Could the NBA's Lost Season Be a Huge Win for the Warriors?

A conversation with Ethan Sherwood Strauss, the Golden State Warriors beat reporter for The Athletic

April 23, 2020 10:25 am
Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors. (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty)
Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors. (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty)
Getty Images

Entering this season, the Golden State Warriors had made it to the NBA Finals for five consecutive years, bringing three championships back to their erstwhile hometown of Oakland.

But with Kevin Durant off to Brooklyn, Klay Thompson out for the year with a torn ACL and Steph Curry sent to the shelf early in the 2019/20 campaign due to a broken hand, Golden State’s odds of competing for the Larry O’Brien trophy for a sixth straight year fell dramatically, to just about zero.

Of course, much of that success owes to the Warriors’ fortuitous acquisition of Durant in the first place, without which they may find themselves in a very different spot. Despite a rocky final season, Durant’s tenure in the Bay Area is still looked upon very favorably, says Ethan Sherwood Strauss, Warriors beat reporter for The Athletic and the author of The Victory Machine: The Making and Unmaking of the Warriors Dynasty.

“I haven’t heard anybody express regret about bringing him in the first place,” Strauss tells InsideHook. “I think when you win two out of three titles, that’s a win and you feel good about having made the decision. I do think that it wasn’t the most fun of rides, but ultimately banners hang forever.”

With the injury problems and Durant’s departure, this season was always expected to be a rebuilding one for the Warriors, and the organization seems to have used it wisely, developing young talent and turning a collection of players highlighted by All-Star D’Angelo Russell into former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins and six future draft picks.

And the Warriors’ decision to take a veritable gap year has looked better and better since February’s trade deadline, with the coronavirus rearing its head and shutting down the league indefinitely. If the season ends up being voided completely, Golden State’s odds of making it back to the NBA Finals for a sixth straight season will increase dramatically.

victory machine warriors
The Victory Machine (PublicAffairs)

Consider, that if the NBA season ended today, the Warriors will pick no lower than fifth in the next NBA draft, with a 14 percent chance of landing the top pick (they currently have one of the worst three records in the league, at 15-50).

That means that entering next season (whenever it is played), the Warriors would have a roster stocked with three All-Stars in Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green, an ex-No. 1 overall pick in Wiggins and possibly a second No. 1 overall selection depending on how the ping-pong balls fall in the lottery.

Given all that, it certainly seems like the Warriors should be right back in contention whenever next season starts, right?

“I don’t know. It certainly doesn’t work out for them financially, I’ll say that much,” says Strauss. “When Joe Lacob bought the team, he was not a billionaire. That’s a privately purchased arena down there in San Francisco on very expensive land. They make money on concerts, so they’re hemorrhaging money they’d otherwise be making due to this pandemic. It makes it harder for them to pay the salaries they might want to pay and pay the luxury tax. And everything else that might be in their ambitions. The Warriors are a pretty well-run organization and they will do due diligence for the draft and free agency, but I think the main pinch that organizations will feel going forward is going to be financial. It’s difficult to know how much that might hurt this organization.”

Even if there were no coronavirus, Golden State’s finances would likely be an issue.

“They’re paying guys what they deserve, but when they were building this championship run, a lot of it was built on how Steph Curry had a very below-market deal,” Strauss says. “He won two MVPs while getting paid like a rotation player. You don’t have that anymore. Steph’s making $200 million. Klay’s making max money. Draymond is making over $100 million. So, you just don’t have as much to work with when you’re trying to supplement them with additional pieces. And they are probably not exactly at the peak of their primes. So, that’s the difficulty.”

Despite the looming financial squeeze, Strauss believes the players on the team remain optimistic about their chances moving forward.

“Klay Thompson has been saying, ‘The dynasty ain’t over, dynasty ain’t over,’ in various clips around social media, so I’m sure they have a very optimistic take on it, but that’s how athletes become great athletes,” he says. “They go into these terrifying situations, totally undaunted, expecting the best. That doesn’t necessarily mean that’s going to happen. I tend to trust the viewpoint evinced by coaches and general managers who often think about, ‘What if things go wrong?’ and take my cues from them. I think it’s going to be very difficult for the Warriors to get back into contention.”

Others within the organization hold a similar viewpoint.

“I think [coach] Steve Kerr himself said they’re not going to be prohibitive favorite anymore and that they will never be as good as they were. That’s quite the proclamation, but I tend to agree. It’s a tough road back getting to an NBA Finals. They could pull it off, but it’s going to be hard over these next few years. Their guys aren’t at peak capacity like they were earlier with all the savvy vets around, so there is an element of rebuilding.”

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