Is This the End of the Warriors’ Dynasty?

Is This the End of the Warriors’ Dynasty?


Golden State faces some painful questions about its future after running dry against the Lakers. Should the team bring Draymond Green back? Can it trade Jordan Poole? And does running it back even make sense? A summer of uncertainty lies ahead.

The Golden State Warriors were eliminated by the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night, a disappointing end to one of the more rickety title defense efforts in recent history. Hindsight is helpful, but the signs of impending doom were hidden in plain sight: from a (literal) season-opening knockout punch, to an 11-30 road record, to a consistently inconsistent focus on the defensive end.

No single moment can fully encapsulate the (possible) demise of a dynasty, but looking back, one stands out from the first round, in a Game 6 that was the culmination of their most detrimental traits. Not even 10 seconds into the second half of what quickly spiraled into a tumultuous drubbing, the Warriors fell asleep, at home, during what could’ve and should’ve been a signature victory. Watch Klay Thompson below, mystified about who he’s guarding:

No points were surrendered, but at the start of a quarter that’s long been synonymous with Golden State’s own dominance, the sequence forebode their demise. Exactly two weeks later, the Warriors have now gone fishing, dismissed in six games by a no. 7 seeded Lakers team that entered the series with a flimsy halfcourt offense and little reason to believe an injured, 38-year-old LeBron James could carry them over the hump.

History is written by the winners, and there were stretches throughout the first round where Golden State’s mettle showed. They won three straight after falling into an 0-2 hole, with tidal wave shot-making and role players (like Kevon Looney, an unsung hero among unsung heroes) who rose to the occasion and accentuated their best players. Steph Curry scored 50 points in Game 7. Championship pedigree could not be overlooked.

But over the course of two trying rounds, the Warriors were eventually solved. The whirling system that steered them to four NBA championships struggled to gain traction against a Kings roster that finished the regular season ranked 24th in defensive rating. Sacramento switched everything on and off the ball. It was physical and all-knowing. The Kings respected the Warriors, but did not fear them. Before Game 7, Golden State’s offensive rating was 109.7, which is how many points per 100 possessions the tanking San Antonio Spurs generated during the regular season.

Then, when it was time to rely on the fail-safe Curry pick-and-rolls that have bailed Golden State out in some of its darkest hours, the Lakers absorbed that adjustment and persevered.

Now, a summer of uncertainty lies ahead. Where do the Warriors go from here, as an uninspiring bunch that stunk on the road all year, with humongous contracts, aging future Hall of Famers, and several difficult decisions that need to be made? The roster autopsy is damning. In a must-win Game 4 against the Lakers, Steve Kerr didn’t shrink his rotation: he played 10 guys and surprisingly closed with 20-year-old Moses Moody. Gary Payton II made his first start of the season then sat the final 10 minutes, while JaMychal Green went from starting Game 3 to barely playing at all.

Jordan Poole zoomed out of last year’s Finals with enough velocity to earn a four-year, $123 million contract extension. At the time, that deal was a justifiable bet on an integral 23-year-old who finished his first postseason with nearly 50/40/90 shooting splits. Today, Poole’s insufferable freneticism has turned that contract into an anvil, the least prudent decision Warriors general manager Bob Myers has ever made.

He wrapped his second postseason up averaging 10.3 points in 21.8 minutes, both a notable drop from last year. His shooting splits? 34.1/25.4/76.5. To call this a catastrophe would be too kind to the word catastrophe. Poole would still have market value if he was an unrestricted free agent this summer, but zero teams would even consider a nine-figure deal. His defense was an abomination. His shot selection made no sense. And, continuing a trend from the regular season, Golden State was significantly worse with him on the court.

Up next are painful, layered questions that have been exacerbated by a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that’s designed to cut a team like Golden State at the knees. In October, after extensions for Poole and Andrew Wiggins (four years, $109 million) were announced, Myers was asked about a massive, looming 2023-24 tax bill. “I cannot evaluate what we are going to do next season until we see what happens this season,” he said. “We have to take it year to year. If you asked me a year ago if we were going to pay Poole and Wiggins this, I would not have believed you.”

All this was before the details of that especially punitive CBA were revealed, including a new second tax apron that Golden State will easily clear. Doing so not only opens their ownership up to a historic tax bill, but takes important team-building resources off the table. No more taxpayer mid-level exception. No more buyout signings. Cash can’t be sent out in a trade, and any deal that brings in more salary than it sends out won’t be allowed.

The weight here will be felt in myriad ways, including with what happens to franchise legend Draymond Green, who can opt in or out of a $27.5 million player option this summer. Green is 33 years old, a contentious lightning rod of controversy, and still, more nights than not, a transformative defensive presence who holds invaluable offensive synergy with Curry. Losing him and that priceless institutional knowledge for nothing would irreparably rewire the entire organization’s DNA.

If Green opts in, a brewing divorce will be delayed. If he opts out, an extension is always possible, but short of some monetary cuts elsewhere, it’s hard to see the Warriors paying what some other teams with cap space may be willing to offer. The Rockets want to win badly, as do Green’s hometown Pistons. If Kyrie Irving leaves the Mavericks, Dallas can shed a bit more salary and sell Green on being the missing piece Luka Doncic needs. It would be an unorthodox, mutually beneficial tandem.

Should Green stick around, running it back with this core—potentially minus Donte DiVincenzo, who can also opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent—doesn’t make a ton of sense. “I definitely think this team maxed out,” Green said after the Warriors were eliminated, echoing a sentiment shared by Curry and Kerr. “It wasn’t a championship team … this was not a championship group as it stands.”

The Warriors could cross their fingers on tangible leaps from Moody and 20-year-old Jonathan Kuminga, and hope a playable veteran—Jae Crowder, Joe Ingles, Josh Richardson, and half a dozen other candidates—is willing to climb aboard on a veteran’s minimum discount. But that path risks wasting another year of Curry’s extended prime, which would be criminal. Instead, Golden State may need to consider an all-in move that treats its present day as the priority. Their stubborn two-timeline strategy all but died when they gave up on James Wiseman at the trade deadline, but more aggressive moves to fortify the short-term are possible.

A trade package of Poole, Kuminga, and one or two first-round picks would help get them there. Those young talents (without the picks) for Hornets forward Gordon Hayward makes plenty of sense for both teams (especially considering Hayward’s deal is about to expire). Poole, Kuminga, Payton II, and an unprotected future first-round pick for Zach LaVine would also be a fascinating, slightly desperate bet on talent that could result in a fifth ring.

There are other scenarios worth exploring, including continued efforts to pry OG Anunoby out of Toronto. Good teams will call about Wiggins. Thompson is extension eligible, but his market value doesn’t run parallel to what he’s meant to the Bay Area. Nothing is off limits, assuming Curry is still at the center of their universe. That includes hard internal questions about Myers and Kerr.

One of the most prosperous and influential eras any team has ever enjoyed may be over. Its aftershock will ripple through a league that’s been irrevocably changed by the people who made the Golden State Warriors so dominant for so long, whether they pull together or break apart. 

the ringer

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