A third straight NBA championship and fourth in five years was not in the works for the Warriors. Instead, they saw their dynasty crumble in the most painful way possible as injuries knocked Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant out in The Finals. Until those players fell to the floor, the Warriors were well equipped to keep the champagne flowing.
Stephen Curry was once again a stellar offensive force. Thompson recovered from a slow start to round into typical form. Durant once again demonstrated why many believe he is the game’s greatest player. A mix of superstars, supporting cast, coaching and championship experience made the Warriors the strong Finals favorite no matter what team emerged from the East. It was also a bittersweet time for the franchise, which played for the final time in Oakland at Oracle Arena.
As it were, drastic change beckoned as summer approached. A new arena (the Chase Center) called the Warriors’ name, but unfortunately, Durant did not when he became a free agent. The Warriors, as we once knew them, were finished in multiple ways.
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Perhaps it was inevitable, but it still doesn’t lessen the sting that Durant chose to form his own team in Brooklyn rather than stick with the one that helped him win two titles. The Warriors scrambled to make the best of a tough situation by swinging a sign-and-trade for D’Angelo Russell, who became an All-Star at age 23 … Thompson underwent knee surgery following The Finals and also signed a max deal to stay put. He's out until after the All-Star break, at the very least. ... The Warriors extended Draymond Green, whose deal wasn’t scheduled to end until 2020. Doing so avoids any potential problems between themselves and him this season … Andre Iguodala was dealt to the Grizzlies, ending a solid run in Golden State where the beloved forward won three titles and a Finals MVP. His age began to show last season and it was time.
1. Onward and upward. Although they’d have every excuse to do so with Durant gone and Thompson healing, the Warriors will not tank this season. Not with Curry still in his prime and Russell on the fast track to being a solid player. Therefore, don’t expect them to ask Thompson to redshirt 2019-20 or try to trade Green, whom they just extended.
2. Prove it, Draymond. The theory that says Green would be an ordinary player on a lesser team will be tested this season. For much of his career, Green has been surrounded by great players. With only Curry on board to start the season, that won't be the case in 2019-20. We’ll see if Green, whose 3-point percentage fell to 28.5% last season, can ease into being a go-to player if the need arises.
3. Opportunity knocks. The Warriors signed Cauley-Stein on the cheap because the Kings wanted to wash their hands of the former lottery pick. The 7-footer is a strange bird. He’s mild-mannered yet quirky, and his grasp of the game needs enhancing. The physical skills are enticing, though, and Cauley-Stein, in a new environment with arguably better coaching, will get every opportunity to prove Sacramento wrong.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Russell used 2018-19 as a redemption season, becoming a 20-point scorer, late-game savior, reasonably decent playmaker and more mature leader. He workd on his flaws and it showed in a breakout season that included his first All-Star nod as the face of the rebuilding Nets. It’s hard to find 23-year-olds with star talent and so the Warriors did good by prying him from the Nets. That said, will he be a smooth addition and feel comfortable next to Curry? There might be a necessary transitional period, and it’s still possible the Warriors will trade Russell at the deadline. In short: anything goes here.
Stephen Curry | 27.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.2 apg
Will have the green light without Durant and possibly Thompson.
Klay Thompson | 21.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.4 apg
Slated to miss first 50-plus games following offseason ACL surgery.
Draymond Green | 7.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 6.9 apg
Multi-skilled forward is coming off a down season. Can he recover?
Willie Cauley-Stein | 11.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.4 apg
Warriors rarely ask for much from their center and he could thrive here.
Kevon Looney | 6.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.5 apg
Big man with potential showed a willingness (and ability) to shoot last season.
D’Angelo Russell | 21.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 7.0 apg
Does he fit? Buoyed by a breakout season, Russell could start (and surprise you).
Alec Burks | 8.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.0 apg
Brings a scoring mentality to a bench that will benefit from him.
Alfonzo McKinnie | 4.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 0.4 apg
Young player on the rise will press for minutes and bigger role.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If the Warriors miss the playoffs it won’t be a major surprise (don't tell that that Green), especially if Thompson doesn’t return until spring (or not at all). You cannot lose Durant and Thompson and not suffer some slippage, maybe even 10 wins' worth. The West is loaded again and nobody is guaranteed anything -- not even the club that owned the conference the last six seasons. Consider that Curry will command plenty of attention from the opposition and Green will need to hit those open jumpers that he missed last season. That’s a lot of stress placed on the Warriors' two most important players. Even if they manage to play into late April, the Warriors’ 2019-20 experience is bound to be humbling to a degree. After being on top, there’s seemingly only one way to go.
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