Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press
Thanks to the sheer dominance of their run that began with their 2015 title and ended with Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant suffering major injuries in the 2019 Finals, the Warriors have, in a short time, become a franchise that is assumed to have it figured out, no matter how bad things are in the present.
Maybe it’s not that complicated, though. Maybe the Warriors just aren’t that good.
That’s what the early returns of this strange season suggest, as they were blown out 138-99 on Christmas afternoon by the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum, just days after they kicked off the season with a similarly ugly loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
It’s early in the year, and Draymond Green has yet to make his 2020-21 debut as he deals with a lingering foot issue. But Green alone won’t fix the Golden State offense, which has failed to crack 100 points in either of the team’s first two games. He won’t replace Thompson, who is out for the season after suffering a torn Achilles on the heels of the torn ACL that kept him out all of 2019-20.
Every Warriors move during the (for lack of a better term) Light-Years era has been given an uncommon amount of latitude. During those five seasons, the organization—from the Joe Lacob- and Peter Guber-led ownership group, to general manager Bob Myers, to head coach Steve Kerr, to franchise superstar Stephen Curry—built up the kind of equity typically only offered to the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat.
Durant leaves for Brooklyn, and Thompson is out for the year? At least they were able to turn Durant into D’Angelo Russell on a max contract, which will help them trade for a star down the line, and Kerr, Curry and Green will be enough to keep them in the playoff mix.
Curry breaks his hand shortly into the 2019-20 season, all but ending their hopes of keeping their playoff streak alive? Now they can tank for their next star to build up a Spurs-like stretch of sustained success.
The Russell trade chip turns into Andrew Wiggins, who through five-plus seasons in Minnesota had failed to live up to either his No. 1 pick status or his massive contract? Getting into the Warriors’ system and culture will finally cause him to put it all together, with Thompson and Curry both set to return.
Even with Thompson coming off the torn ACL, it was reasonable to expect him to be back to something close to his former self given that he’s a standstill shooter who’s not all that reliant on physical explosiveness.
Thompson suffers another devastating injury this November, leaving Curry and Green as the only proven above-average players on the roster? A trade for Kelly Oubre Jr., who had a solid performance in Phoenix last season, can be a short-term solution. It was also a chance for Lacob to tout his willingness to go deep into the luxury tax despite the amount of money he’s lost by not being able to sell wine cellar access for $2 million a year at the still-brand-new Chase Center.
Kathy Willens/Associated Press
So far, all of these bets have come up empty. Wiggins has had a rough go of it as a primary scorer, shooting 6-of-18 against the Bucks and 4-of-16 against the Nets. Oubre has been even worse, shooting a combined 4-of-24 from the field in the first two games.
Even Curry has been slow to return to form. For Golden State to vault back into the playoffs, with all of its questions, Curry would have to essentially become the entire offense, as James Harden has been in Houston. As the greatest shooter in NBA history, he needed to keep the same gravity even without the threat of Thompson, arguably the second-greatest shooter ever, to kick it to. At his age, with his slight build, that may be too much to put on the 32-year-old point guard.
Because they built a homegrown juggernaut, made a genius first-time head coaching hire in Kerr and did the necessary moves to lure Durant to a 73-win team in 2016, the Warriors have gotten the benefit of the doubt that they have another move up their sleeve. That even when it seems like their run may be over, they’re just setting themselves up to retool and come back stronger than ever.
The Warriors have marketed themselves as the Silicon Valley Spurs, and for a half-decade, it’s been easy to buy into the hype. But with an aging, expensive and injury-ravaged core, underperforming (and expensive) role players and a relentless Western Conference playoff field, it might be time for them to come to terms with being at a cliff, not just a temporary valley.
Sean Highkin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. He is a graduate of the University of Oregon and lives in Portland. His work has been honored by the Pro Basketball Writers’ Association. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and in the B/R App.