The Warriors have lost just twice in 2019, rediscovering their frightening top form while assimilating center DeMarcus Cousins into their lineup.
With an open roster spot entering Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, it’s possible Golden State could improve further before the postseason with several sharp-shooting wings reportedly available for a second-round pick. While head coach Steve Kerr said it was unlikely for a trade to materialize — matching salaries in a deal could prove difficult if not impossible — the post-deadline buyout market could yield a guard or a center who can make an impact down the stretch.
“The general sense is if we see somebody that helps us, that fits that spot, we’ll do it,” Warriors GM Bob Myers said on Monday. “We’ll see who’s bought out, first of all. If it’s a player that makes sense to help us win a championship, then we’ll look at it. Whether it’s a wing or a big, that’s hard to know right now.”
To make the biggest leap ahead of potential playoff matchups against the Rockets, Nuggets and Celtics — widely believed to pose the greatest threats to Golden State — the Warriors would probably be best served acquiring a 3-point threat. That could mean Wesley Matthews, Wayne Ellington, JR Smith, Alec Burks or Justin Holiday, each of whom are reportedly being shopped at the deadline and on expiring deals that could be bought out if no trade agreements are reached.
Those players come with holes in their games, but a flawed wing in today’s NBA can still see significant court time. Just last season, Nick Young played regularly for Golden State in the postseason. A flawed center can be run off the floor in the playoffs, particularly if they are not a versatile defender. Big men Zaza Pachulia and Andrew Bogut had their time reduced by the Warriors in the playoffs in favor of smaller lineups over the past four years, with neither comfortable switching onto wings on the perimeter.
The Warriors have not found a like-for-like replacement of the 13 minutes per game Young and Patrick McCaw combined to play in the postseason last season, further underlining their need for another wing. Alfonzo McKinnie has shot 35 percent from three and has looked like a capable defender this year, but he’s shot just 27 percent from deep since the start of December, raising questions about the sustainability of his hot start. Adding an outside threat to spell McKinnie should the 26-year-old struggle in the playoffs would give Golden State’s bench added security.
Matthews is the dream signing for the Warriors, considering his defensive skill set and track record. He’s averaged 13.8 points per game and shot 38 percent from long range for his career. He’s maintained his reputation as a dogged defender even after an Achilles injury in 2015 reduced his athleticism. He’s used to being a low-key complimentary player from his time alongside Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge in Portland.
While the Knicks are reportedly interested in trading him after acquiring his expiring deal in the trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas, it’s possible he reaches the buyout market. In that case, The New York Times’ Marc Stein reported, the Warriors would be one of several teams eager to sign him.
JR Smith, meanwhile, has been exiled from the Cavaliers since November and is reportedly not expected to be traded due to a cumbersome contract. It’s long been assumed Cleveland would buy out the guard, and there is perhaps no player closer in spirit to the mercurial Swaggy P than Smith, who is a lifetime 37-percent 3-point shooter with gobs of playoff experience.
Ellington has endured a sharp dip in playing time over the past couple of months and could be acquired for a second-round pick, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe. If Miami can’t find an organization to take on the rest of Ellington’s expiring $6.2 million deal and elects to buy out the contract, the Warriors would make sense as a fit. After all, Ellington might be the best pure shooter available, knocking down 38 percent of his career threes despite defenses keying in on that singular aspect of his offensive game.
Holiday is interesting because he won a ring with the Warriors and understands Kerr’s system. He would find instant comfort alongside Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala, who he’s played with before. Memphis is looking for a second-round pick for Holiday, according to Zach Lowe, but could buy him out after the deadline. Ditto for Cavaliers guard Alec Burks, a former 12th-overall draft selection who has flashed offensive upside when healthy.
If the Warriors do prioritize adding a center, given the season-ending injury to Damian Jones and their desire to be careful with Cousins’ minutes, Robin Lopez would be the most obvious target. The struggling Bulls have little use for Lopez at this juncture and are reportedly ready to part ways with him either through a trade or buyout.
For a Golden State squad that has won 12 of 13 games, finding someone to occupy its last roster spot might not seem like the biggest deal, especially when one considers how rotations shorten in the postseason. But the Warriors must overcome a gauntlet of capable (and deep) teams to reach the NBA Finals, and adding the right shooter or big man would only help extend the gap between them and the rest of the league.