Back in December 2015, the Warriors were on top of the basketball world. After defeating the LeBron James-led Cavaliers to capture the organization’s first NBA championship since 1975, Golden State began the 2015-16 campaign on a 24-game winning streak, ultimately ending the season at 73-9 overall, the best regular-season record in league history.
And yet, even amid a spectacular run of success, Warriors general manager Bob Myers was still chasing another team: the Spurs.
“They are a model franchise,” Myers told USA Today’s Sam Amick at the time. “We are all trying to emulate them.”
Both Myers and Golden State owner Joe Lacob have spoken glowingly about the San Antonio blueprint. The Spurs made 22 straight playoff appearances from 1997-98 through 2018-19, winning five titles in that span. Under the guidance of Gregg Popovich, San Antonio remained a consistent contender and adapted to a constantly evolving NBA environment. When the Spurs won the championship in 1999, they bludgeoned opponents with the “Twin Towers” of Tim Duncan and David Robinson. Fifteen years later, they played “The Beautiful Game” on their way to the Larry O’Brien trophy, slicing and dicing defenses with immaculate cutting, screening and passing.
The Warriors played a similarly aesthetically pleasing style at their peak but with more talent at Steve Kerr’s disposal. Stephen Curry was the Duncan of the group with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green serving as the Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, so to speak. Then Kevin Durant, well, he was a different thing entirely. Golden State was, as Lacob infamously put it, “light years ahead” of everyone else.
But Lacob and Co. learned things can get dark pretty quickly. Durant (torn Achilles) and Thompson (torn ACL) suffered serious injuries during the 2019 NBA Finals. Durant decided to join the Brooklyn Nets later that summer. Curry got hurt early on in the 2019-20 season and only played five total games. Thompson went down again (torn Achilles), extending his recovery timeline. The Warriors finished 15-50 overall, the worst record in the entire league. It was a wasted year that left a suddenly unfamiliar sour taste in the mouths of Warriors nation.
Golden State scrapped its way to the inaugural play-in tournament in 2020-21 before ultimately missing the playoffs again. While perhaps not a traditional bounce-back season, it did re-energize a franchise hungry to return to contention thanks in part to the return of MVP-level Curry (32.0 points, 5.8 assists. 5.5 rebounds, 49.2 percent shooting, 42.1 percent 3-point shooting). Armed with multiple first-round picks, the knowledge Thompson would be back, and a full offseason to simply rest and reload, conventional wisdom suggested the Warriors would go all-in on a major trade to maximize the remaining prime years of the Curry-Thompson-Green core.
Golden State doesn’t want to be conventional, though. No, the Warriors want to be Spurs-ian.
While trade rumors were floated regarding Bradley Beal and Ben Simmons, the Warriors stuck to their win-now and win-later plan instead of mortgaging the future. They selected Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody with the 7th and 14th picks, respectively, and signed veteran role players such as Nemanja Bjelica, Otto Porter Jr. and former “Death Lineup” member Andre Iguodala.
“They think we ought to go get the next star. We already have the stars,” Lacob told The Athletic’s Anthony Slater in late July. “And we have a payroll that’s — and I’ve said this when I was interviewed before, but nobody listened. It’s very unlikely, I’ve said that we’re not going to trade for anybody that people are expecting. Very unlikely. It’s not impossible. But if it was going to be somebody, it was going to be somebody really great. It was going to be a big trade. It’s unlikely. …
“So the more likely path — and the path that I think, as an owner, I feel most comfortable with, quite frankly — is to bridge the gap to the future. We’ve got three or four contracts and big players that are still in their early 30s, still have quite a bit of time to go, especially in this day and age. If we can kind of have a [James] Wiseman and a Kuminga and a Moody and a [Jordan] Poole [help in the meantime]. They don’t have to be awesome next year. With a great investment in our player development staff, we just want them to show great potential.”
Lacob is right about those contracts. Curry, Thompson and Green are locked up through the 2023-24 season, and Curry’s four-year, $215 million extension will keep him launching bombs at the Chase Center through 2025-26 barring a significant change in his feelings toward the franchise.
“The draft picks — love ’em,” Curry told The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson earlier this month. “There’s a lot of potential in terms of trying to implement them early and continue to develop them. Yeah, the effort is there. Just being around the conversations that some people are privy to and most people are not — we want to win.
“And if anybody was not with that, then we’ve got issues. And I don’t think I’d have signed up for five years of that. So that’s the vibe.”
It’s a huge risk with tremendous downside. The amount of money devoted to that trio — not to mention Andrew Wiggins, who will earn $31.5 million and $33.6 million over the next two seasons — will make Myers’ task of building a championship roster very difficult. Golden State is also banking on its stars maintaining a certain standard of excellence, especially Thompson, who hasn’t played in an NBA game since June 2019.
If the Warriors truly want to be in the title picture, they will need their intriguing prospects to grow quickly. Their recent additions to the coaching staff signaled that player development is a key area of focus. Kenny Atkinson oversaw the Nets’ rise from the ashes before Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden arrived in Brooklyn. Jama Mahlalela worked with OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet in Toronto. DeJan Milojevic’s prized pupil is some dude named Nikola Jokic.
However, even if Kerr and his new assistants can speed up the timeline on Kuminga, Moody and Wiseman — it’s important to note that development is rarely linear — Golden State may still be a tier below the Western Conference’s elite, including James’ Lakers and a Suns squad that came within two wins of raising the organization’s first championship banner. Will Lacob and Myers change their tune closer to the trade deadline if the gap is larger than they anticipated? What happens if Curry doesn’t feel as much love for the youngsters because a veteran is suddenly available? What happens if Green loses another step or Thompson doesn’t fully recover?
Those are the questions that arise when the goal is sustained, Spurs-like excellence, and most NBA teams struggle to find the right answers. The Warriors are betting that they will.
“When you can do both those things at once, it’s magic. Who does that?” Lacob told Slater. “The Lakers didn’t make the playoffs for six straight years. I don’t want to be the Lakers, I don’t want to be six years out. It’s too important to me. I don’t want to sit and be a losing team. I think we’re going to be good and hopefully great every year.”
Source: Read Full Article