Mike Dunleavy Jr.

Dunleavy finds balance in Warriors' revamped roster

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The Warriors this offseason traded the future for the present, continuing the plan into free agency. 

Between the Warriors’ blockbuster trade and their two free-agent signings, not including Draymond Green (34 years old in March) returning on a four-year contract, the average age of the three players they acquired in those three deals -- Chris Paul, Cory Joseph and Dario Saric -- will be 33 years old on the night of the season opener. The three players they sent to Washington, D.C. -- Jordan Poole, Patrick Baldwin Jr. and Ryan Rollins -- will be a little under 22. 

But Golden State’s two former lottery picks, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, both of whom still will be 21 when the season starts, remained safe. The Warriors took a 20-year-old in Brandin Podziemski with their first-round pick and traded into the second-round to take 23-year-old center Trayce Jackson-Davis.

One is three years younger than the other, but both are known to have feel for the game, along with Jackson-Davis’ four years of college experience. And that about sums up the goal of the Warriors’ roster construction for new general manager Mike Dunleavy Jr.: Balance. 

“I really like the balance,” Dunleavy said to NBC Sports Bay Area on the latest episode of the “Dubs Talk” podcast. “I think it's got a good combination of veteran experience, a middle tier of guys that are good, they're tough, they're hungry, and we got some good young players. 

“And I don't think we have too many young players.”

The Warriors’ two-timeline plan evaporated once they traded James Wiseman to the Detroit Pistons at the NBA trade deadline as part of a three-team deal that brought Gary Payton II back to Golden State. Warriors owner Joe Lacob is adamant there never was such a plan. Dunleavy admits last season’s team that fell in the second round likely leaned too far on the young side of the scale. 

“Perhaps in the past, maybe we've tried to overload it with some youth and I think we've gotten really good balance,” Dunleavy continued. “We'll see going into the season, evaluate it and if we need to make changes we can. 

“But I like where we're at heading into it.” 

The Warriors as of this publishing have 13 guaranteed contracts signed, leaving two available openings. Lester Quinones returned on a two-way contract and is expected to be given the opportunity to compete for a roster spot in training camp. That gives Golden State two other two-way contracts that have yet to be completed. 

The expectation is the Warriors will leave their final roster spot vacant to begin the season for financial flexibility. 

Then there’s the other side of the Warriors adding older age to their roster. Paul, 38, is going into his 19th season and missed 23 games last season, including the Phoenix Suns’ final four playoff games because of a groin injury. He also averaged 32 minutes per game, and will not come close to that number this season. 

Steph Curry turns 36 in March and was sidelined for 26 games last season due to two injuries that kept him out for multiple weeks. Warriors director of sports medicine and performance Rick Celebrini will have his hands full, but there’s nobody the players or personnel trusts more, just as Curry keeps finding ways to improve his physical health.

“I don't know what we would do without him,” Dunleavy said of Celebrini. “But having a guy like that, who we can rely on and say, ‘Hey, how's this guy aging or where's he at?’ It really, for me, it takes one thing off my plate. So as far as those guys that are older guys that people talk about, I mean, to me, 32, 33, 34, 35 is not what it was 10 to 15 years ago. 

“Guys now, they're really playing at a high level at 38, 39, 40 years old. They’re old in some regards. But they're not that old. You need some veterans, you need some older guys to win. And like I said, I feel good about the balance we have and us being able to manage those guys going through the season and getting them to where we need to be come April, May and June.” 

The one part of the roster a section of Warriors fans always are going to pound the table for is more size. Dunleavy and the front office found themselves in the same situation this offseason. Anthony Davis averaged 21.5 points, 14.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game as the Los Angeles Lakers knocked off the Warriors in the Western Conference semifinals. They watched from afar while Denver Nuggets star center and two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokić won his first title this season.

Kevon Looney, 6-foot-9, can’t be counted on to play all 82 regular-season games for a third straight season. Looney’s toughness and dedication to prepare his body is worthy of praise but needs a break. As does Green, who going into Year 12, still will battle much bigger opponents at 6-foot-6.

The Warriors if they are to fill another guaranteed roster spot won’t simply be searching for who measures the tallest out of the available players on the market. Dunleavy has seen the evolution of the big man in the NBA and expects another some point down the road. His current evaluation, however, is in line with what history has shown us. Skill combined with size is ideal, though skill has to be the priority over height. 

“I think size still matters,” Dunleavy said. “It always has and always will. The caveat to that is nowadays, you just have to be skilled. If you're not skilled, and you're just big, it's going to be hard. Back 15 or 20, 30 years ago, it didn't matter as much. The bigger guys always thrived because they were closer to the basket, and the game was different and all that well. Nowadays, if you're big and you're skilled, yeah, you're gonna see MVPs -- Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and [Joel] Embiid and Jokić, that will never change. It’s just the amount of guys that are big and skilled has. The smaller, shorter guys that are skilled are sort of taking the game over and there'll be a shift at some point again. 

“We'll see what it is, but in the meantime, to me skill always wins out.” 

Dunleavy believes the Warriors accomplished checking both boxes in signing free-agent forward/center Dario Saric, who stands 6-foot-10, made 39.1 percent of his 3-point attempts last season and is an incredibly smart passer. Jackson-Davis, 6-foot-9, isn’t an outside shooter yet going into his rookie year. He is a skilled passer and showcased that area of his arsenal in the two summer league games he played. 

Whether it’s players new or the Warriors’ returning Hall of Fame core of Curry, Green and Klay Thompson, Dunleavy can feel the team’s chip on its shoulders. The Warriors so often have been the hunted. They now are the hunters again, a position that has worked for them in the past. The new GM is looking forward to it, too. 

“I've talked with all those guys and honestly, there's nothing that they could say that would cause me to feel any differently than when I saw the reaction coming out of the locker room after we lost in LA, on the team plane home, just those next couple days,” Dunleavy said. “These guys are the ultimate competitors and champions. You could just tell they wanted to get right back to it. There's nothing that needs to be said of those guys. 

“They'll come back, they'll be ready to rock and roll, and I think we're pumped for next year.”

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