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The Warriors As We Know Them Look Cooked. What’s Next?

Golden State is no longer a contender as currently constructed. In order to remain relevant, the Warriors need to reinvent themselves around Steph Curry. Is a trade coming?

Getty Images/Ringer Illustration

Joe Lacob’s dream of a “Spurs-like 20-year run” for the Golden State Warriors is looking more like a pipe dream with each passing game this season. The latest debacle: A 24-point lead squandered against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, blowing a spot in the NBA’s in-season tournament and losing it to a conference rival. Watching Golden State’s lead trickle away in the second half, I was reminded of something Golden State’s former general manager, Bob Myers, said about his team’s dynastic run almost six years ago: “I definitely know this is ending. I don’t need any reminders. The narrative is ‘This will go on forever.’ On the record, it can’t. Nothing does, especially in a sport where the competition is so great.”

The Warriors made three more Finals and won two of them since Myers made that statement during the 2017-18 season. But he chose to leave the team this summer. Executives around the NBA speculate he’ll return to run a different front office someday (perhaps the expansion Sonics?), but for now he’s working in sports media, watching from afar as the potential end point he saw coming nears. At 8-10 this season, with multiple double-digit blown leads, Myers may have just been the first to jump off a sinking ship.

The team’s new general manager, Mike Dunleavy Jr., and the Lacob family have a lot of work to do to keep the Warriors in contention. But they still have the guy. Even at age 35, Steph Curry remains a dominant force by averaging 29.7 points with nearly 50-40-90 shooting splits. The issue is that while he remains great, other stars around the league have better support, and the loss to Sacramento put the problems that have been haunting Golden State on full display.

Klay Thompson’s transformation from a sharpshooter to a sulking shadow of his former self is painful to watch. He makes too many avoidable mistakes, and he forces shots more than ever. On defense, he can still defend bigger, slower players. But quicker guys roast the 33-year-old, and the former on-ball stopper becoming a slow-footed target is one of the reasons the Warriors are suffering defensively.

Meanwhile, Draymond Green’s fiery spirit has turned into a raging inferno that’s burning the team down. The same uncontrollable anger that led him to choke out Rudy Gobert from behind reared its ugly head again in the fourth quarter against the Kings. Midway through, Green got swiped in the face, flopped to exaggerate the contact, and then held his face on the ground as his team played a four-on-five possession on offense. As soon as he got up, he berated the referee. The next play, he mimicked a traveling call that sent the official over the line to call a technical. Was it deserving? It’s debatable. But too often with Draymond, those moments are leading to team-wide breakdowns. These actions are more than just distractions. They’re symptomatic of a larger problem.

Months after failing to optimize his Team USA roster, resulting in a disappointing medalless finish in the Philippines, Steve Kerr is similarly struggling with the Warriors. Not just for tactical reasons, though. But with management. Kerr’s once-revered coaching style, which balanced individual freedom and systemic discipline, now appears to be failing, with no accountability for veterans’ declining performances. Green’s behavior is going unchecked, and Thompson takes any shot that he pleases without penalty. Kerr continues to enable them, rather than giving others opportunities.

Against the Kings, Moses Moody was playing his butt off, making great efforts on defense and hitting two consecutive massive 3s to stall a 13-3 Kings run that followed Draymond’s tech in the fourth. As has been the case all season, Moody looked like one of the best players on the floor for the Warriors. But less than one minute later, Moody got pulled for Andrew Wiggins. Moody deserved to stay in the game; Kerr could’ve taken Thompson out instead, or even taken out Kevon Looney and gone small with Green at center.

Kerr praised Moody after the game, calling him “awesome” and “fantastic” and “the ultimate pro.” But that’s apparently not enough for the 21-year-old to earn minutes over the veterans. Not giving minutes to excelling young players is taking the easy way out, rather than playing the young guys and managing the fragile egos of his older players. All Kerr is doing now is sending a message that hard work will not be rewarded with chances, and production during limited opportunities will not be rewarded with more minutes. Because on Kerr’s Warriors, tenure is all that matters.

It’s the same issue with journeyman veteran guard Cory Joseph getting run over Brandin Podziemski, despite the rookie guard impressing every single time he’s given a chance. And it’s equally maddening to see Jonathan Kuminga out there over both Moody and Trayce Jackson-Davis, who has been superior in every way as a versatile two-way rookie big. Kerr has either lost his mind, or he’s failing to control the locker room. Veteran absences could open up minutes for those young guys, but this also speaks to another concern facing the Warriors: age and durability.

Chris Paul left the game in the first quarter with lower left leg soreness. Gary Payton II exited in the third quarter with a right calf injury. The Warriors just have too many players in their 30s with checkered health issues. Paul is 38, extremely injury prone, and quite clearly past his physical prime. He’s shooting a career-low rate at the rim while not offering the same resistance he once did on defense. While he can still facilitate, his best skill is navigating the pick-and-roll, and the Warriors barely run any. It’s a strange fit to begin with, and now he’s hurt.

This roster just isn’t great enough to sustain high-level success anymore. The NBA landscape is transitioning. Story lines are no longer dictated by the same old power players, as evident by the teams representing both conferences in the in-season tournament: a mixture of reshaped veteran teams and young teams on the rise. Ultimately, it is on the Lacobs and Dunleavy to do something about it. The question is how far they’re willing to go to maximize the roster around Curry.

If I were the Warriors, I’d call the Raptors about Pascal Siakam or OG Anunoby. Would the Clippers, as wild as this sounds, consider moving Kawhi Leonard or Paul George if the team continues to slide? I’d want Alex Caruso from the Bulls, or even Kyle Kuzma from the Wizards. Would the Jazz listen to an all-in offer for Lauri Markkanen? No matter the target, trading Paul’s expiring salary and any of the young guys should absolutely be on the table. But so should moving on from Thompson, no matter how much it’d hurt.

It’s been widely reported that Curry wants to finish his career with Thompson and Green. After all, these are the stars he’s won with his entire career. But in the back of his mind he has to wonder whether it’s still possible to win another championship with them as his team’s second-best and third-best players. Same goes for his coach, who will also be up for a new contract next summer. If things don’t improve, the Warriors may need to consider who is sitting on the end of the bench, as well.

Loyalty to the core that brought them success is commendable, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of the team’s future. The Spurs’ model of sustained success was built not only on continuity with a core of stars, but also on evolution and adaptation of their system, something the Warriors need to embrace. In the NFL, the New England Patriots’ approach of constantly reinventing the roster around a central star like Tom Brady could be an even better blueprint for the Warriors.

“We’re not in a free fall,” Kerr said Tuesday night. That might be optimistic, but it also could be true so long as Curry is active. But as currently constructed, the Warriors aren’t clear contenders anymore. The reality is that Golden State is at a tipping point. Can the Warriors reinvent themselves in pursuit of Lacob’s vision for sustained success? Or as Myers foreshadowed, will this mark the end of a once-great dynasty?