Early Exit Leaves Fork in the Golden State Road


After crushing back-to-back losses in the play-in tournament, the Golden State Warriors find themselves back where they were last year: waiting for the lottery.

There’s no need to further litigate the storylines of this season. Steph Curry had one of the greatest offensive seasons of all time and it wasn’t enough to drag this team to the playoffs. Though he was a transcendent joy to watch, the frustration caused by the rest of the squad leaves a majority of Dub Nation feeling bleak.

Having some competitive games for a season was a lot of fun. A half decade as the apex predators of the NBA made us forget what it’s like to struggle for each win. But as another year is put on Draymond Green and Steph’s legs, this team is no closer to title contention than they were last offseason.

The fringes of the roster have been eroding since 2017. The front office’s ability to get young talent was stretched by a lack of good picks, and Steve Kerr had no room for inexperience on his benches. Then as injuries and predictable departures struck, the whole squad went belly-up.

It’s a problem that has to turn around quickly. There are no more excuses come next year.

What Can Be Done?

Though you won’t hear them get any credit, the Warriors leveraged Kevin Durant‘s exit and a second-round pick into Andrew Wiggins and a pick in the 6-8 range of a loaded draft.

That’s a good piece of business.

Hedging expectations to keep their own pick this year in the Kelly Oubre trade has netted them another lottery selection, only costing a pick in the late thirties when the dust settled. Though the Warriors certainly don’t look it, a team with an MVP-level player and multiple star talents shouldn’t be asset-positive going into an offseason.

They also have some wiggle room in constructing the end of the roster. Steph, Klay, Wiggins, Draymond, James Wiseman, Jordan Poole, Juan Toscano-Anderson and Eric Paschall are the only players with guaranteed salaries. They have the option to keep Damion Lee with his non-guaranteed deal, and they can (should) wash their hands of Alen Smailagic without any dead money. If Kevon Looney opts in to his deal, it would be a small win to keep a solid 20 MPG center in the rotation.

The amount of roster spots committed to unknowns is untenable. Paschall and Smailagic showed they aren’t ready enough, and you could argue the same for Wiseman. One of those is not like the others, but Wiseman being on the team is still a conundrum. He absolutely crushed the NBL this season, but Justinian Jessup is no guarantee to be a positive rotation piece. Last season showed that even the highest picks aren’t guaranteed contributors.

The guarantees on this roster are limited. Save for unexpected injury or decline, Steph, Wiggins, Draymond and JTA are the only known quantities. Klay’s injury brings a cloud of doubt, and nobody knows what he will look like when he returns. Poole came on very strong but his bouts of inconsistency on both ends of the floor means he is no lock to be productive when on the court. The concerns of the other players are well documented.

There is also the question of what to do with Kelly Oubre Jr. He showed well as a player in stretches last season, but wasn’t much of a fit with the starters and would slide into a bench role when Klay returns to the fold. For what it’s worth, there is some mutual interest in a return, but words are nothing compared to pen on paper.

If the Warriors choose to stay the course, bring back bodies and make small changes on the fringes of the roster, results will be largely the same. Steph could have another Jordan-esque year and it will go out with a whimper if the rest of the roster isn’t up to snuff. We all know the definition of insanity.

Fork in the Road

The offseason is dependent on one thing: Steph’s extension.

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He’s never been the kind of player who flexes his superstar muscle for his own gain. He keeps things in-house, doesn’t create public drama, and is in fact a positive influence on other star talents. He even endeared himself to KD, who really doesn’t like anyone (can you blame him?).

Now he finds himself going into his age-34 season on a roster that has a slim chance of actually contending as things stand. Curry is well within his rights as the face of the franchise from now until the end of time to demand short-term solutions.

The course he decides will dictate the two outcomes of the offseason. Even the theoretical trade-mongers know the Warriors aren’t blowing this team up. The question becomes if they go all-in or continue trying to walk the tightrope between winning now and later.

Option #1: Consolidate Around Steph

If Steph puts his foot down, Bob Myers will be working the phones like an unpaid intern. Is your star player sticking his foot out the door? We can catalyze your rebuild. Are you a slightly disgruntled superstar who plays on the wing or at center? Allow us to gruntle you.

Getting into hypothetical names is a silly exercise, but the Warriors have the contracts, prospects and draft capital to execute some serious moves. Steph just showed he’s still at an MVP level and players will still want to hitch themselves to him.

This requires tough decisions to be made. Adding Klay back to this core could in theory change things, but that assumes he comes back as what he was two years ago. The Warriors will have to take a hard look at every player not named Steph and ask themselves how they fit into a title-winning team. There is still a route to the Big 3 being a part of that team, but it requires some serious support, as any team with championship aspirations does.

*note: if you find yourself photoshopping Kawhi Leonard into an Oakland jersey: close Adobe, shut your laptop, go outside.

Option #2: Stay the Course

This is what all Warriors fans fear. For better or worse, this front office and coaching staff have been set in their ways for quite some time. This past season showed cracks in the philosophy, and this offseason will tell if they see the signs.

If the Warriors decide to patch together the current roster, draft for fit and expect Year 1 production, scrape the bargain bin and re-sign Kelly Oubre, it could work. Could. But there are 72 games of evidence to the contrary. Nobody who watched this team last year would think Klay Thompson magically solves all their problems.

There are certainly more useful players on this roster than not. Detonating everything and starting from scratch around Steph would be folly. But will the development catch up in time? It’s wishful thinking to expect Wiseman to suddenly turn a corner, for two rookies to contribute, for Poole to carry the bench. There is a cascade effect when your sixth man looks more like an eighth or ninth. Or the rookie you thought could get top-nine minutes is unplayable.

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The Warriors want to be the next Spurs, but there’s a reason only one team has maintained that level of excellence over such a long period. It’s really, really, REALLY hard and it requires a bit of luck, which has been in short supply the past two years.

Finding The Path

Though the avenues to improvement are tricky with the cap situation, the needs are clear and present, and this roster has some givens. You have the best scorer in basketball, and the most versatile defender. You need at least one secondary creator and a solid screen-setting center with vertical ability. And you need multiple wings, not just one. Wiggins can’t be the only good wing on both ends of the floor.

You can’t guarantee these things through the draft. If Wiseman is on the roster and the Warriors make two picks that demand playing time, you’re in trouble.

One thing that absolutely cannot happen is failing to use the MLE and other avenues for acquisition. Putting all your chips on young players and minimums hitting it big will get you eaten alive by the fanbase. Excuses can be made for last year, as uncertainty clouded the league as a whole, especially the Dubs. If you see a repeat of last season, serious questions will be asked about the Lacob-Myers-Kerr triumvirate.

Warriors fans will be hanging on every thread this offseason. This past year showed that the important figures on this team have the juice to get back in the face. The pressure is now on ownership and Bob Myers to meet Steph’s effort and greatness, and build the team he deserves.

Follow us on Twitter @DubsLead for the latest Warriors news and insight. 

About Charlie Cummings

Warriors writer born and raised in the Bay Area. University of Denver graduate currently living in Denver

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