Here’s a little secret:
The late-season NBA stinks. Aside from a few high-stakes battles between contenders, most games during the final month of the season are pretty awful.
There’s a reason for that. Between out-of-contention teams strategically “evaluating the young guys,” contenders making sure their best players are peaking in June and the accumulation of nicks and bruises over the course of the season keeping key players out, many of these late games will be starless slogs, mere boxes to be checked en route to fulfilling an obligation to play out a 72-game schedule.
But not for everyone. For some teams, and especially some players, these games are going to matter quite a bit, and not necessarily for the playoff race. Even on teams that are otherwise going nowhere, there are games within the games that matter as we head into the offseason.
While the league’s eight or nine elite teams will make their decisions based on what happens in the playoffs, most of the league’s rank and file won’t have that luxury. For them, consequential decisions could hinge on what certain players can show over the final month-plus of the regular season.
Take the Golden State Warriors, for instance. Mired in 10th place in the West despite a dizzying $169 million payroll, Golden State is likely to have a brief postseason at best. Nonetheless, one can argue these upcoming five-plus weeks are a hugely important stretch for the Warriors as a franchise and for rookie center James Wiseman in particular.
There’s a reason that Steve Kerr joking referred to the “nightly James Wiseman report card” in his postgame comments on Sunday night. One way or another, he’s the key to the most important decision the Warriors will make this offseason and what might be the most consequential decision in the entire league: whether to keep throwing money at the Splash Brothers core in an effort to squeeze out another deep playoff run, or whether it’s time to pull the ripcord and rebuild.