- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2016

The letdown sinks in Monday in Oakland. After a night’s sleep and all the adrenaline from Game 7 goes away, the Golden State Warriors will realize in full that it’s just Monday. A day for dissection of what went wrong in a rollicking seven-game series against the Cleveland Cavaliers. A time to start thinking about what’s next.

“You go through the whole season, you play, you compete, you do your best,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters after the game. “We had a phenomenal season. Obviously we did something that’s never been done before. Couldn’t finish it off.

“It’s not about learning anything or life lessons or anything like that. The only thing it is about is getting better as a team, and that’s what we’ll try to do next year.”

The Warriors‘ small-ball, 3-point shooting style twice ran into trouble in the playoffs. They lost nine games, as many as they had during a record-setting regular season, including seven at the hands of Oklahoma City and Cleveland. Those teams used might to counter Golden State’s wispy lineup of wings. Oklahoma City stuck with a power forward, a center and huge small forward to give the Warriors trouble. Cleveland followed suit in spots with LeBron James, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, trying to counter the cost of defensive switches with an offensive bruising. At the least, James and Thompson were constantly on the floor.

It worked, particularly after Andrew Bogut was injured in Game 5. Which gives Golden State three large offseason considerations.

First, it has to decide on Harrison Barnes. The 24 year old small forward flopped in the Finals. He shot 35.2 percent from the field and 30.1 percent from behind the 3-point line, likely costing himself millions of dollars this summer when he becomes a restricted free agent. Barnes was pegged as someone in line to possibly receive a maximum contract because of the coming spike in the NBA’s salary cap. Playing well in the postseason would have bolstered the belief in his potential and calmed nerves about providing such a cash haul to someone with numbers strikingly similar to Otto Porter’s. Instead, Barnes struggled, which, in a twist may have increased his chances of remaining with the Warriors. They can match any deal he is offered.

Second, is the big-man problem for this team anchored in playing smaller people. Active centers like Thompson and Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams gave the Warriors ongoing problems. They were able to stay on the floor because of their ability to switch onto and bother Golden State’s wing players defensively. Thompson did it throughout the Finals.

Playing them is counter to the adamant claims that opponents cannot stay with bigger personnel and hope to beat Golden State. It’s precisely what both teams did. One lost in seven games, the other won in seven. Golden State can consider young internal solutions, like James Michael McAdoo — who Kerr tried in the Finals — and Kevon Looney, if the latter is healthy. Those two have combined to play just 61 regular-season games. Center Festus Ezeli has a lot in common with Barnes. He crumpled in the Finals and is a restricted free agent with a good shot at being overpaid.

Third, is Curry’s future. He can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2017 season (as can Andre Iguodala, which may influence how the Warriors view signing Barnes long term). The team’s other two anchors are signed for multiple years. Klay Thompson is under contract until 2019. Draymond Green until 2020.

For kicks, there’s also the idea that Kevin Durant — linked to any team with a chance and cap space — may join the Warriors. He would be an emphatic upgrade over Barnes and make the Warriors again favored to win the title.

These all would have been the questions about Golden State’s summer even had it won. They are just amplified now after becoming the first team in league history to lose the Finals after taking a 3-1 series lead.

“I promise you we’re going to get better from it,” Thompson said. “This is not the last time we’ll be on this stage. It’s not the last time we’ll be here.”

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