Look, I can’t sit here and pretend I don’t have some egg on my face about the Warriors. I picked Stephen Curry to win MVP. I thought he would go on a scoring binge this season, and the combo of an unleashed Steph and highly motivated Draymond Green would be enough to keep the Dubs afloat until Klay Thompson returned from his ACL rehab, creating a super sleeper for the playoffs. Those plans have quickly gone awry. Golden State’s rough start to the season went from bad to worse Wednesday, when Curry broke his hand during a blowout loss to the Suns at home.
The Dubs sit at 1–3 on the young season after the defeat to Phoenix. The rotation is messy. And Green will be left to carry the team with D’Angelo Russell. It’s unclear where the offense or defense is going to come from. And the Western Conference seems to be taking extra delight in sticking it to the team that basically toyed with its opponents for five straight years. Somehow, despite having said all of that, I’m still (perhaps foolishly) bullish on Golden State’s long-term future. Allow me to make the case.
1. The Slow Start Never Mattered
To tip us off, the Warriors’ demise was already a little overblown to me. Judging this team without Klay Thompson never really made sense. Of course the Warriors were going to struggle! They were working in a ton of new, young, unproven players into the rotation. And they were missing their second-best player. Even in a world in which Curry doesn’t break his hand and Golden State still gets blown out by the Suns, I promise I would have continued to preach patience. Yes, maybe the Dubs weren’t going to be playoff material despite my hopes. But any talk of writing off their championship window without seeing Klay take the floor felt incredibly premature. Whatever we’ve seen from this team so far this season is not at all reflective of what they can be at their best. In a similar way to which the Nets are being graded on a curve without Kevin Durant, the Warriors deserved a similar handicap for starting the year without Thompson.
2. This Was Always Going to be A Step-Back Season
Even in the best-case scenario I outlined in the intro, the Dubs weren’t going to win a championship. Thompson, as great as he is, can’t magically return from an ACL tear within a year and be expected to be the second-best player on a title team. In an all-goes-right situation for the Warriors, Klay would have returned ahead of schedule to a full complement of stars and maybe the Dubs pull off one upset in the playoffs. That’s almost certainly not happening now. And yet, the organization’s fate hasn’t changed dramatically because of Curry’s injury. Steph’s broken hand probably takes away any pie-in-the-sky dream of a Cinderella run. But the Dubs have basically gone from fighting for a low playoff seed to a lottery entrant as a result of Wednesday’s game, and in the NBA, that’s not a steep fall.
3. There’s No Reason to Rush Klay Back Now
This is kind of a bonus reason. If Curry does indeed miss extended time, why rush Thompson back? (I don’t know how much sympathy I have for the people who could actually afford Chase Center season tickets.) Now Klay can take a full year off without any pressure to speed up his rehab for a playoff run, and that should pay dividends for the future.
4. A Lottery Pick Will Help Immensely
Good thing Bob Myers protected that first-round pick he sent to the Nets in the Durant sign-and-trade. Golden State hasn’t picked higher than No. 28 in the first round since 2012, when it selected Harrison Barnes with the No. 7 pick. While the new-look Warriors are filled with youth, they could desperately use a blue-chip prospect. A lottery pick in 2020 could not only help the current core, he could start building the bridge to the next era of success. It’s not fun to think this way. I would much rather see Steph, Klay, and Draymond fully healthy and playing with something to prove this season. It’s really upsetting that fans are being robbed of that experience. But Thompson’s injury from last season threw a wrench into the plans for this one. Ultimately, taking a step back and adding a legitimate piece from the draft could be the best way to keep the championship window open. Those comparisons you’re seeing to the Spurs adding Tim Duncan are apt.
5. The Front Office has Some Flexibility
Again, this is a very Moneyball-ish outlook on life, but the Warriors front office can get creative next summer. That lottery pick that’s expected to come in? That can also be used as a trade chip. Meanwhile, Russell is signed for three more years after this one, which will make him an attractive player in a summer very low on quality free agents. A lot of teams looking to make a splash may want to add Russell, which in turn could bring back depth for the Warriors. A Golden State squad with Curry, Thompson, Green, lottery guy, and newly acquired vets could still make some noise. The Russell trade rumors have made sense from the moment he signed because of his redundancy with Thompson. I don’t expect those to go away in light of the first four games of the season.
I know what you’re thinking—why should we believe this dude who thought Steph would win MVP? I’m not happy with where the Warriors are. I would have loved for them to enter this season fully healthy (as well as KD!) and watch all these new teams duke it out. But that’s not the reality, and Golden State’s big-picture outlook is in some messed-up way still promising. A year of low pressure for Curry, Green, and Thompson could help keep them fresh for when the team rebounds. Adding a lottery pick would help more than an eight seed. And the front office still has avenues to improve the roster. It may seem like the sky is falling for the Warriors, but they still have a path to success for the future, they just may have to endure a lost season along the way.