs just five times in those twenty seasons, without winning a Super Bowl, and only reaching one, losing to Baltimore after the 2012 season with Kaepernick leading the way. In the five seasons they qualified for the playoffs, their QB’s ranked 3rd, 12th (Garcia in 2000-2001), 9th (Smith in 2011), 13th and 10th (Kaepernick in 2012-2013) in the league by passer rating. In every other season during that span, their QB rating was no better than 15th.  Thus far in 2019, Garappolo is rated 14th, at 96.3, and the team is 3-0 heading into their upcoming Monday Night Football showdown against Cleveland. The correlation is unmistakable: When a team has a quarterback playing at a high level, that team is far more likely to have seasons that result in playoff, and ultimately Super Bowl appearances.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
When Baker Mayfield made his debut at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns after becoming the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, he became their 28th in twenty seasons since they re-entered the league in 1999. They’ve yet to win a single playoff game during that stretch, only qualifying once.

 

San Francisco and Cleveland have been searching for a player to fill that position and excel there for the better part of twenty years. Cleveland has used five first round draft picks looking for its next franchise savior, including the first overall selection in both 1999 (QB Tim Couch) and 2018 (Mayfield). San Francisco used the top pick in the 2005 draft on Alex Smith, who led them to the playoffs in just one of his seven seasons.  In Baker Mayfield and Jimmy Garappolo, both teams hope their long search has ended, and that the future with those players leading the way will be filled with playoff berths and Super Bowl titles.

Quarterbacks are still seen as the face of a franchise, and are positioned as such in marketing campaigns. Five of the top 10 biggest endorsement contracts in 2019 will go to QB’s, led by Tom Brady. Three of the top four marketing deals also went to quarterbacks (Brady, Patrick Mahomes and Mayfield), who routinely rate as the most recognizable players on any given team. It stands to reason that the players who have the largest impact on the outcome of any given contest will be compensated at the highest level on the field (as has been discussed earlier in this article), but that same group of athletes also garner the lion’s share of marketing dollars available to NFL players.

If your team doesn’t have its franchise QB in place, chances are this NFL season will end without a playoff appearance. An unsuccessful season, painful as it may be, might afford your team’s front office the chance at a high draft pick, which could be utilized to find the player to be the new face of your franchise. Top QB’s rarely, if ever, become available as free agents, so drafting them is usually the only way to secure one. The Vikings signed free agent QB Kirk Cousins following the 2017 season, paying him a fully guaranteed $84 million over three seasons to insure they would outbid other quarterback needy teams.

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Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys is widely expected to be the next quarterback to receive a record breaking contract.

 

Not every team is in a position with regard to their salary cap situation to allot such lofty sums to free agents, but above average QB’s are seen in a far different light because they become available so infrequently. Most teams are proactive, choosing to extend the contracts of their signal callers so that they never have the chance to reach free agency. Such negotiations have been publicly discussed around Dak Prescott in Dallas, and it would be a shock if a new deal isn’t reached prior to the end of the season. The Cowboys can’t afford to let their star QB go, and it’s only a matter of time before Prescott ascends the rankings in terms of his average annual salary.

In the NFL, you either have a “franchise” quarterback on your roster, or you’re looking for ways to obtain one. The performance of your team is very closely tied to the skill of your signal caller, and has been for quite some time.  The NFL celebrates its 100th year of existence in 2019, and the league has changed and evolved in myriad ways during that century of combat. Players are now bigger, stronger and faster than they’ve ever been before, and training methods, coaching and statistical analysis have ushered in a new era of game management.

The advent of the forward pass in 1933 (when a pass could be made from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage, which changed the rule that required forward passes to be thrown from at least five yards behind the line) positioned the quarterback to be the man who decides the fate of any given play, and whose skill could be the difference between success and failure. One hundred years later, despite the evolution of nearly every aspect of the sport, the simple fact remains: Quarterbacks are the key to victory. If your team has one, be grateful. If not, hope for the top pick in next year’s draft.

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Diaz and Tampa Bay spoil the A’s playoff party at the Coliseum https://martineztribune.com/2019/10/02/diaz-and-tampa-bay-spoil-the-as-playoff-party-at-the-coliseum-5-1/ https://martineztribune.com/2019/10/02/diaz-and-tampa-bay-spoil-the-as-playoff-party-at-the-coliseum-5-1/#respond Thu, 03 Oct 2019 05:51:37 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=13337 BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER For the second year in a row, the A’s dreams of postseason glory died a sudden painful death, falling to the Tampa Bay Rays 5-1 Wednesday night at the Coliseum in the AL Wild Card game. Tampa Bay’s Yandy Diaz ripped a leadoff home run against A’s starter Sean Manaea, his first …

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BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER

For the second year in a row, the A’s dreams of postseason glory died a sudden painful death, falling to the Tampa Bay Rays 5-1 Wednesday night at the Coliseum in the AL Wild Card game.

Tampa Bay’s Yandy Diaz ripped a leadoff home run against A’s starter Sean Manaea, his first of two in the game, and Oakland was never able to recover.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Tampa Bay’s Yandy Diaz celebrates his lead-off home run after crossing the plate in Wednesday’s Wild Card game against the A’s at the Coliseum. Diaz would hit another homer in the third inning to help lead the Rays to a 5-1 win.

 

For A’s fans it was eerily similar to last years Wild Card game in Yankee Stadium, when Aaron Judge, the second batter of the game, blasted a two-run homer in the bottom of the first off of Liam Hendriks, launching an off-season of second guessing about using an “opener” to start a playoff game as New York raced out to a 6-0 lead before Oakland showed any signs of life on the way to a 7-2 loss.

But this year it was supposed to be different. The A’s won 97 games in the regular season for the second year in a row, and playoff inexperience was no longer a legitimate excuse. They also hit a franchise record 257 home runs during the season, tied for the eighth most in Major League history, but their offense was no where to be found against Rays starter Charlie Morton or a trio of relievers.

Manaea returned to the mound in September from Tommy John surgery and was dominant, fashioning a 4-0 record with a minuscule 1.21 ERA, leading A’s Manager Bob Melvin to give him the ball to start an elimination game ahead of Mike Fiers, who was Oakland’s unquestioned ace after going 15-4 in the regular season.

With a Wild Card record crowd of 54,005 looking on, Diaz immediately silenced the partisan Oakland crowd with a 372 foot blast to deep right center, and Avisail Garcia ripped and even longer two-run homer 426 feet to deep center an inning later. Diaz would go yard again leading off the third, sending Manaea to the showers while extending the Rays lead to 4-0.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Tampa Bay’s Charlie Morton delivers a pitch during the Rays 5-1 win over Oakland in the AL Wild Card game Wednesday night.

 

Meanwhile, Morton was pitching like the ace he was while going 16-6 in the regular season. Only two years removed from leading Houston to a World Series championship with a dominating Game 7 performance at Dodger Stadium, he also won Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS against the Yankees, making him the first pitcher to record wins in winner-take-all games in Major League history.  He never allowed the A’s bats to awaken, tossing five innings while only allowing an unearned run on five hits. Oakland scored their only run in the third without a hit, capitalizing on Marcus Semien’s hustle in going from first to third on Mike Brosseau’s throwing error before coming in to score on a Ramon Laureano sacrifice fly.

Yusmeiro Petit came on to pitch masterfully in relief of Manaea, shutting down the Rays for 2.2 innings before getting touched up for a solo shot by Tommy Pham in the fifth for Tampa’s fourth home run of the game to establish the games final margin. Jesús Luzardo, in just his seventh big league game, came on in the sixth and pitched three scoreless innings for Oakland.

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
A despondent Matt Olson removes his batting gloves for the final time during the 2019 season following the A’s season-ending 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL Wild Card game Wednesday night at the Coliseum.

 

“It’s frustrating,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s very sudden. Usually you have a series to kind of have a tomorrow and come back and win a game. And we’ve been really good this year about having a tough game and coming back and responding.”

“There’s no responding in a game like this. It’s a little out of the norm for baseball. Both teams battled to get to this point and knew it would be one and out. They just played better than we did.”

So, after advancing to the post-season for the fifth time in the past eight seasons and going a Major League best 60-29 (.674) since June 17, the A’s continue to look for their first series win since 2006 after another deflating loss in an elimination game.

GAME NOTES:

The loss extended the A’s futility in winner-take-all playoff games. They’ve now lost nine consecutive games when a win would have advanced them to the next round, or won a series, the longest such streak in Major League history. The last time Oakland won an elimination game was Game 7 of the 1973 World Series. It also dropped their record to 0-3 in Wild Card games.

 

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Warriors Media Day Takeaways from the Chase Center https://martineztribune.com/2019/09/30/warriors-media-day-takeaways-from-the-chase-center/ https://martineztribune.com/2019/09/30/warriors-media-day-takeaways-from-the-chase-center/#respond Tue, 01 Oct 2019 04:45:25 +0000 https://martineztribune.com/?p=13309 BY MASON BISSADA The Golden State Warriors held their first media day at the brand new Chase Center in the Mission Bay district of San Francisco on Monday, and the tone given from the players and the organization as a whole was that of cautious optimism. Injuries potentially cost the Warriors another championship last season, …

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BY MASON BISSADA

The Golden State Warriors held their first media day at the brand new Chase Center in the Mission Bay district of San Francisco on Monday, and the tone given from the players and the organization as a whole was that of cautious optimism.

Injuries potentially cost the Warriors another championship last season, and it seems they are continuing to haunt them as the 2019-20 season gets underway. General Manager Bob Myers confirmed during his press conference that All-Star shooting guard Klay Thompson will not return until after the All-Star break this season after recovering from an ACL tear suffered in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals.

“We’ll have another update on him probably around the All-Star break,” Myers said before taking any questions from the media. “Don’t construe that as if we think he’ll be back by the All-Star break, that just means we’ll have an update then.”

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Draymond Green, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and D’Angelo Russell (L-R) appear at Warriors media day Monday afternoon at the Chase Center.

 

Thompson himself reiterated this caution and patience in his own press conference later in the day. “I’m going to do what the team says, and I’ve done my due diligence on rehabs and ACL injuries, and the last thing you want to do is rush back, especially for a player like me who wants to play until he’s in his late 30’s. I want to play at a high level until that point, too. As much as it kills me not to be on the court, patience is a virtue, and rushing back would be not very smart.”

Myers also stated that newly acquired center WIllie Cauley-Stein will miss training camp and the entire month of October due to a left-foot injury. Shortly after, Head Coach Steve Kerr confirmed that fifth-year center Kevon Looney has secured the starting position at center, at least until Cauley-Stein returns.

“Looney is the starting center,” Kerr said during his press conference. “He’s one of our best players. He’s moved up the ladder considerably with all of the losses that we’ve had, and so not only is he one of our best players but he’s one of the guys who has the most experience and the feel that we need with this group to try to incorporate the young guys.”

“I’m ready for whatever Steve wants to throw at me,” says Looney, who started Game 6 of the NBA Finals last year and was considered by some to be a more reliable option than DeMarcus Cousins when both players were healthy. “I know my first couple years I was only able to play about 20 to 25 (minutes) and actually be productive. Steve actually challenged me this off-season to be able to play more, up to 30 minutes a game if I have to, and I think I’m ready to play 30, 30-plus if I have to.”

Beyond the injuries media day felt mostly light-hearted and casual, which is surprising, considering Golden State is coming off of a tragic Finals defeat and the loss of a franchise player to free agency this past summer. These issues didn’t seem to affect the ever-optimistic Steph Curry, who gave a playful jab at a reporter when he was asked how he felt about now being the oldest player on the roster.

“Stop reminding me !” said Curry, who turned 31 back in March. “I mean, just hearing it is weird, but I’m still young. I wake up every day with a smile on my face, with the opportunity I have in front of me, being in my prime, being able to play basketball at the highest level and do it with this team and in front of our fan base, and I know I have a lot, a lot of years left at this level.”

On the other end of the optimism spectrum was forward Draymond Green, who expressed candidly his doubts about the Warriors defense this season after losing so many of their long-armed wing defenders.

“We don’t have as good of defenders as we had,” said Green, a former Defensive Player of the Year. “I don’t think that’s any surprise. But at the same time, we’ve just got to find our identity. You know, before, our identity was switching. That may not be our identity anymore. We’ve got to figure out and kind of toy with different things throughout the preseason and figure out what works the best for this group.”

©DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Newly-acquired D’Angelo Russell, acquired in a sign-and-trade with Brooklyn as part of Kevin Durant’s signing, is coming off a season where he averaged 21.1 points and seven assists per game on the way to being selected an All-Star for the first time.

 

Newly-acquired All-Star D’Angelo Russell swung the optimism pendulum back the other way yet again, raving about his new teammates and how glad he is to be playing alongside them.

“Man, I’m so excited,” said Russell, who made his first All-Star game last year with the Brooklyn Nets and was acquired via sign-and-trade as a consolation prize for losing Kevin Durant. “I’m trying to act like I’ve been here before, like I’m — like this cool, 10-year vet. But no, this is so cool to me to play with Steph, Klay, Draymond, all those guys, to be able to be around Steve Kerr and his coaching staff, as well. I think it’s just a luxury. You can easily come into the league and be around something completely different or be around a completely different group of guys that don’t have the credibility like this group does. It’s cool, man. I played with them the first time last week, and I literally called my dad, my brother, and I was just like, yo, this is about to be so fun.”

One hot-button topic of the day was which player would fill the starting small-forward position with the departure of Kevin Durant and the ACL tear of Klay Thompson. Third-year wing Alfonzo McKinnie seems to be the default option, but new additions Alec Burks, Glen Robinson III and rookie Eric Paschall are all potential fill-ins at the 3.

“I do think that I’m definitely a candidate for that spot, and that’s what I’m competing for every day,” said Robinson, who signed a one-year minimum contract with the Warriors this offseason. “It’s exciting. I hate to see guys go down, but with Klay’s injury, it’ll open up a huge opportunity for me.”

“It would be great to be a starter, but you know, to be honest, that’s not even my main focus,” says McKinnie, who started in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals last year while Kevin Durant and Andre Igoudala (whom the Warriors traded to the Memphis Grizzlies this offseason) were both out with injuries. “I just want to come in and be able to contribute to help this team win. If I am a starter, that’s great, but if not, I’m not going to change the way I approach this game based off of that.”

Burks, Robinson and Paschall weren’t the only new additions to this Golden State team that had essentially kept its core together for the previous five years. In total, the Warriors have eight new players on their roster, many of whom are age 23 or younger.

The Warriors will play their first preseason game against the new-look Los Angeles Lakers at the Chase Center this Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

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