The Warriors only got a few days to bask in their fourth championship in eight years before the rest of the NBA got to officially start working on knocking them off the mountaintop.
And while the Warriors’ night wasn’t the quietest among potential challengers in the Western Conference, some of them clearly made moves with an eye toward dethroning the champs.
Golden State used its first round pick at No. 28 overall on Wisconsin-Milwaukee forward Patrick Baldwin Jr., a versatile 6-foot-9 wing who’s just 19 years old. While he battled injuries in his lone collegiate year, he was one of the top recruits coming out of high school and is considered a development project.
In the second round, the Warriors made a surprise trade with the Hawks to move up from No. 51 to No. 44, throwing in $2 million to make the deal happen, and took Toledo guard Ryan Rollins. The soon-to-be 20-year-old is 6-foot-4 but has a 6-foot-10 wingspan was named to the Mid-Major All-America team this season. Golden State used its other second round pick (No. 55 overall) on forward Gui Santos of Brazil, who is likely a draft-and-stash.
Golden State has other issues to address on its roster, come free agency, and neither Baldwin nor Rollins are likely to enter training camp with expectations to contribute to the title defense.
But for the teams chasing Golden State out West, a few of them made moves — and one notably didn’t — that shook up their rosters. Here’s a rundown of what the top three Western Conference teams did on Thursday night:
While the series against the Warriors was a gentlemen’s sweep, Dallas did finish runner-up in the West, so they get top billing in this assessment. And the Mavericks seemed to quickly identify their biggest weakness, as before Golden State played Game 6 of the NBA Finals last Thursday, the Mavericks agreed to trade for Rockets big man Christian Wood, sending four players who played less than 100 minutes combined during their playoff run and the No. 26 overall pick.
Wood is a stretch forward who can shoot from the outside (39% from 3-point range last season) and could play small-ball center against smaller lineups, like what the Warriors used. Wood has some questions about his defense, as he’s not quick enough when facing faster forwards nor is the 6-foot-9, 214-pounder big enough to pound with centers consistently.
The Mavericks also traded into the second round with the Kings and took 6-foot-4 guard Jalen Hardy at No. 39 overall. Like Baldwin for the Warriors, Hardy was considered a top prospect coming out of high school, but the 19-year-old struggled with defense and consistent effort with G League Ignite. Still, he has a lot of upside, and some experts compare his shooting touch to Jordan Poole.
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While Dallas made the conference finals, Memphis was the team who gave Golden State the toughest fight out West, taking them to six games in the semifinals. And the rivalry that quickly built between the Grizzlies and the Warriors has been further stoked by some chatter throughout the post-Finals week.
The Grizzlies were perhaps the most aggressive title-contending team on the night, swinging two big trades. First, they sent Minnesota picks No. 22 and 29 for No. 19, where they took 6-foot-8 forward Jake LaRavia, a smart, lengthy wing who shoots well and moves constantly. The 20-year-old from Wake Forest had been mocked to the Warriors at No. 28 several times leading up to the draft.
Then, Memphis made an eye-popping move, sending out De’Anthony Melton for the No. 23 overall pick and Danny Green (who has a major knee injury and will likely be waived for cap space savings this week). Melton is a bench sparkplug who averaged 7.8 points and 4.0 rebounds in 20.5 minutes a game against the Warriors in the semifinals. He’ll be missed.
But the Grizzlies added another forward in the 6-foot-6 David Roddy out of Colorado State. At 21, Roddy is a smart offensive player and can shoot well, but has some defensive liabilities. But the trade will likely give them some financial flexibility to make another move in free agency. They’ll be a team to watch.
It felt like the Warriors and Suns were destined to meet up in the West finals this year, especially after Phoenix rolled to a 64-win regular season. But a horrendous Game 7 against Dallas in the semifinals ended the Suns’ season — and may have opened up Pandora’s box when it comes to the offseason.
Phoenix did not have a single draft pick on Thursday night, but their uncertainty surrounding restricted free agent center Deandre Ayton dominated discussion around them, including several mock trades that didn’t happen. Ayton is reportedly very frustrated with the Suns for not extending him on a maximum contract and may not want to remain in Phoenix. But Suns general manager James Jones does not sound like a guy willing to let him go.
“DA is a big part of what we do.” #Suns GM James Jones about Deandre Ayton, a restricted free agent.
“This team is a really good team and we’re going to keep it together.”
— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) June 24, 2022
While it ended up being a silent night in Phoenix with regard to the draft, there will be plenty of drama down in the Valley of the Sun come free agency next week. And while they collapsed before they could get the postseason matchup with the Warriors, they still should be considered a contender … for now.