The Warriors have a less than one percent chance of getting the top pick in next month’s NBA draft lottery.
That probably matches the odds of Keith Smart keeping his job. Joe Lacob may be publicly preaching patience, but after watching his new club win only 10 of 41 road games, finish dead last in the league in rebounding differential (-4.26) and next to last in points allowed (105.7), the venture-capitalist-turned-team-owner can’t be happy.
Lacob, the more basketball savvy half of Golden State’s new ownership tandem, was a minority owner of the Boston Celtics before taking over the Warriors. Missing the postseason for the 16th time in the past 17 years, the Warriors finished 10 games behind Memphis, owners of the last playoff berth in the West. It’s doubtful any coach could have won 10 more games with this seriously flawed roster.
Now the more important question is, would Smart be able to coax 10 more wins out of this team next year? Not when the coach summarized the Warriors (36-46) by saying, “The team moved in a good direction and each guy improved this season.”
I guess he wasn’t watching the perplexing and dismal decline of Andris Biedrins. The odd couple backcourt of Monta Ellis (24.1 points per game) and Stephen Curry (18.6 ppg) may have been the highest scoring in the league, but Smart struggled in guiding Curry through a streaky sophomore season and overworked Ellis, who led the league in minutes played.
Smart was also undermined by a nagging conflict between letting his young team play through its mistakes knowing full well he wouldn’t be around for long if they didn’t win now. Maybe that’s why promising rookie Ekpe Udoh languished on the bench even after he had fully recovered from preseason wrist surgery. Sure Udoh struggled when he finally got into the mix in late December, but by the end of the season, he had become the team’s best interior defender and shot blocker.
I think it’s safe to say that after paying a record $450 million for the franchise, ownership would want a proven NBA winner to be its next coach. Unfortunately, the list of viable candidates is short. If Jerry Sloan, 69, wants to make a comeback, he becomes the instant favorite. Otherwise, the best coach-in-waiting is Jeff Van Gundy, 49, who guided the New York Knicks to the playoffs in six straight seasons, including a trip to the NBA Finals. The 5-foot-9, 150-pound Van Gundy is a bright, tough-minded leader inimitably remembered for hanging on to the leg of Alonzo Mourning while trying to break up a brawl between the Miami Heat and his Knicks in 1998.
However, the Los Angeles Lakers are also believed to be interested in Van Gundy if Phil Jackson finally calls it a career after the playoffs. Longtime Lakers assistant Brian Shaw, an Oakland native, could also get some consideration back home if he is passed over for the L.A. job.
After getting a new coach, the Warriors then can look to eastern Europe for their lottery pick. The best big men in the draft are Turkey’s 19-year-old Enes Kanter (6-foot-11, 265 pounds); Belgrade’s 20-year-old Jan Vesely, a 6-11, 220-pound forward with an enormous wingspan who can handle and shoot; plus a pair of lanky and long Lithuanians: 7-foot, 220-pound Donatas Motiejunas, 20, and soon to be 19-year-old Jonas Valanciunas (6-10, 230 pounds).
Who knows, maybe the Latvian-born Biedrins just needs a soul mate to revive his game.
KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.