The smart thing to do after an embarrassing, humbling, frustrating and embarrassing loss (I know I said embarrassing twice, but it was really embarrassing) is to focus on the next game. A loss is a loss, and the NBA season is long -- just move on and try to win the next one. So that's what we're going to do. We're going to move on and look at the next game, rather than dwell on the last one. (OK, I know, we're still going to dwell, but humor me.)
The Los Angeles Clippers have their home opener tomorrow night against the Golden State Warriors. It's a Halloween game and you know I love me some NBA Cheerleaders in sexy costumes but over and above that, it figures to be a really entertaining game -- these two teams played a fascinating series against each other last year, and both are expected to be serious playoff contenders this year (Clippers opening night issues notwithstanding).
I had a chance to exchange some questions with Nate Parham of SB Nation's Warriors blog Golden State of Mind in advance of the game. Below are his answers to my questions. The Dubs are playing the Lakers tonight, so they probably won't be posting my answers to his questions until tomorrow, but be sure to check over there for their perspective on the game. [Note by Steve Perrin, 10/31/13 11:15 AM PDT ] It's up on GSOM now.
Steve Perrin: If I were you, I'd be sick of hearing about Curry's ankles, but sorry I have to ask. Is there a feeling that since he's been without a major sprain for awhile now that his ankles are stronger and he'll be OK? Are there new shoes to keep him safe? Or are his ankles just made of glass and we're all just waiting for the inevitable next time? Is it time we just stop thinking about his ankles and accept that any player can get injured at any time and Curry is no different than anyone else?
Nate Parham: I'm not nearly as sick of hearing about Curry's ankles as I am sick of that knot of anxiety that wells up in my stomach every time gravity pulls his feet down to the ground awkwardly (and this happens shockingly often...or maybe we've just been conditioned to see any kind of landing as an injury risk now). I think at this point we just can't rule out the thought of the ankle being a problem at any given moment given the completely arbitrary ways that it has been tweaked before.
But to your question alluding to the notion of "injury-proneness", I actually think that's an interesting discussion among Warriors fans right now because we have two players for whom injury is an obvious concern: Curry and Andrew Bogut. With Curry, this is a recurring injury that has happened seemingly at random and can seriously impact his performance. With Bogut, he has suffered a number of injuries but that's just more of an unfortunate string of events than anything that we can truly consider "injury-prone" (unless medical research has established a relationship between falling on one's ankle and later requiring surgery on an ankle). So it's hard not to consider Curry an injury prone player based on his injury history and somewhat unreasonable to think it's not a concern for the Warriors and their chances this season.
SP: I really loved Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry off the bench for you guys last year, and while I think the Iguodala acquisition is huge, I get the impression that the losses are being glossed over a bit -- after all, the Warriors super-effective closing unit often featured both Jack and Landry. Are you concerned that depth is going to be an issue this year?
NP: Well, this team definitely has a depth issue without Jack and Landry: the second unit has struggled to score all preseason and it's not just a matter of preseason jitters. I found it amusing in that preseason game in Sacramento when diminutive Isaiah Thomas tried to step to Curry, never known for his toughness, and Jackson almost immediately threw out The Enforcer Squad of Iguodala, Green, Speights, O'Neal with Toney Douglas coming in shortly thereafter. They don't take no mess. They also don't get buckets.
Basically, they have a bunch of defenders coming off the bench who just aren't going to be explosive scorers. But similar to the matter of who starts, I think the depth problem might be a bit overstated: the strength of this bench is not how they play as a unit that will allow Jackson to make "line changes" but how they can come in and complement the starters in various combinations. As I've already mentioned, I'll be perfectly comfortable rolling into the playoffs with a center rotation of Bogut-O'Neal-Ezeli. At power forward, they can go big or small. They'll obviously be able to throw out a number of looks, defensive and offensive, on the perimeter. The key though is that Jack was the designated finisher last season because he could create his own shot and let Curry play off the ball (and, ok, he had the moxie to take whatever shot came available, which drove me insane most of the season); this season, I'm perfectly comfortable with Iguodala playing that role with the starting unit finishing games.
Overall, the Warriors might end up being an example of where having so many versatile options is as much a blessing as a curse: even as much as I love imagining all these wonderful possibilities, they're going to have to figure out how to fine tune a rotation that maximizes talents with the right combinations. I think it's clear we should see two lineups quite a bit: Curry-Thompson-Iguodala-Lee-Bogut and Curry-Thompson-Iguodala-Barnes-Bogut. Outside of that, since I can't imagine they'll bring in the bench as a full unit of 5 or even 4, I'd expect at least two starters to be on the court at most times. And that's just impossible to predict what combos they'll rely on - or even who the 7th man will be in terms of minutes or next off the bench (O'Neal? Draymond Green? Speights?) - without accounting for the various situations opponents might present. And we could spend days going through those permutations so I'll just spare you.
SP: It wasn't that long ago that Andrew Bogut was third team All NBA and among the best defensive centers in the NBA. Obviously he's had myriad injury issues since then, but supposedly he's as healthy as he's been since his All NBA season, and he's still just 28. How do you feel about the Warriors locking him up for three more years? Are you concerned about what that might mean for Klay Thompson when his rookie deal is done, with four players already getting paid big money?
NP: A number of people have written about how the Warriors should've waited on Bogut's contract, but I have yet to see a reasonable argument for why the Warriors shouldn't have made that deal now (especially given the terms). Three things to consider with that deal: First, Bogut's passing ability, ability to set screens (I'm open to debating their legality) and defensive presence is a perfect fit for a perimeter-oriented team full of jumpshooters. Even if he continues to have a mix of outstanding and lumbering moments, it's very difficult to find another obviously *available* center to replace that role he plays for this unit in next year's class of free agent bigs. Second, if he does hit those incentives in his contract, the Warriors would have to pay more but would also have someone performing as one of the top centers in the league. I'll take that. Of course, even if he doesn't hit the incentives, can we be satisfied with a post rotation of Bogut, O'Neal, and Ezeli at the rate the Warriors are paying them? Yep - I'll take that too. Third - as someone from the GSoM community brought up - after chasing Dwight Howard to replace him, I think it was prudent to show him that they do still believe in him as an important piece to this unit by getting this done and showing a willingness to give him some job security as they pursue bigger goals this season. Call it a Dwight tax, if you will.
Thompson is indeed the next biggest concern now, but Bogut reportedly made the deal he did - at the risk of giving up money next offseason - in part to help accommodate the signing of Thompson. That plus Curry's bargain basement deal gives the Warriors a very cap friendly point guard - center combination for the next few years on a team of guys that by all indications want to stay together. I'd have to think the culture being built and Bogut sacrificing a bit will be part of Thompson's thought process.
SP: The Warriors had so much success with small lineups last season. They played most the regular season without Bogut, and most of the playoffs without David Lee. Do you think those two will play together a lot this season? Should they?
NP: Of course without Barnes available currently and Festus Ezeli definitely out until 2014, we're going to see plenty of Bogut and Lee playing together just as a matter of who's available. However, with Barnes back and Iguodala now on the team, I'd have to think small ball looks way more attractive than it did even when things were clicking during the playoffs.
But to get concrete, in the 31 games the two played together last season, they averaged about 23 minutes per game (with Bogut playing a number of games with a cap on his minutes). I'd honestly like to see that combination drop to the 15-20 minute with the Barnes option available as well as Speights and Green available at the 4 and O'Neal at the 5. In theory, Bogut covers up some of Lee's defensive deficiencies; in practice, Bogut can't magically eliminate Lee's defensive deficiencies (sidebar: a number of Warriors fans hated Goldsberry's paper on Lee, but that pretty quantified everything that I find frustrating about Lee defensively).
This ultimately comes back to the same thing: the Warriors have options and I'd love to see this team mix it up with different combinations to keep our guys fresh and opponents off balance.
SP: During training camp, Mark Jackson hadn't really committed to a starting lineup yet, and Harrison Barnes' pre-season foot injury served to keep things a bit muddled. Jackson recently said that when Barnes is healthy (he won't be playing against the Clippers), he'll come off the bench, but is that just a factor of returning from injury, or a final decision? If it were up to you, who would be your starters and who would you bring off the bench?
NP: First, I have to say that this issue is probably getting a bit blown out of proportion: the Warriors' top six lends itself to a number of configurations, including players in any given lineup playing multiple different roles. So no matter who starts, that top 6 is just going to be tough to deal with because they can go big or small with multiple shooters and ball handlers without sacrificing too much defensively.
So in short, I'm not sure I care who starts as long we have the right combinations on the floor for significant minutes depending on the matchup.
That said, I've been a proponent of starting Thompson from the day the Warriors picked up Iguodala (there are also obviously arguments for bringing Iguodala or Lee off the bench, but I don't think that was ever realistically on the table for the staff). For me the reason is pretty simple: when the primary scorer is Curry, putting him opposite a player like Thompson and running them both off screens can really stretch a defense. With Iguodala with them on the floor, they have an alternate ball handler who can get the ball to either of those two other guys in addition to Bogut who is a more than capable facilitator. And defensively, Thompson is just ahead of Barnes.
This is not at all to negate Barnes' obvious potential - or even to make a commentary who will end up getting the most minutes game-to-game, which will depend a lot on how the staff reads matchups - but at this point Thompson is ahead of him as a ball handler, defender, and (obviously) shooter which just makes that starting unit far more dangerous and will force opponents to make some early decisions about how to respond. If you put any value on landing the first punch, I think a unit with Thompson gives them a better shot.
Thanks for taking the time to provide these insightful answers, Nate. But I do hope you're not suggesting that I'm blowing anything out of proportion. I never do that. On a related note, the Clippers need to fire Doc Rivers after that horrible loss to the