The NBA offseason established a bunch of new story lines that require closer inspection. Throughout the next month-plus, we’re giving second thoughts to the most intriguing ones.
Today’s question: Are we sure the new-look Warriors can’t win the West?
I don’t watch Stranger Things, but I’ve heard of the Upside Down. From my limited knowledge, it appears to be some kind of an alternate dimension where things are not what they seem. Or maybe they are. Who knows? It all generally sounds confusing, and—here comes the big transition you’ve been waiting for—it also sounds a lot like the 2019-20 Warriors.
Teams around the league may have made bigger moves this offseason, but no team got weirder or saw more turnover than the Warriors. Their current roster feels like it belongs to an alternate dimension. To recap: Kevin Durant tore his Achilles and decided to join the Nets in free agency; Klay Thompson tore his ACL in the Finals and won’t be back until around the All-Star break. The team said goodbye to Andre Iguodala, DeMarcus Cousins, and Shaun Livingston and added Willie Cauley-Stein, Omari Spellman, and Alec Burks during the offseason. Yeah, when you lay it out like that, things seem pretty weird. But Golden State was able to pick up the pieces somewhat by getting D’Angelo Russell in a sign-and-trade for Durant, and though the fit seems odd next to Steph Curry—Russell is another lead guard who demands the ball—Russell’s addition was a necessary move. What could have easily turned into a tanking season (and a waste of a year of Curry’s prime) now becomes a season with some intrigue and even, dare I say, potential for Golden State.
For the first time in five years, the Warriors’ appeal is rooted not in their greatness or possible downfall, but instead in how they can overcome their flaws and surprise a league that is trying to hit the snooze button on them. Much like the incessant alert on your phone that tells you to update your software, you can never really ignore any team that employs Curry and Draymond Green. And even with all the additions and subtractions the team made this offseason, as long as the Warriors can rely on those two, they may have a shot to win the West.
Curry was the alpha of the Warriors teams that started this dynasty, and now he’s getting a chance to be the alpha once again as they reload for the back half of his career. The preeminent glory days may be over, but that doesn’t mean his claim to being one of the best players in the league has to be. In fact, this season may be perfectly tailored for him to reaffirm that status. And if Golden State is going to have any chance to win the West, Curry will need to do just that. Without Durant—whose addition three years ago forced Golden State into a much different playing style—Curry will have to tap back into the freewheeling version of himself that carried the original 2014-15 title team. The shots will certainly be there for the taking this season, and my god, does it have the potential to be fun to watch.
Picture Curry taking 20 shots per game like he was doing in the second of his back-to-back MVP seasons. Who cares if his efficiency declines? This is the Curry we want to see: unfettered, and taking control on the offensive end. He’ll have to shoot 30-footers with more frequency; we’re all winners for that.
Well, Russell may not be. His counting numbers and shot attempts might go down now that he won’t be “the guy” anymore, but he’ll be able to pick up so much more from playing alongside Curry. The two aren’t quite oil and water, even if on the surface they appear to be that way. It’s more like one is the entertaining, but less effective, spinoff of the other. Russell is less efficient (he had a career-high 51.2 effective field goal percentage last year; Curry’s career low is 53.5 percent—in his rookie season), and more wary of attacking the rim than Curry. But he’s also eight years younger. He presents a bounty of potential at just 23 years old, and he could benefit from being in an environment that guides him toward efficiency. He’ll need to take better shots and lower his number of turnovers, but with Steph next to him guiding the way, it’s not too difficult to envision him making that progression. If Russell evolves and fits in quickly, and the team can readopt the style that made it deadly during the 2015-16 season, then the Warriors could have the West on its heels again—especially once Thompson returns.
While the Warriors have seen their stock fall some during the offseason, other teams have found theirs rising. There is no longer talk of the Warriors vs. the field; this season, they are the field. In the West alone, the Lakers now have LeBron and Anthony Davis; the Clippers have Kawhi Leonard and Paul George; and the Rockets landed Russell Westbrook to pair with James Harden. Then there’s also the Nuggets, Jazz, and Blazers, who all believe they can win the title this season. The Warriors, if you ask them, probably believe it too.
This team has so many lingering questions, though, that counting on anything outside the duo of Curry and Green feels fraught. Which rookie, if any rookie—Eric Paschall, Jordan Poole, or Alen Smailagic—can become a reliable rotation player? (My money is on Paschall, who is versatile and plays defense, but Poole’s potential offensive spark could be even more valuable.) Is Cauley-Stein just a guy who needed a change of scenery, er, NorCal city? Getting Kevon Looney to take a three-year, $15 million deal is monumental, but can he be the third-best player on the team (with Thompson out) like he may need to be for the Warriors’ season to go well?
At the very least, the Warriors have intriguing ingredients, and it’ll be up to Steve Kerr to figure out what to do with this Chopped basket. There is no doubt he’ll have a bigger spotlight on him this season, but the possible reward will be bigger, too. Managing star power is its own impossible task, but getting a group of players to overachieve is an accomplishment that’s far more lauded. Just ask Brad Stevens.
If anything, the Warriors should benefit from a receding spotlight. Think of Green with not one, but two chips on his shoulder and you should get a sense for what kind of team Golden State will be this season. Relishing their underdog status is not a position the Warriors have been in for some time, but with the core still there, they are primed to go back to their roots—and thrive. This is a new chapter, sure, but it’s still the same book.