Despite getting eliminated Thursday by the Spurs in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals, the Golden State Warriors' season is viewed as a success. What's next for the franchise? Let's examine.
1. Is Stephen Curry a top-15 player?
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: Yes, if healthy. That's a big if, though. If I were the Warriors, I'd manage his minutes like the Spurs have long done with Manu Ginobili. It starts by admitting he is both a wonderful player and injury-prone. I'd also make sure he stays light. There's an NBA tendency to lift your way to injury prevention, but in my view, the last thing those ankles need is more weight on them.
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Not when Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook are healthy -- although Curry's injury issues might be the only thing keeping him from breaking through. We don't know to what degree his sprained ankle is responsible, but elite superstars aren't allowed to shoot 40 percent or below four times in a series as Curry did against the Spurs. But if his body allows him to stay on the court and move better, we'll see more outputs like the 44 points he scored in Game 1.
Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: Fact. Offensively, he might be top five. Outside of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, I don't think there's another player who I'd say would have a better shot of getting you 30 points to get a win. Defensively is where he is lacking, which puts him ultimately around top-15 status.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPN.com: Yes. I'll slot him right about 15 for now, and we'll see how the improved health of guys like Derrick Rose influences that ranking. A lot of where you stand on Curry's quality depends on whether you think the post-All-Star break guy is the real Steph. After the break, Curry averaged 26 points while hitting 46 percent of the 8.9 3-pointers he attempted a game. Before the break, Curry averaged 21 points while trying 6.9 3s per game and splashing 45 percent. I believe that Curry fundamentally changed his approach over the course of the season and thus think the ranking is justified based on what he's become.
David Thorpe, ESPN Insider: Yes, he is. Evolving defenses put more value on pure shooting than perhaps ever in league history. He's the best there is right now at that, and his overall skill game is probably the best as well. He needs teammates to be a decent defender, just as they need him to elevate their offense to special levels.
2. Has your impression of Mark Jackson changed this season?
Abbott: Absolutely. Many of the things he articulates I disagree with, but when the TNT microphone caught him telling his team that he wished he could suit up with his guys and that he loved them -- well, how many coaches are emotionally equipped to respect, motivate and connect with young players in this way?
Adande: No. The difference is he went from someone who could get results to someone who did get results. And that difference is largely based on the availability of Curry for 78 games, instead of less than half the season last year. But his demeanor, approach and belief in the process (geez, I've been around him too much; I'm starting to talk like him) didn't change.
McMenamin: Not much. Jackson was my preseason prediction for Coach of the Year and ended up being a legit candidate for the award. Jackson's attitude has certainly rubbed off on his mix of talent -- I remember being in Oakland to cover a Warriors-Lakers game in December of this season and David Lee was seething as he walked down the hallway, saying to no one in particular that the attention should be on Golden State, not L.A., because the Dubs had the better record.
Strauss: It hasn't changed much, as I got used to Jackson last year. The difference is that the Warriors had a healthy Curry and no, ahem, incentive to get a No. 7 pick. Jackson is a fascinating character, but his publicly hyperbolic statements can distract from how coolly logical he's been as a coach. It's a welcome shift from how Keith Smart would bench Curry for Acie Law.
Thorpe: Without doubt. I thought he'd be just another former great player from the '90s running iso sets and talking about the good old days with stories featuring himself. Instead, he's a developing Doc Rivers, scoring an A-plus in charisma and leadership while learning how to organize strategies and adjust on the fly. What player would not want to play for him?
3. What does the future look like for Harrison Barnes?
Abbott: Whatever playing time worries he once had have evaporated -- not just because he's a shooter but because he might be the only athletic guy on a team starved for athleticism. They could use three of him.
Adande: It feels as if he could double his rookie scoring average of 9.2 points a game within a year or two. He wasn't far off in the playoffs, when he averaged 16.1 points a contest. After producing two 20-point games during the regular season, he had four 20-point games during two rounds of the playoffs. He can already score in a variety of ways. If he adds a couple of countermoves, watch out.
McMenamin: James Harden-esque. Curry and Klay Thompson seem to be the one-two punch that the Warriors are building around, much like Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. If Barnes continues to improve as rapidly as he did in the playoffs -- increasing his regular-season averages of 9.2 points and 4.2 rebounds to 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds -- it will be hard for Golden State to keep him in the long run.
Strauss: It looks like he should play more power forward. Barnes was better in the postseason, in part, because Golden State finally went small and stuck him at the 4. Thanks to the rebounding and defense Andrew Bogut provides, the Warriors can benefit from playing an athletic 3-point shooter alongside him at power forward. Such a lineup helps Barnes because it provides him more space for his drives and more room for his shot.
Thorpe: I'm the wrong guy to ask that, seeing as how I first thought he could be Paul Pierce two seasons ago. Nothing has changed from my end. He needs to believe it, and his coach and teammates need to as well. If those things align, we're talking an elite forward who can play big or small, shoot or post, all while being a dominant athlete.
4. What should the Warriors do with David Lee?
Abbott: Trade him. It's not that he's not an effective player; he was an All-Star for a reason. But a massive salary for a guy who is a poor interior defender and was benched against some opponents because it makes the offense much better? From the team that is best poised (without Lee) to capitalize on what we're learning about how important 3s are? Gotta turn that salary slot into something that better fits the philosophy and works well with the rest of the roster.
Adande: Some people believe the Warriors' strong playoff showing while Lee was hampered by a hip flexor injury makes him disposable, but the continued uncertainty of Andrew Bogut negates that line of thinking. In Game 6 against the Spurs, Lee was more productive than Bogut and Lee was supposed to be out for the season. If teams are going to copy the Spurs and force Curry to pass to big men, the Warriors need one who can make opponents pay for it. Lee can.
McMenamin: Lee is owed more than $45 million over the next three seasons. Good luck finding a trade partner for that. He fits the culture of what the Warriors are trying to accomplish and their preferred style of play, but the emergence of Barnes as a stretch-4 will test his playing time.
Strauss: I'll be blunt: The Warriors should either trade Lee or curtail his role. The most accurate 3-point shooting team should play with four 3-point shooters more often. For all the offense Lee provides, he isn't a long-range threat. Lee's also such a bad defender that if he isn't helping fuel GSW's long-range advantage, heavy minutes probably won't be justified.
Thorpe: They needed Lee to be hurt to get past Denver, as that forced them into favorable matchups while creating the perfect underdog theme for Jackson to use. But they need him unless or until Bogut can be an everyday player. With Klay Thompson and Curry, the team needs a more defensive-minded power forward, but Lee is still an asset it can use to win games. Trading him for an elite defender makes sense, but it's not mandatory right now.
5. Are the Warriors contenders in the West next season?
Abbott: Yes. If you squint a little, they contended this season, despite discovering their best offense after the playoffs began. Memo to the Western Conference: You're going to need personnel and schemes to stop four 3-point shooters, two of whom are super effective even off the dribble, or you're going to lose to Golden State. And the Warriors are young. Rare sentence: It's a good time to be a Warriors fan.
Adande: Yes. All playoffs, I kept thinking how good the Warriors would be next season with the benefit of this playoff experience. It's an added bonus that six of the games came against the Spurs, who are like playoff professors. It's not hard to envision the Warriors taking the next step and reaching the conference finals next year.
McMenamin: Yes. They're not the favorites -- that distinction belongs to Memphis, San Antonio and Oklahoma City -- but they'll be in the next wave of possible winners along with Denver, Houston and the two L.A. teams, depending on what Chris Paul and Dwight Howard decide.
Strauss: No, not unless they make some crafty moves in the offseason. David Lee gives this team a specific ceiling, and I believe they'll have to build for a post-Lee era to reach the "contender" stratum. The Warriors still have flaws, even on offense, where they're often praised. They lack a guy who can get to the rim. Perhaps Golden State will become a contender when Barnes becomes that guy or when it finds that guy via trade.
Thorpe: Absent some major changes, not really. But in two seasons, perhaps. The road they are on is a good one.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Henry Abbott, J.A. Adande, Ethan Sherwood Strauss and David Thorpe cover the NBA for ESPN.com. Dave McMenamin covers the NBA for ESPN Los Angeles.