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Another catastrophic injury threatens the Warriors' thrilling dynastic run

The Warriors' Splash Bros. gave the NBA universe a wonderful run, and now injury luck once again threatens to tear it all down.

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell

Warriors guard Klay Thompson walked off an NBA court following an ACL tear in Game 6 of the 2019 Finals, and hasn’t returned since.

The charmed life was fun while it lasted and splashed, wasn’t it? The days and especially the nights managed to lift the basketball fog that had suffocated the Bay Area for roughly two decades, and raised the entertainment level even higher, and gave the NBA a must-see moneymaker that demanded and deserved a place in prime time for several years.

The Warriors had a blast, and truthfully, we all did.

But apparently their time as a championship contender has come to a painful end with the latest grim news about Klay Thompson and yet another body part that failed him and his team.

The truth, well, hurts. And it stinks. And add any other angry description that comes to mind about this rapid reversal of fortune that for some reason is punishing the Warriors for, exactly what, making basketball enjoyable? That’s their crime?

They’re guilty … and that’s a sin?

Since winning their third championship in four years, way back in 2018 when the world and the Larry O’Brien trophy was in a different place, the Warriors have suffered a pair of torn Achilles’ tendons, an ACL tear and a broken hand to their three biggest stars, all of whom will be in the Hall of Fame someday. You simply cannot recover quickly from that. That is tougher to take than blowing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, tougher to accept, actually.

What’s even more cruel is how the rug was pulled from under Thompson just as he was ready to gallop back to the starting line. After 14-plus months of rehab from knee surgery, thanks partly to a virus-interrupted NBA season, Thompson was healthy and anxious and ready to return to the lineup and help the Warriors return to glory.

And then, hours before the NBA Draft with the Warriors holding the No. 2 overall pick and in position to add even more muscle, Thompson tore his right Achilles during a workout with fellow NBA players. He’s staring at another rehab that will cost him another season and could be costly to his spot among the NBA’s best players. He’ll be 31, rusty and surgically-repaired twice when the 2021-22 season tips.

By then, the Warriors might be a middle-of-the-pack team, ready to check out of the playoffs by the second round, hopelessly hanging onto the prime years of Steph Curry. And that’s if they’re lucky and avoid more trouble.

In this league right now, time waits for no one or keeps a seat warm for the departed. The Warriors without Klay are about to discover that. There are almost a half-dozen teams in the West alone who are rubbernecking at the Warriors’ wreckage while whizzing by. The Lakers and Nuggets, Clippers and Jazz, and maybe the Mavericks are all built to take advantage of former dynasty that’s ready to die nasty.

Actually, maybe it’s more remarkable how the Warriors kept the good times rolling. It began with the drafting of Curry, then gained steam when Thompson arrived and the Splash Brothers were formed, then became a tornado once Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala and finally Kevin Durant made the Warriors a pop culture phenomenon. They crushed teams, won 73 games in a season, went to the Finals five times, won three, flourished on the fast break and in the half court, and were well worth the price of admission or the streaming and cable TV bill.

It’s not often when a franchise makes a string of bull’s-eye decisions in the draft, free agency and trades in such a short amount of time. The Warriors were also lucky to a degree, but they made their own luck and ruled the NBA for the past decade. With a salary cap and luxury tax and free agency and superstars with selfish motives all conspiring against you, it’s tricky to build a championship team, and trickier to keep one going.

Coach Steve Kerr was always quick to remind everyone that the Warriors didn’t live in the real world. They somehow escaped the lumps suffered by the majority of teams in this league. Well, you might say the bill finally came due, unfairly as it seems.

Crazy, but until Durant grabbed his lower leg in the 2019 playoffs, the Warriors had lived a blessed life since 2015. Until he grabbed it again in Game 5 of the 2019 Finals, they were still ready to add a fourth championship in five years. If you could freeze the moment right before it happened, and assume that Durant stayed healthy for that championship series against the Raptors, maybe Golden State does add to the trophy case, and Durant re-signs with the team, and there’s no need to play the Finals game where Thompson suffered his knee injury.

But sports doesn’t work like that. Sports can be evil and unforgiving and ready to curse a great team so another team can get a chance.

With Thompson out last season, Curry suffered a broken hand shortly after and the Warriors embarked on a lost and lousy season where they finished dead last in the standings. Maybe those grueling and deep runs into the summer put their bodies in a tough spot, although it never seems to harm LeBron James. At least the last place came with a sweetener, allowing the Warriors to get the No. 2 pick which they used on James Wiseman, the seven-footer who played a handful of games in college yet made enough of an impression anyway.

Wiseman was supposed to give the Warriors an extra dimension they never had during their dynasty — a functional big man who might see a few plays run for him. He would give them a bit of balance and keep defenses from cherry-picking on the perimeter against Curry and Thompson.

You say the Warriors aren’t finished yet? Well, that requires some perspective. Making annual trips to the Finals is unfathomable without Klay. Same goes for putting a scare into LeBron and Anthony Davis. Curry is good enough to carry a club to the middle of the conference standings and reaching the playoffs are certainly not out of the question, but anything beyond that? Let’s be real.

They’ll have Steph and Draymond and maybe Andrew Wiggins wakes up and perhaps Wiseman develops more rapidly than expected. There’s Kelly Oubre, a decent swingman who can help with scoring, on the way. But the rest of the league doesn’t shiver at the sight of the Warriors anymore, not the Warriors we came to know.

They won’t have Klay Thompson — again — and while there is great sympathy for Thompson both inside and outside of the NBA, everyone will eventually move on once the ball goes up on 2020-21.

The Warriors will, too, just not on the path they’re accustomed to taking, and definitely not with any speed that can put distance between themselves and their crummy luck.

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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