OAKLAND (AP) — So much is new right now for the Golden State Warriors.
Aggressive new owners. A new retro logo. A young, energetic new coach who has waited nearly a decade for this chance. A handful of new faces on the roster expected to make an immediate impact. Most notably: David Lee.
Along with some of the familiar, old go-to guys in Monta Ellis, Rookie of the Year runner-up Stephen Curry and Andris Biedrins.
There is refreshed optimism around this franchise to say the least.
Keith Smart finally gets his chance as an NBA head coach after seven seasons as a Warriors assistant, taking over for the departed Don Nelson. Those are big shoes to fill considering Nellie is the NBA’s winningest coach ever.
Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, who bought the club for a record $450 million in July from longtime owner Chris Cohan, certainly will want to see strides soon from a team that has reached the playoffs just once since 1994 — in an improbable run to the second round in 2007.
Their boldest move yet was letting Nelson go last month, which meant paying his $6 million salary for this season.
Now, it’s Smart’s turn to try to turn around this longtime losing franchise for good. Golden State has struggled to compete in the loaded Western Conference, though it regularly plays tight games with a chance to win until the final buzzer.
Smart replaces a man in Nelson who earned a record 1,335 victories in 31 seasons.
“Don Nelson told me, ‘I got you in position where I think you should be—the head coach of the Golden State Warriors,”‘ Smart said.
The Warriors were second in the NBA at 108.8 points per game, but allowed opponents an average of 112.4. Ellis averaged a career-best 25.5 points and 5.3 assists to lead the way.
Smart will move from Nelson’s guard-oriented “small ball” style in favor of more balance and better rebounding and defense. Biedrins and Lee will be a big part of that effort.
After seven years as an assistant—the longest tenured assistant in franchise history—the 46-year-old Smart gets to take that first seat on the bench.
“I’ve had the chance to work with a tremendous offensive coach the last four years,” Smart said. “We will play a more traditional style, with bigger players in different spots. We have two talented guards who can play at a faster pace and we don’t want to take away their creativity. It starts with how we can rebound the basketball. We’re not going to win if we don’t rebound. David Lee is a rebounder. A healthy Biedrins is back and he’s a proven NBA rebounder.”
Biedrins, the 7-foot center from Latvia, insists he is back and 100 percent healthy after a tough year of physical challenges. He was sidelined for the final 23 games last season following March 10 surgery to repair a small tear of an abdominal muscle and played only 33 contests in all because of groin problems.
Biedrins averaged just 5.0 points and 7.8 rebounds, his lowest totals since becoming a regular player during the 2006-07 season. He never had a chance to get in rhythm.
“It’s a whole new chapter and we have good directions to where we are going. It’s a great beginning,” Biedrins said, referring to both himself and the team. “All the coaches, everybody, is excited about the new direction. We’re ready to go.”
While the Warriors are counting on Biedrins returning to his former top form—posting regular double-doubles—he will have Lee to complement him in what should be a much-improved frontcourt.
General manager Larry Riley acquired Lee in a July trade with the New York Knicks, giving Golden State a proven scorer who was a fan favorite at Madison Square Garden.
Lee averaged 20.2 points and 11.7 rebounds last season and has developed a reliable outside shot in recent years. Lee spent five years in New York, where he was respected for playing hard on losing teams.
“My focus since Day 1 has been to get a good rapport with the guys and to be a leader and to lead by example and to help that translate into more victories,” Lee said. “We have a chance to do that.”
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