Another of the Golden State Warriors’ key veterans left for free agency, with Nemanja Bjelica joining Otto Porter Junior and Gary Payton II leaving the club after winning a title. Bjelica turned down a return offer for the veteran minimum to sign with Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahçe, the team where he won EuroLeague MVP in 2015 and led his side to the EuroLeague Final Four.
Bjelica was a key reserve last season, providing spacing with his excellent outside shot and a solid defense that defied the sight test. Belli isn’t the fastest big man, but he was great at taking up space in the lane and challenging shots inside. His playing time has fluctuated throughout the season and playoffs, depending on the game – big minutes against Nikola Jokic and Boogie Cousins in the Denver Series, barely seeing the ground against the big, fast Grizzlies in the Memphis series, then coming out of mothballs with a whopping 22 minutes in the Warriors’ closing game against Dallas. In Game 5, Bjelica somehow stoned Luka Doncic on several possessions, shredded the Mavericks defense with his pass, then hit a deep dagger three to effectively end the game with eight minutes left.
The whimsical pass was the most impressive and frustrating of Belli’s season on the Warriors. He threw some incredible passes and he also threw some incredibly misguided passes this year, averaging 2.2 assists but 1.2 turnovers per game. Bjelica seemed to enjoy playing in the Warriors’ movement attack, and mid-season said, “I’m enjoying every day, because I finally found a place where I feel comfortable and very happy.” A happy element of Bjelica’s creative overreaching is that he was always ready to catch an ambitious pass from anyone else and finish it off at home.
Bjelica became the fourth Serbian player to win a championship this season, after Darko Miličić, Peja Stojaković and Warriors legend Ognjen Kuzmić. He didn’t play a ton in the final, but his defense against Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown was huge in the decisive Game 4 victory.
Now he’ll bring that winning tradition back to Istanbul, where he’ll play alongside former Oregon star Tyler Dorsey and Devin Booker (not JUST Devin Booker) for a Fenerbache side trying to get back to the Final Four – Bjelica said. led there for the first time seven years ago, before leaving for the NBA. Belli played for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Miami Heat and Sacramento Kings before joining the Warriors. He actually had a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2018 before stepping down to play in Europe and then changing his mind again and signing with the Kings. So, barring the intervention of a master negotiator like Vlade Divac, Bejlica is gone.
In a way, the Warriors have become like a great college basketball program. They’re still going to be involved in the post-season, they have a universally respected coach, a loyal fanbase and they even have a strong alumni program, with beloved former players like Leandro Barbosa and Shaun Livingston getting jobs. the team, and even unloved former players like Mike Dunleavy Jr. who remain. And like a great college program, they are now forced to adapt to a “one-and-done” era. Of course, they can recruit talent to come and play for a small fee, just like Coach K, Dean Smith and John Wooden did. The veteran’s minimum is the new athletic scholarship. But like these programs, they must also face the new reality of the era of “one-and-done”. These players want to win, but they’re also not going to stick around when they can make a lot more money elsewhere.
That means Bob Myers, who struck gold with his veteran minimum last year, has to get back on the recruiting trail, looking at scouting reports, advanced stats and, in rare cases, YouTube mix tapes. , in order to compete with the recruiting classes of other suitors. . They’ll be sure to offer Andre Iguodala an extra year – I think he’s missed enough games to qualify the 2021-22 season as a redshirt year.
They’re clearly hoping first-round shot Patrick Baldwin can one day give them a Belli-like boost, just as they’re hoping Ryan Rollins can eventually replace the GPII defense, but for now they have to. find a few. free attackers who can shoot all three. Don’t worry – Joe Lacob has a very generous policy regarding name, image and likeness rights, and Warriors season ticket/boosters have something even better than free cars: Advice on technology IPOs.