Everything can go dark on a dynasty so quickly. Just a few months back, the Warriors walked off the Oracle Arena floor for the last time, Kawhi Leonard had the final awkward laugh, and Canadians celebrated on their court. That’s pretty bad as indignities go, but it was only one of many.
Kevin Durant was probably always going to leave. But then he got hurt during the playoffs, and then he came back during the Finals, and then he got hurt again. Klay Thompson was never going to leave. But then he got hurt during the Finals, and then he came back, and then he got hurt again, too.
But Steph Curry. Steph was never going to leave, and he wasn’t hurt. He was there, with the rest of the Bay Area, standing as a sea wall against the tsunami of unchecked change that threatened to destroy everything the Warriors built over the better part of this decade. But on Wednesday night, fate came to wash him away too. If you never believed the bill would come due, you absolutely must at this point. By now, even Faust would understand he was out of options.
There was a moment early in Wednesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns when Curry dribbled and detoured around various defenders for an easy layup. It was smooth in a season that has been anything but. He looked like himself. Then, in the second quarter, Curry collided with Aron Baynes and hit the deck hard. He grimaced. So did everyone in the arena and, I imagine, everyone everywhere who saw the play. It was hard to process—one more unfortunate event in a series that has been nearly impossible to believe.
Curry broke his left hand. According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, the 31-year-old fractured “the second metacarpal, the bone in the hand below the index finger.” As I type this, we wait to hear whether he’ll have surgery and how long the recovery might take. What we don’t have to wait to know for certain is that matters just went from bad to awful for the Warriors.
This season was always going to be a bit of a slog for the Warriors, or at least not a year in which they could autosimulate their way to the Finals again. But at the very least it felt like we’d get a monster usage rate season out of Steph and a hell of a story to follow one way or the other.
For narrative purposes, it was set up as a chose-your-own adventure novel that fell into two camps. There were the relative optimists who expected Curry to go supernova in the absence of KD and Klay and maybe even be an MVP candidate in an attempt to prove whatever minor point he never had left to prove in the first place. And then there were the people who enjoy schadenfreude, rubbing their hands together gleefully at the prospect of Curry having to grin his way through one ugly and unbearable loss after another this season. Either scenario would have made for great theater. Now we’ll get a very different kind of show.
After the Warriors lost their first two games in humiliating fashion—first to the Clippers, then in an abject blowout to the Thunder—Draymond Green put it as plainly as only he might: “We fucking suck right now.” He didn’t know what else to say. He offered to try it in Spanish, but he admitted he “ain’t really that good at Spanish.” Not surprisingly, Draymond tried to walk that back after the Warriors beat the Pelicans on Monday. Green went on a bit of rant about how he’s always been a leader and he’d lead Golden State out of this mess, but it lacked the usual default Draymond defiance. Maybe deep down, even before Curry’s injury, he knew his original remarks were closer to the truth.
The Warriors have played four games this season and won one. Through those first two outings, according to my Ringer colleague Zach Kram, their defense was so atrocious they allowed the highest everything in the history of anything. (Zach is smart; I’m paraphrasing.) A season ago, Golden State had the league’s second-best net rating, per NBA.com. At present, the Warriors are 28th out of 30 in that same metric. Only the Grizzlies and Kings have been worse.
Figuring a way out of their deepening depression won’t be easy for the Warriors. In the midst of their opening-week woes, Klay went on TNT and put a smile on his face and vowed Golden State would rise again—only to have Charles Barkley dunk on him on national television by saying the Warriors’ championship window had slammed shut. It wasn’t the usual Barkley hyperbole. OK, fine, at its core, it’s always the usual Barkley hyperbole. But he had a point, even if making one was never his actual intention. As another one of my Ringer teammates, Dan Devine, pointed out, $118.8 million of the Warriors $137.9 million payroll is earmarked for Curry, Thompson, Green, and D’Angelo Russell. Two of those guys aren’t playing and might not play again this season. And the other two are not nearly as good at basketball as the first two. That is a lot of money to pay for what is now a heartbreaking and limited return on their investment.
Maybe this is the toll the Warriors inevitably had to pay—a pox on their shiny new house in San Francisco for leaving their old one in Oakland behind. Still, they really should have prepared better for what has proved to be a treacherous transition. They have no Steph or KD or Klay now. No Boogie Cousins. No Andre Iguodala or even Shaun Livingston. What they have left is not much at all. After Curry broke his hand, Warriors owner Joe Lacob swore Golden State would “fight like hell” and “develop our young guys.” That’s the kind of thing you say before you sober up and realize the young guys they’ll try to develop now include Marquese Chriss and Willie Cauley-Stein, two players who washed up on the Warriors’ shores because other organizations couldn’t wait to toss them overboard. Kevon Looney has a neuropathic condition affecting his hamstring. Beyond that, the roster features five first- or second-year players including Jordan Poole, Eric Paschall, Ky Bowman, Omari Spellman, and Jacob Evans. Did you know Alec Burks is on this team? Of course you didn’t. He only just played his first game of the season in that loss to the Suns after returning from an ankle injury—though maybe now he wishes he hadn’t come back so soon.
The Warriors were pegged for about 47.5 wins this season. FiveThirtyEight gave them a 76 percent chance to make the playoffs. That was during the preseason. The number has already plummeted to 51 percent. Steve Kerr would be forgiven if he told the remaining Warriors that he’s going out for a pack of smokes and never went back. Lacob ought to consider breaking a gas line and leaving a toaster on at the Chase Center to take his chances at trying to claim the insurance money.
Under similar circumstances, a different organization would certainly scuttle the whole doomed operation and tank this season. Lacob was asked about that possibility, and he did his best to sound brave. At first, he said, “I won’t even respond to that.” Then he responded to that, adding it’s “against every single thing I and we stand for.”
Maybe he wanted that to come off as their courageous collective refusal to go quietly into the rapidly approaching night, but in reality he should consider the underlying cold pragmatism here. The Warriors 2020 first-round pick is protected 1-20, otherwise it goes to Brooklyn. If it doesn’t convey, it becomes a 2025 second rounder. Golden State should think hard about how to hold on tight to that asset. Lacob said the Warriors won’t ever accept losing, and he called their current predicament “some bumps in the road.” Except, when you step back and consider how badly and thoroughly the organization has been shaken since the summer, it looks closer to the San Andreas fault of fissures.
Kerr’s opening-night quote about how “this is not a one-off, this is the reality” has already proved more than prophetic. It’s staggering how quickly a franchise can go from being “light-years ahead” to even farther behind. There’s nothing much the Warriors can do now but try to distract everyone with their glitzy new arena until Curry comes back. Chase Center supposedly has everything—except the escape hatch it really needs.