The Golden State Warriors are at a crossroads after a 51-win 2013-14 NBA regular season where they actually failed to meet expectations. After being eliminated by the Los Angeles Clippers in a seven-game first-round series of the NBA Playoffs and after firing Mark Jackson as their head coach, they could either crumble or realize the potential everyone has touted them for having.
One of the biggest things that the Warriors’ future hinges upon is how guys like All-Star point guard Stephen Curry buy into whoever the new head coach is going to be for this team. Much of the team rallied around Jackson when he was at the helm, so you have to wonder how the loss of the coach and bringing in a new one will affect the stars.
What can’t be forgotten if you’re looking at the Warriors’ first-round exit, though, is the fact that they were without starting center Andrew Bogut for the whole series. Dealing with a fractured rib, Bogut was unable to play and left a gaping hole in their frontcourt and defense that aging veteran Jermaine O’Neal couldn’t hope to fully fill.
However, what’s hardly been discussed at all about the Warriors after their season’s end is the fact that they were without backup center Festus Ezeli for the entirety of the season due to injury. There were rumblings that he could return for the playoffs, but that never came to fruition.
While Ezeli has never been huge in terms of production, he would have been huge for their chances in the postseason and will be a huge factor for this team as they trek forward into the increasingly uncertain future. Given the injury-history of Bogut, there’s a severe need for depth at the center position with this team that O’Neal—who’s contemplating retirement—likely won’t be able to fill for much longer. That’s where Ezeli will have to step in going forward.
Don’t pencil in Ezeli for future All-Star Games any time soon, but don’t forget about him after this season where he couldn’t’ get on the floor. As this Warriors team with a plethora of talent tries to reach their ceiling, Ezeli may very well be an enormous part in getting them over the hump.