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Mailbag: Are the Warriors Serious Title Contenders?

We have hit a rare slow period in the NBA news cycle. We open up the mailbag to answer your remaining offseason questions.

Welcome to A Crossover Mailbag! Is this a recurring segment or something to do during the slow part of the offseason? Only time will tell! Either way, I want to sincerely, genuinely thank everyone who sent in questions. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so appreciated in my life. (Hey, wait a second.…) We may not get to every single query today, but keep your eyes and ears open—we may even try to sneak some onto the Open Floor podcast at some point. Without further ado, let’s get to YOUR questions.

From Trill Blazers: Do you think the Blazers will make a trade this offseason? Dame threatened to leave if they didn’t upgrade their roster, and they proceeded to do nothing in free agency.

Trill, I hate to be the bearer of bad news here: I don’t see a significant trade on the horizon for Portland. It’s not impossible, especially with someone like Ben Simmons still floating out there. This is just such a strange part of the summer. Even with some players still looking for their new team (seriously, what’s up with Lauri Markannen?)* 

(In an ironic twist for this question, the Blazers are reportedly involved in a sign-and-trade including Markannen. Portland will get Larry Nance Jr. in exchange for Derrick Jones Jr. in the trade. While this swap of juniors is a solid move for the Blazers, I’m not sure it’s the kind of trade that moves the needle in convincing Lillard to stay.)

Portland is in a tough spot, because they can explore trades for someone like C.J. McCollum, make a big move and then see Damian Lillard ask out anyway. Like you, I was a little surprised at how stagnant Portland’s offseason was, though they didn’t have many avenues to upgrade the roster. It’s frustrating, but it does feel like Portland is in a little bit of a holding pattern at the moment. At this point, it feels more likely to me they make a trade during the season, unless some kind of McCollum-for-Simmons move materializes, the chances of which seem minimal considering Daryl Morey’s high asking price for Simmons.

From Ashwin N: The Heat definitely made an upgrade at the starting PG spot, but bench guard playmaking still seems like a glaring issue to me. How much do you see this being a problem that comes to fruition during the season? If not, what’s the biggest issue you still see with the roster as constructed?

Ashwin, thank you for giving me an opportunity to discuss the Heat’s offseason, something I haven’t done much of in my professional capacity. In my opinion, Miami has some cause for concern with its roster construction. As you mentioned, it’s not only bench playmaking that seems to be an issue, it’s bench ballhandling in general. Are the Heat ready to turnover backup point guard duties to Gabe Vincent full time? What if Lowry, who is 35 and played in only 46 games last season, gets hurt? The Tyler Herro point guard experiment didn’t really work last season, and he needs to bounce back as a sixth man before adding more to his plate.

In general, the Heat are going into this season a little top heavy. The starting five of Lowry, Jimmy Butler, Duncan Robinson, P.J. Tucker and Bam Adebayo looks good on paper. The bench is what worries me. Victor Oladipo won’t play for a while and Udonis Haslem won’t be in the rotation. Now you’re already down to 12 players while guys like Lowry, Butler, Tucker and Markieff Morris have a lot of miles on them. Miami seems really well constructed for a playoff series, especially once it adds a 15th guy around buyout time. I do think their route to the postseason could be a little bumpy.

From King 23: What needs to happen for the Knicks to win the championship this year?

An act of god.

From Milwaukee Brian: Can I ask, are my Bucks gonna repeat as champs?

Of course you can ask, Brian! Unfortunately, my answer is no. As presently constructed, a healthy Nets team would best the Bucks in a seven-game series. Heck, a Nets team with two healthy stars could probably knock off Milwaukee in the postseason. (We almost saw Brooklyn do it this year with Kevin Durant and a one-legged James Harden in a Game 7.) That’s no disrespect to Milwaukee’s incredible playoff run and the dominant Finals performance from Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks are legit and will absolutely be in the mix for the championship. I don’t think any team in the West is a clear-cut favorite compared to them. This is more about a healthy respect and fear for what a juggernaut the Nets can be if all three of their stars (Durant, Harden and Kyrie Irving if you somehow need a reminder) are actually on the court at the same time.

From Leafs Harnden: Why are people talking about the Warriors as title contenders and giving Klay recovering to something close to 100% so much more credence than KD recovering to a high level despite Klay going through two of the most devastating injuries back to back versus one for KD?

Leafs, obviously it can be hard to predict how any player is going to look after one major injury, let alone two back to back. What works in Klay’s favor here is ACL injuries aren’t as catastrophic as they used to be, and now we have some evidence of a seven-footer (Durant)—who generally seem to have a harder time with these things—being able to return to form after an Achilles tear. And on the offensive end of the floor at least, you can rationalize that Klay’s game shouldn’t be too impacted by his injuries, with the caveats being I am not a doctor or sports scientist, and there is also the defensive side of the ball.

And it’s not just about Klay Thompson! The Warriors still have one of the best players in the world and an MVP candidate in Stephen Curry. They have one of the smartest players in the world in Draymond Green. And Andre Iguodala and Otto Porter are among vets who can make valuable contributions playing off the stars. Even if Klay is never the same Klay, some decent version of him next to the talent in place should make Golden State a very, very formidable opponent come playoff time. When you take into account the confusion at the top of the West—are the Lakers better? Do you trust the Suns?—the Warriors have as good an argument as anyone for why they should make the Finals. 

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