The bet the Golden State Warriors made entering the season was that their young core of lottery picks — Jon Kuminga, Moses Moody and James Wiseman — could step in for the departing veteran bench players — Otto Porter, Gary Payton II and Nemanja Bjelica — that were key contributors in winning last year’s championship run.
The question asked of various NBA scouts and general managers this week: At 14-15, with more than a third of the season done, should they let that bet ride or fold and make a move?
For one Western Conference scout, the answer was easy: Make a move before the clock strikes midnight on about-to-turn-35 Steph Curry.
“Steph deserves a last run,” he said. “They ultimately implode at some point. There’s just too much money invested in what they have right now. Enjoy and relish the run.”
The deal that scout would look to make is with the Utah Jazz, if they declare themselves open to moving some of their key veterans and abandoning their playoff hopes for a better shot at landing Victor Wembanya, the 7-foot Frenchman considered a generational talent and the sure-fire 2023 No. 1 pick.
The scout believes it’s just a matter of time that the Jazz do so, particularly when it comes to Jordan Clarkson, who can opt for free agency this summer, and journeyman Jarred Vanderbilt, who is on his third team in five seasons. After an unexpected 10-3 start that had the Jazz sitting atop the Western Conference, they’ve lost 11 of their last 18 games and have slid to seventh.
A combination of Kuminga and Wiseman for Clarkson and Vanderbilt would work, salary-wise. It can’t hurt that Kuminga had his best performance of the season in a recent one-point loss to the Jazz, scoring a season-high 24 on 10-for-13 shooting. Wiseman, meanwhile, has made significant improvement in his G League stint, with a rival G League coach saying, “He’s gotten a lot better. He’s been dominant. Runs hard. Scoring everything around the hoop. Defending pretty well. I’ve been impressed with how he’s played.”
But it hasn’t been enough to dissuade the scout that the Warriors should be looking to move him for Clarkson and Vanderbilt if they can.
“Clarkson supports the decline of Klay (Thompson) and Vando is a productive energy player who does not need the ball and who gets extra possessions with offensive rebounding and defensive play and rebounding,” the scout said. “I’d do it.”
An Eastern Conference scout was just as adamant that they should ride with their bet.
“Why can’t they contend?” he asked. “It’s December. If they are healthy in March and their young players — Wiseman, Kuminga and Moody — have played and gotten better, and Klay gets back to old Klay or close, they are contenders.”
The issue, he said, isn’t just with the young talent appearing not quite ready. Their defensive issues — they’re 19th in defensive rating — have as much to do with Thompson and Jordan Poole having the worst defensive ratings among the regulars.
“I agree that they’re not getting defense from Klay or Poole,” he said. “It’s just that they can either go all in and trade young guys for someone to help now and have to start all over in two years, or try to do both — develop some longer term success and still be relevant now.”
If the Warriors do make a move, he added, they should make it with veteran forward Draymond Green, who has a player option for next season at $27.5 million.
“I trade Draymond soon,” he said. “Moving Dray is addition by subtraction in a way. He’s not who he once was. I’m not sure what they get back is equal to his value when he is at his best, but it gives a pathway for the young guys. He is a heavy weight to absorb after so many years and trials. I think there would be a collective sigh of relief within the organization.”
An Eastern Conference GM expects the Warriors to make a move — not just yet. As of December 15, players signed last summer are now eligible to be dealt, but the GM believes we’re still weeks away from seeing any significant trades being made.
“I’m sure they would like to shake it up,” he said of the Warriors, “but it’s early. I don’t see many deals getting done before the New Year. There’s still a lot of parity. Everyone is right there.”
That includes the Warriors. Despite being 10th in the West with a losing record, they are only three games behind the fourth-place Phoenix Suns. Whether they hold steady until Curry returns from a shoulder injury, or plummet even further in the standings, could play a big part in what the Warriors’ front office ultimately decides to do. As of now, though, a second Western Conference scout doesn’t see a future cornerstone on the roster and believes they should pull the trigger if one becomes available. He sees small forward Andrew Wiggins, who earned his first All-Star berth last season, ideally remaining the team’s third-best player and doesn’t project Poole as a suitable successor to Thompson at No. 2.
“It’s a delicate balance between youth development and extending Steph’s window,” he said. “If there’s a real needle-mover available, then I would consider it, but the age of the needle-mover is important. Is there a guy in that 27-29 age range that can be the torch carrier after Steph starts slowing down? I’m not sure Wiggins can be that guy. He would be an ideal third main guy.”
Clarkson is considered a needle-mover, but he’ll be 31 in June. The Warriors also won’t be the only ones looking to land him and Vanderbilt if they become available.
“Those guys, each in their own right, would help any playoff team,” he said.
WAS ZION OUT OF LINE? Several Phoenix Suns took exception to Zion Williamson throwing down an uncontested breakaway windmill 360-degree dunk in the final seconds of the Pelicans’ recent 11-point win over them this past week. I asked a half-dozen rival executives and scouts if they shared the Suns’ belief it was unsportsmanlike.
Not one did.
A former player and now front-office executive: “Personally, I wouldn’t do it. However, I never had issue with someone doing that. If you don’t want them to do it then play defense till the end.”
An Eastern Conference scout: “I have no problem with it whatsoever. It’s funny because sometimes I do think it’s inappropriate and guys for the most part don’t do that. But at some point, you gotta give the fans what they are looking for, too! I would chalk it up to getting caught up in the moment, honestly. Punctuating a win over a team that is becoming a rival. Crowd going crazy. It’s hard to show restraint. I honestly don’t think he thought to himself, ‘I am going to do this to be disrespectful to Phoenix.’”
A second Eastern Conference scout was more dismayed by the Suns losing to the Pelicans again two nights later: “I have more of a problem with how the Suns reacted. They should have made a mental note as a team and taken it out on the Pels and Zion the next time they played.”
And a third Eastern Conference scout: “I don’t care for the ‘Don’t score at the end of a game’ bulls—. I think it is bad form to go steal the ball from someone who is just dribbling out the clock when the game is clearly over, but the Zion thing was just the Suns being sore losers. Such a dumb thing to get mad about.”
IS CAM REDDISH ON THE MOVE AGAIN? There are reports that the New York Knicks are willing to trade small forward Cam Reddish less than a year after acquiring him from the Atlanta Hawks along with Solomon Hill for Kevin Knox and a first-round pick. Reddish made eight consecutive starts, averaging 16.5 points while shooting 53% in the last four before a groin injury forced a three-game absence. He returned to action as a sub and had another solid offensive showing — 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting.
But his role steadily diminished over the next three games, and he has now fallen completely out of the rotation with five consecutive DNPs.
One Western Conference scout weighed in on how Reddish fell out of favor with coach Tom Thibodeau.
“I interviewed him before he was drafted,” one scout said. “Nice kid. Thibs is the wrong guy, the Knicks are the wrong team, and NYC is the wrong city. He needs a change of scenery. He has the ability and tools, but he can’t consistently perform unless he feels a sense of support and no concerns about being replaced. He’s constantly afraid of being replaced after a few poor performances, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more he worries, the worse he plays. The worse he plays, the greater likelihood he has of being subbed.”
An Eastern Conference GM agreed. “He’s the prototypical archetype for a wing in the league,” he said. “But Thibs either loves you or he doesn’t.”
Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” on NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds.” He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.
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