Wel­come to new, im­proved War­riors-Lak­ers ri­valry

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Sports - BY DI­ETER KURTENBACH (San Jose) Mer­cury News

Golden State al­ready had a black and blue prob­lem, with Klay Thomp­son and Kevin Du­rant suf­fer­ing mas­sive in­juries in the NBA Fi­nals.

Now it has a big pur­ple and gold prob­lem, too.

In a wide-open Western Con­fer­ence – one in which, con­trary to pop­u­lar per­cep­tion, the War­riors should not yet be writ­ten off – the Lak­ers have emerged as a lead­ing force.

By ac­quir­ing An­thony Davis and, as of Thurs­day, clear­ing the books to cre­ate enough money to sign a max-value player once the NBA’s sham free agency mora­to­rium is lifted on Sun­day, an­other su­per team is form­ing around LeBron James in Hol­ly­wood. The Lak­ers are in po­si­tion to pos­si­bly have three of the top 10 play­ers in the NBA in the same start­ing lineup come open­ing night 2019.

The War­riors – who cer­tainly know what boast­ing that kind of star power feels like – can’t do any­thing to stop the Lak­ers’ rise. This was pre­dictable, even if Lak­ers gen­eral man­ager Rob Pelinka took a strange, cir­cuitous route to reach this point.

But while the Davis ac­qui­si­tion and the pos­si­bil­ity of an­other big-money star head­ing to town (Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy But­ler, Kemba Walker… Kyrie Irv­ing?) will draw at­ten­tion and likely make the Lak­ers ti­tle fa­vorites, the real con­cern for the War­riors is that the Lak­ers are poised to make mas­sive moves on the bot­tom end of their ros­ter as well.

Even if the War­riors re-sign Klay Thomp­son and Kevin Du­rant, gen­eral man­ager Bob My­ers is go­ing to need to make deft moves in the off­sea­son to en­sure that the War­riors will make the play­offs in their first year at their new San Fran­cisco arena. Stephen Curry and Dray­mond Green are re­ally good, but so is the rest of the Western Con­fer­ence.

And the War­riors are also over the salary cap – way, way over the salary cap – re­gard­less of Du­rant’s de­ci­sion. Thomp­son is ex­pected to re-sign in short or­der. That means that out­side of us­ing their mid-level ex­cep­tion, the War­riors will only be able to sign play­ers to min­i­mum-value con­tracts this off­sea­son.

Try­ing to get quality NBA play­ers on league-min­i­mum con­tracts is an in­trin­si­cally tricky propo­si­tion, but the War­riors have found some luck with young, de­vel­op­men­tal play­ers (Quinn Cook, Al­fonzo McKin­nie) and “ring-chas­ing” vet­er­ans like David West and Le­an­dro Bar­bosa.

The War­riors will need to con­tinue to hit with early-ca­reer and un­der­rated play­ers – spot­ting and de­vel­op­ing young cheap tal­ent will need to be a hall­mark of the fran­chise if they are to re­main top ti­tle con­tenders well into the next decade, no mat­ter what happens with the top-flight free agents this sum­mer – but par­tic­u­larly for the 2019-20 sea­son, My­ers will need to sign proven, re­li­able vet­er­ans to fill out the team’s ros­ter.

The War­riors have been the log­i­cal top des­ti­na­tion for true ring chasers in re­cent years, as they’ve been the prohibitiv­e ti­tle fa­vorites.

And while Cal­i­for­nia, the Bay Area, and Stephen Curry will al­ways make the Dubs an at­trac­tive land­ing spot, the War­riors are now part of the ti­tlechas­ing pack in the Western Con­fer­ence, mean­ing that they’re not the top op­tion any­more.

The new top op­tion is, with­out ques­tion, the Lak­ers.

Re­gard­less of what the Lak­ers do with their new­found salary cap space – they could, in the­ory, sign three $10 mil­lion play­ers in­stead of one maxlevel guy – they, like the War­riors, will need to fill out their ros­ter with min­i­mum con­tracts. At the mo­ment they have only two play­ers un­der con­tract for next year – James and Kyle Kuzma. That will change in the com­ing days as trades be­come fi­nal, but the point stands: The Lak­ers are go­ing to need to sign a lot of dudes, on the cheap, in the next few weeks.

They should have the pick of the lit­ter.

The vet­eran min­i­mum mar­ket is typically slow de­vel­op­ing

THE WAR­RIORS CANNOT AF­FORD TO SIT AROUND AND WAIT FOR GUYS TO COME TO THEM, LOOK­ING FOR A ONE-YEAR PROVE-IT DEAL OR A CA­REER VAL­I­DAT­ING SEA­SONS.

– the big names sign first, then the mid-level guys, and then teams see who is still re­main­ing and play­ers see which teams spent all their money.

But the War­riors cannot af­ford to sit around and wait for guys to come to them, look­ing for a oneyear prove-it deal or a ca­reer val­i­dat­ing sea­sons. No, the com­pe­ti­tion for the DeMarre Car­rolls and Seth Cur­rys and JaVale McGees of the league should be hot and heavy this sum­mer. The Clip­pers and Nets – if they land their top free agent tar­gets – can of­fer mar­quee mar­kets and ti­tle con­tention, too.

The War­riors are the rich­est team in the NBA, with a new arena in a world-class city and a style of play that brings out the best in ev­ery­one, led by a no-ego su­per­star. They’ll land some ex­cel­lent free agents.

But will they get their top tar­gets at the min­i­mum?

And we know – be­yond a shadow of a doubt – that LeBron is al­ready re­cruit­ing. He never stops – even Nick Sa­ban takes a week off every year.

Can My­ers, Stephen Curry, and Dray­mond Green beat him on the trail?

Wel­come to the real first chap­ter of the new and im­proved War­riorsLak­ers ri­valry.

MARK J. TERRILL AP

The new Western Con­fer­ence top op­tion for play­ers to con­sider is, with­out ques­tion, the Lak­ers and LeBron James.

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