Welcome to the Golden State Warriors' new reality
There were times during the Golden State Warriors’ half-decade of true NBA dominance that a loss, any loss, was newsworthy on account of its rarity. Yet somehow, less than a week into what head coach Steve Kerr describes as his team’s “new reality,” the Warriors made headlines when they won.
“Say whatever you want to fill that 24-hour news cycle,” Stephen Curry said on Monday night, after Golden State secured its first win of the season with a victory against the New Orleans Pelicans. “It’s cool with us.”
You’d expect no other way than for two-time MVP Curry and fellow three-time NBA champion Draymond Green to come out fighting. That’s how they built a modern dynasty and made it to the Finals an extraordinary five straight years.
These Warriors we’ve watched since 2014 truly were warriors far more than they were connoisseurs. They just didn’t seem like it because what you saw were smiling faces and slick ball movement and silky shooting techniques, but the backbone of it all was tenacious defense and an unshakeable mentality.
And though the ferocity of the overreactions to a pair of opening-week defeats was actually somewhat comical, the truth is there is a whole new normal in the Bay Area. How they deal with it will either shape or limit the possibility of another surge when things click into place.
“We don’t have a sense of who we are as a team yet,” Kerr told reporters. “We haven’t established much. We’re playing without centers. We’re playing with nine new players. I realize I’m making plenty of excuses. But they’re real.”
The oddsmakers think the Warriors’ decline is real enough to have them at +1200 odds to win the NBA Finals, according to Fox Bet. (By comparison, the Clippers are the betting favorites at +300.) FiveThirtyEight’s prediction model still places them as sixth-favorites, with a 5 percent chance of winning it all. However, FiveThirtyEight writer Chris Herring said this week that “they may not even be playoff caliber.”
After five years, the basketball public quickly moved on from the notion of the Warriors being a heavyweight force. They started to do it when Kevin Durant left, but in truth the team’s Thursday thumping at the hands of the LA Clippers was the formal changing of the guard.
Kawhi Leonard and his new club went to the swanky new Chase Center and inflicted a painful beating. As the Warriors dream run ended last season, no one did more than Leonard in bringing it to an abrupt halt. Last week’s win was emphatic enough for Clippers guard Patrick Beverley to taunt Curry, saying, “The next five years belong to me.” We will see.
Green was frustrated enough by the first two games — that Clippers trouncing and a beatdown by the Oklahoma City Thunder — that he said the Warriors “[Expletive] suck, [and] still suck,” even after the win in New Orleans.
Suddenly, people are keeping an eye on the Warriors to see how ugly this thing could get — and are open to the possibility of a total meltdown. In some ways, this could play into Kerr’s hands. Trying to figure out how to rebuild and retool necessarily comes with growing pains. Being able to try things out with expectations set at just above ground level could be freeing.
Three games in, people are starting to appreciate what the Warriors had, and what they are now missing. Durant’s excellence was no secret, but Klay Thompson, out for most of the season with an ACL injury, arguably never got the credit he deserved for opening up space for Curry. The defensive prowess of Andre Iguodala and the retired Shaun Livingston would be seriously welcome right now.
Some assumed that Curry would be able to overcome his team’s deficiencies by dropping three-point bombs from all distances, but that isn’t exactly how the NBA works — not without the right accompanying parts. Kerr isn’t going to set everything up around Curry’s shooting, because that would be a seriously short-term measure. This will be a different kind of campaign.
“I know [Curry] will still be one of the best,” FS1’s Cris Carter said on First Things First. “He is very unselfish. I just want to see how it plays out. In the first couple of games he deferred to his teammates — trying to get them involved, trying to feel them out. In [Monday’s] game you could see from the beginning, he was far more aggressive, taking over. [He’s] realizing he has got to be able to take the lead because they are not a very talented team.”
Things move quickly in the NBA and just like that, the narrative has shifted. After being finalists just a few months back, now the Warriors are seen as having little to offer the new season.
But bear this in mind for a moment: Golden State wasn’t always a juggernaut. It’s easy to forget they were the laughing stock of the NBA for decades. Years of disappointment turned into something sublime with smart planning, great coaching, and a willingness to acquire and keep quality players.
D’Angelo Russell hasn’t looked like an All-Star just yet, but he is one. Curry won’t have things as they always were, but would you expect he won’t be able to adapt? Young players can improve. When Thompson comes back, the Warriors will have an entirely different set of options.
Golden State isn’t Title Town any more. The aura has gone. Durant is as far away as geographically possible, recuperating in Brooklyn. The Warriors aren’t even the second-most talked about team in their own state. But let’s revisit this one in a couple of months and take the temperature again.
The Warriors probably were every bit as good as we thought when they were being lauded alongside the all-time great teams during their run of excellence. Are they as bad as so many would paint them now?
Maybe ... but bear in mind that their idea of a “new normal” might be a little more optimistic than yours.