Why breaking up the Warriors may not be the answer with Stephen Curry still at the peak of his powers
Despite being eliminated on Friday, Golden State may still have enough to win a title next season
The “last dance” talk began well before this series, and it’s not going to stop any time soon.
Steve Kerr said that it usually takes about 24 hours to get over a playoff loss. Take your lumps, contemplate your regrets, then move on. It’s going to take the Golden State Warriors much longer than that to get over the way that their season just ended.
After a mediocre regular season, the Warriors were blown out in Game 6 against LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday to put an end to their bid for a second straight title. If we’re being honest, Golden State could have been sent packing in the first round by the upstart Sacramento Kings were it not for a historic, superhuman 50-point Game 7 performance from Steph Curry.
The evidence was in front of us all season and, despite stretches that attempted to convince us otherwise, the truth became clear: These Warriors were just not good enough. That’s the reality. We know it, and the team knows it.
“To be fair, I think this team ultimately maxed out,” Kerr said after being eliminated on Friday. “We were barely in the playoff picture most of this year … This is not a championship team. If we were, we’d be moving on.”
When that’s the case, the urge to move directly to roster detonation can be strong. This team doesn’t work, the core has run its course, time to move on. You’ll undoubtedly read and hear plenty of ideas about how that can and should happen. Our Sam Quinninvolving the ramifications of the ungodly luxury tax bill headed toward the Warriors’ check book next season.
But what if blowing it up isn’t necessarily the answer? Assuming Curry, Andrew Wiggins and Kevon Looney aren’t going anywhere, let’s look at the three the most highly discussed options through a realistic prism.
Get rid of Draymond Green
The Warriors’ chemistry was unquestionably off-kilter this season, and it doesn’t take Benoit Blanc to charismatically unearth the culprit. Draymond Green punched Jordan Poole before the season started and was not suspended for any regular season games. Even if the players, Poole included, said they quickly moved on, something like that lingers.
Alright, so let’s get rid of Draymond, right?
First off, it’s Green’s decision whether he wants to exercise his $27.6 million option for next season. If he opts in, the Warriors could trade him, but there is significant skepticism about how Green would fare in a system outside Golden State, so it would be interesting to see what the offers would look like. Green will turn 34 next season and has done nothing but win in his entire career, so the rumors about him opting out to sign with his hometown Detroit Pistons or another cap space team seem unrealistic.
Despite all the baggage that Green brings, he’s the engine of this team on both ends of the floor. He just made second team All-Defense, and led the team in assists for the seventh time in eight seasons. The Warriors aren’t the Warriors without him, so losing Green — whether in free agency or through a trade — would be a devastating blow.
“Every season is made up of events. Some are great, some are not,” Green said after the Game 6 loss. “It’s things going on and you band together and you try to work around them. And I think, for the most part, we tried to do that. We fell short. That happens, but overall, we’re not done yet. We lost this year. We’ll be back next year.”
Trade Klay Thompson
This will be an even more popular refrain after Thompson’s cringeworthy 3-for-19 performance in the decisive Game 6 — the very game that helped grow his legend, no less. Thompson has one more season on his contract which will pay him $40-plus million, certainly an overpay at this stage in his career. But if Thompson’s value has diminished for the Warriors, it has certainly diminished throughout the league, so what are you going to get for him at that price?
You can trade him to a cap space team for assets and relief on the gargantuan luxury tax bill, but then how do you replace him? For all of his faults, Thompson was one of only five players this season — yes, five — to average at least 21.9 points per game on 40 percent or better 3-point shooting. The others are the elite of the elite: Curry, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Jalen Brunson.
So don’t let the poor postseason sour the taste of what was a phenomenal comeback year for Thompson. The challenge he now faces is continued evolution, as both he and Kerr mentioned throughout the season, so that he can affect games positively even when he’s not scoring.
On top of the basketball side, Thompson is an institution in the Bay Area. There’s no telling what kind of ill will the Warriors would generate by sending him packing, and how that would negatively affect the balance of an already teetering locker room. Thompson is reportedly seeking a max extension, and we can be fairly certain that’s not happening. But extending him on a reasonable deal could be the answer for a player whose primary elite skill — shooting — should be able to carry into the later years of his career until he eventually retires as a Warrior.
Trade Jordan Poole
Poole just suffered through one of the most abysmal postseasons in recent memory, looking futile and lost in what few minutes he actually received against the Lakers and averaging a meager 10.3 points on 34/25/77 splits in the playoffs. Recency bias might tell you that he needs to go — after all, he didn’t have the best regular season either.
But who’s going to provide sufficient assets for Poole after a season like that, knowing that his $128 million extension doesn’t even kick in until next season? Also keep in mind that Poole is 23 years old and coming off his first full season where teams scouted and game-planned for him. Sure, his attitude can be polarizing, but there’s never been any question about Poole’s work ethic. He transformed himself from a G Leaguer to 20-point scorer, so who knows where another summer in the lab will take him.
It became clear when Poole lost minutes that he is the only Warrior besides Curry who can consistently create off the dribble. That would be a tough piece to lose in a salary dump move, assuming that the offers that come in won’t involve any true difference-makers. Perhaps betting on Poole’s improvement — the reason the Warriors paid him in the first place — is the prudent direction.
The bottom line
The bottom line is this: Curry is still good enough to be the best player on a championship team, so the Warriors need to be very careful with any moves that might fail to take full advantage of his sustained prime. It’s easy to say because it’s not our money, but Joe Lacob and the ownership group have been more than willing to fork over money for a winner, so why stop now when there’s no clear path to shedding salary and staying relevant in one fell swoop?
The “two timelines” experiment may have gone kaput with James Wiseman already shipped out of town, but Moses Moody provided quality postseason minutes that could springboard his development and Jonathan Kuminga — though he was a DNP for most of the playoffs — has shown incredible promise as a defender and finisher.
A team with Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, Green, Looney, Poole and Gary Payton II — along with potential improvement from Moody, Kuminga and possibly little-used rookie Patrick Baldwin Jr., seems like a much better starting off point for a championship than whatever Golden State could get in trades.
The Warriors may very well part ways with one or more of their core pieces this summer, but don’t be surprised if they decide that what they have is still more than capable of winning a title next season.
“We lost, so that’s, like, a hard truth at the end of the journey,” Curry said after being eliminated on Friday. “Really never heard that from us before in terms of trying to make sense of losing a series like we did, unless it’s been in the Finals. So, we’ve got to accept it, move on and try to be better next year.”