Sports Illustrated’s Zach Lowe is one of my favorite NBA writers. He’s informed and objective with a comfortable writing style and his “Point Forward” column has always been a must-read. A recent column presented analysis of teams that improved during the offseason. As has been the case with many national NBA writers this offseason, Lowe is impressed with the Warriors and includes them on his list.

Read the entire column here.

Lowe’s praise of the Warriors comes with some criticism as he takes his analysis all the way back to the beginning of last season:

Rewind further, and you’re reminded that the Warriors could have had an estimated $8 million in cap space had they used the amnesty provision on center Andris Biedrins instead of wasting it on shooting guard Charlie Bell’s small expiring deal as part of the team’s ill-fated pursuit of center DeAndre Jordan.

That’s true. At the time, it seemed odd that Golden State’s front office would use the one-time amnesty provision on a marginal player (in the 2010-11 season, Bell averaged nine minutes of playing time in 19 games) who made $3.8 million with one year left on his contract. While Bell was obviously overpaid, it was no comparison to Biedrins, who had three years and $27 million remaining on his deal at the time. This for a player who averaged fewer than two points per game last season and whose production has steadily declined since the ’08-09 season.

It would be understandable if the Warriors’ owners didn’t want to pay Biedrins $27 million to go away. The amnesty provision, after all, doesn’t eliminate a team’s responsibility to pay the full amount of the contract, it only subtracts a player from a team’s roster and his salary from the team’s salary cap number. Lowe is right then, if the Warriors had used the amnesty on Biedrins instead of Bell, whose contract would have expired at the end of the 2011-12 season, the front office would have had about $8 million to spend in free agency. Whether that would have been a good thing is another question.

Without that cap space, the Warriors had to be creative (and frugal). The front office still added talent to their roster and all of that talent has come with a reasonable price tag. Here’s a look at the team’s offseason acquisitions, their 2011-12 PER (player efficiency rating, anything higher than 15 is above average) and their salaries for the 2012-13 season:

Carl Landry, $4 million, 18.31 PER
Jarrett Jack, $5.6 million, 17.97 PER
Brandon Rush, $4 million, 15.25 PER
Harrison Barnes, $2.8 million, rookie
Festus Ezeli, $1.02 million, rookie
Kent Bazemore, $473,000, rookie

Inexpensive talent is the key point here and the reason extra cap space may not have been the boon to which Lowe eludes. The extra cap space would have given the Warriors more options, including the opportunity to make lopsided deals (where the Warriors could bring back more in salary than they send out in trade). However, when teams have cap space, they sometimes feel like they have to spend that money before it’s eaten up in successive years by new contracts for existing players. Often that results in teams making foolish signings, overpaying marginal players just because they have the money to do so.

Here’s a look at some of the signings this offseason that may fall into that category:

Jeff Green, four years, $10 million, 12.92 PER
Nick Young, one year, $6 million, 12.93 PER
Michael Beasley, three years, $18 million, 13.11 PER
Omer Asik, three years, $25 million, 13.44 PER
Chris Kaman, one year, $8 million, 15.42 PER
Jamal Crawford, four years, $26 million, 15.80 PER

Would Warriors fans have wanted any of those players? I can’t imagine anyone answering in the affirmative. The argument can be made that the Warriors’ front office is too smart and would have used that extra money wisely (or not used it if the right player wasn’t available). With new Warriors general manager Bob Myers, who seems very intelligent and has made savvy moves thus far, that might be correct. But then again, this is the same team that tried to sign DeAndre Jordan for four years and $43 million last year. Jordan is a serviceable center, but that’s far too rich a contract.

The rest of Lowe’s comments about the Warriors are cautiously optimistic (because of health concerns) and should make Warriors fans even more excited for the upcoming season. He praises Bogut, calling him “one of the half-dozen best defensive big men in the game.”  He writes that the Warriors have the tools to be a top-five offense and really likes the Jack and Landry signings, though he makes the point that “outside the defensively challenged Stephen Curry/David Lee pairing, the core players here have played close to zero meaningful NBA minutes together.”

All good points. October 31 can’t arrive fast enough.

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