Warriors

Warriors Balance Time’s Obstacles as Opponents Lurk

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Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and company received their fourth round of rings after a successful 2022 championship run.

This time had to feel the most satisfying.

One could argue the Warriors’ 2021-2022 championship was the most impressive of the team’s four titles in eight seasons. Curry, Thompson and Green were all in their mid-thirties. The trio missed over 100 games in the regular season. Also of concern: Andre Iguodala and Kevin Looney are the only other players left from the Warriors’ 73-9 season.

From 2021 to 2022, Golden State went from missing the playoffs outright to dominating in four-straight postseason series. That’s an incredible turnaround.

The 2021-2022 season, particularly the playoffs, opened up new possibilities for the Warriors that were mainly unknown for most of the year.

Andrew Wigginsimprovement stood out the most, especially on defense. So did Jordan Poole‘s value when either Curry or Thompson wasn’t on the court. Kevon Looney proved he’s capable of switching against the Luka Dončićs and Jayson Tatums of the world. Jonathan Kuminga had his moments. There were a lot of positives to take away from the playoffs.

Now, the Warriors enter this season in a unique situation, saddled between balancing the team’s desire to return to championship contention while preparing for another chapter of the franchise.

Throughout this season, here are some of the most powerful narratives to watch for as Golden State shoots (literally) for a fifth championship in the Curry era.

Draymond’s looming contract extension

Draymond here, Draymond there, Draymond everywhere. That’s the best way to describe how Green took over the NBA world by storm in recent weeks.

In a leaked video from a Warriors’ practice, Green got into a scuffle with Jordan Poole, leading to Draymond nailing a punch at Poole.

The fight isn’t the “punch heard ’round the world,” ala Kermit Washington against Rudy Tomjanovich. However, this incident has many implications: concerns over chemistry, locker-room tensions, and a bad look for the franchise overall.

Green’s punch is just the root of a bigger problem the Warriors need to address: what to do with Draymond once his contract is up.

According to The Athletic, Green is demanding a max contract extension for the Warriors. If he opts out of the final year of his deal, Draymond is eligible for a four-year, $138 million extension.

It’s a hefty price to pay for a player with little market value outside Golden State who is rapidly approaching his mid-thirties. The Warriors understand that.

Regardless, the franchise also knows Green’s value to the Warriors system, even if the counting stats aren’t extraordinary. Golden State can’t put a price on Green’s versatility, defense and energy. The Warriors finished last season with a 53-29 record but were 19-17 without Draymond in the lineup.

The situation got more complicated when the Warriors gave Jordan Poole a four-year, $140 million deal and Andrew Wiggins a four-year, $108 million extension. If Draymond opts in, Golden State will examine a tax bill of nearly $500 million in 2023-2024.

Green’s long-term future in Golden State is something to ponder going forward.

The Warriors’ Youngsters

Functionally, the team retained all its core players but lost some notable guys on the periphery. Otto Porter Jr., Gary Payton II and Juan Toscano-Anderson joined new teams. Meanwhile, Golden State added Donte DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green, both end-of-the-rotation depth pieces that could eat up a couple of playoff minutes.

With the Curry-Thompson-Green core heading into their mid-thirties (more on this in a moment), the Warriors possess several promising youngsters who can step up for the team.

Kuminga, Moses Moody, James Wiseman and Jordan Poole are all under 23. Kuminga and Moody are both coming off limited-but-promising playing time after their rookie seasons in 2021-2022. Wiseman is arguably entering his first fully-healthy year, so Golden State will have plenty of options to go to out of their younger core.

With optionality comes complication, however. There’s usually friction between teams trying to balance the present and the future. The Warriors’ core group of youngsters flash upside but will also have the typical struggles of new players becoming acclimated with the league.

Poole is an excellent scorer, but concerns over his defense and playoff impact manifested against the Celtics last season. Kuminga is a superb prospect hypothetically, but he still needs time to adjust to pro basketball. Ditto for Moody and Wiseman, who still perplex many in the NBA community.

This offseason, the Warriors banked on letting the veterans go and having the younger players fill their roles. But with a team trying to return to the Finals, patience can only take you so far in the playoffs.

Will the Warriors’ young nuclear be able to support the team in some capacity? That remains to be seen.

Curry and Thompson Aging

The Curry-Thompson duo ranks as one of the best, if not the best, backcourt pairing since 2015. The combination has it all: counting stats, elite shooting ability, big playoff performances, championship rings and reliability in the most important of games.

The Warriors’ system continues to revolve around the skill sets of Curry and Thompson. Golden State is particularly counting on excellent health from its superstar backcourt this season.

Curry will turn 34 just before the playoffs start in mid-March. Thompson will be 32 in February, coming off multiple lower-body injuries that hampered him in 2020 and 2021. The clock is ticking down on both their primes.

Based on opening night, Curry looks excellent, as usual. Thompson is back for his first fully healthy season since 2018-2019.

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But given their ages and the number of minutes on their NBA odometer, availability isn’t a certainty.

The Warriors are typically ranked as the second or third-best favorite to win the 2023 championship. Golden State will add another chapter to a well-written story if everything works well.

But there are questions and uncertainties galore for this iteration of Golden State. Thankfully, the Warriors will have an entire regular season to find answers.

About Dominic Chiappone

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