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Whatever is next for the Golden State Warriors, it’s going to be very different

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OAKLAND — It was more than 90 minutes after the NBA Finals had ended, after the Toronto Raptors had beaten the Golden State Warriors four times in six tries.

The fans had left. First, the dispirited Warriors fans who didn’t believe this is how the final game at Oracle Arena would end. Next, the Raptors fans, loud and celebrating like first-time champions should, taking their party out into the city. The stage where Adam Silver had handed Kawhi Leonard his latest Finals MVP trophy had been taken down and put away. The only people left in the building were media members, ushers taking one last look around the arena, and some champagne-drenched players.

Stephen Curry was there and joined his family and friends up in the seats behind one of the baskets for one last photo, some remembrances, one last chance to soak in Oracle Arena.

Because It’s never going to be the same for these Warriors.

Not just because of the new building that takes them out of Oakland and drops them in the heart of San Francisco.

Whatever the Warriors look like next season, it won’t be the same as the team they believed would win them an NBA championship this past season.

Next season may look a lot more like the lineup the Warriors had on the floor at the end of Game 6 — no Kevin Durant and no Klay Thompson, both recovering from injuries, and a group of inexperienced and/or inexpensive players around Stephen Curry and Draymond Green.

What the Warriors will look like in two years is anybody’s guess.

But it will not be the same.

Kevin Durant is a free agent this summer and all season long it has been assumed in league circles he was gone from the Bay Area. Maybe headed to New York, possibly to be a Clipper in Los Angeles, but he was going to bolt town. Now, however, with a torn Achilles that will sideline him most if not all of next season, did his mindset change? Will he want to sign a shorter contract and rehab with a franchise where he knows the staff, knows the trainers, knows the players and is comfortable? Or does he still want out? Durant himself, still trying to process the emotions of this career-changing injury, may not know the answer. That said, the buzz is that he still leaves.

If he leaves, the Warriors are still over the cap and can’t just replace him. Those new Warriors will look more like the 2015 edition, just older.

Klay Thompson is a free agent as well, and he also will likely miss all of next season recovering from a torn left ACL. While he will also have suitors from coast to coast, nobody around the NBA seriously thought Thompson was leaving as long as he got a max contract. He will still get that, and Thompson’s father Mychael said on Friday his son will stay in Golden State.

DeMarcus Cousins is a free agent and the most the Warriors can offer him under the terms of the CBA is $6.4 million. There’s a good chance another team will come in higher than that despite Cousins’ injury history (after said team strikes out with other free agents and gets a little desperate). Cousins will just have trouble getting the number of years he wants.

Kevon Looney free agent and while Steve Kerr called Looney a foundational part of their future, it will be very expensive to keep the young big man after his strong performance in these playoffs. Other teams are targeting him.

Shaun Livingston is mulling retirement. Andrew Bogut is headed back to Australia.

Draymond Green’s contract can be extended, although with the Warriors cap situation it is more likely he becomes a free agent in 2020 and re-signs with the team, an extension would be a paycut.

Around all that, the Warriors need to find a way to get younger, get more athletic, get role players who can eat up a lot of minutes and take some of the load off Curry, Green, Andre Iguodala and the rest.

It’s a lot on GM Bob Myers plate — and the price tag is high. Very high.

Golden State’s co-owner (or whatever term you wish) Joe Lacob has said he would offer both Thompson and Durant the max, and he was willing to pay the tax to keep the band together. That sounds good, but bring everyone back and this team’s combined payroll and luxury tax will push $350 million. An NBA record. Yes, the Warriors are in the black. Yes, their new Chase Center building (owned by Lacob and company) basically prints money. That’s still a massive tax bill, and how many billionaires do you know of happy to pay taxes?

And that tax bill is a team that might not make the playoffs next year and certainly will not be a title contender with Thompson and Durant out (if KD even stays).

That’s why there’s a lot of speculation around the league that if Durant stays the Warriors may try to trade Iguodala and even Green, just to save some money, both next season and down the line. Green will be up for a max in 2020 and do the Warriors want to give him five years and north of $195 million?

There are a lot of questions, ones we will learn the answers to in the coming weeks. The one thing we do know?

That doesn’t mean the Warriors should be counted out.

“But our DNA and who we are and the character that we have on this team, I wouldn’t bet against us being back on this stage next year and going forward,” Curry said.

“I think everybody thinks it’s kind of the end of us. But that’s just not smart,” Green said. “We’re not done yet. We lost this year. Clearly just wasn’t our year, but that’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes. But, yeah, I hear a lot of that noise, it’s the end of a run and all that jazz. I don’t see it happening though. We’ll be back.”

They may well be back in 2020.

But it’s going to be the same.

Kevon Looney will ‘give it a go’ for Warriors in Game 6

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Kevon Looney played nearly 18 minutes in Game 5, but none after midway through the third quarter after the non-displaced first costal cartilage fracture — call it a broken collar bone — flared up. He was playing through a lot of pain and it became too much.

The Warriors were +4 in his minutes in Game 5, a game Golden State won by one. The Warriors defense was better with him out there because, injured or not, he moves better in space than DeMarcus Cousins or Andrew Bogut.

Looney will give it a go again in Game 6 Thursday night, despite the pain — and he got the surprise start.

“Kevon just warmed up on the court with Chris DeMarco and he’s doing decently. So I think he’ll give it a go and we’ll see how he holds up,” Kerr said.

Any minutes Looney can give the Warriors is a plus. Steve Kerr has limited players he can truly lean on in this series, and injuries are forcing him beyond that comfort zone. Looney is a guy Kerr trusts.

Will Kevin Durant’s return be enough for Golden State?

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After missing a month’s worth of games with a strained calf, Kevin Durant is finally going to step on the court in these NBA Finals, playing in Game 5.

Golden State needs him.

It is the only card the Warriors have left to play in a series where they trail 3-1, have been outplayed in 10 of the 12 quarters, and near the end of Game 4 (and in the locker room afterward) looked like a beaten team.

Durant back on the court is an important turn in this series. It certainly fuels Golden State’s dream of turning the 3-1 tables in the Finals and writing their own historic comeback saga.

It also will be too little, too late.

There are a few questions about Durant’s return, but the biggest one is what Durant will be out there?

It’s impossible to say how he will move and feel, but missing a month of basketball and then getting dropped into the middle of a high-level NBA Finals will be a jolt to the system. Before the injury we talked about how Durant and Kawhi Leonard were the two dominant forces of the playoffs, he was playing that well. Durant averaged 34.2 points per game, shooting 55.9 percent from three (with a ridiculous 66.5 true shooting percentage), plus had 5.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. It’s not fair to expect that Durant to suddenly reappear this series, for his game to be that sharp and his conditioning to be at its peak.

Durant also is one of the games great scorers, he’s going to come in and still get buckets. It’s what he does. Durant is who the Warriors have needed in the halfcourt against a stifling Raptors’ defense that has kept the Warriors below a point per possession in halfcourt offense in Toronto’s three wins. Durant, the walking mismatch, is the guy Golden State leans on to get buckets in the halfcourt and they will revert to that again.

It’s not just that Durant plays, it’s whose minutes he takes away. Durant on the court means Alfonzo McKinnie is not. Durant on the court means the return of the Hamptons’ Five lineup that is the Warriors’ best — don’t be surprised if Kerr starts it and plays it 20ish minutes in this game — and that means DeMarcus Cousins (who was awful in the past two games) and Andrew Bogut are on the bench.

Durant on the court also messes with Toronto’s defensive matchups. Leonard will have the primary responsibility on KD, but that means he can’t be switching on to Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson, Leonard can’t be in the same help positions. Golden State’s backcourt should have a little more room to operate.

Durant’s return changes the series… but probably not enough.

The Warriors are down 3-1 in this series because the Toronto Raptors are very good, and right now playing with incredible confidence. That is not changing. Toronto is still long, still athletic, can still defend, still has shooters all over the floor, and still has Leonard. It’s a high IQ team that will test Durant from the start (don’t be shocked if the Raptors drag Durant into some early pick-and-roll defenses just to test how he moves).

Durant’s return doesn’t change the fact Thompson, Cousins, Kevon Looney, and Andre Iguodala are all playing through various injuries and ailments.

The math also just doesn’t support the Warriors, as NBC’s own Dan Feldman noted on Twitter.

Even with Feldman’s very generous odds, it means the Warriors would have a 44.1 percent chance of winning the series. Less than half the time. The reality is far, far less than that.

Still, the “Durant as Warriors’ savior” belief is out there because the Warriors organization fed it. If Golden State had been honest from the start and called it a Grade 2 calf strain — something that takes 4-6 weeks to heal (if this were the regular season Durant would not be out there Monday night) — we would all have expected him to return around this time and had the appropriate expectations for what he could or could not do.

Instead, the Warriors called it mild, kept flying him around with the team, kept hope alive in the locker room and in the fan base. It just hung out there, and eventually created resentment and frustration. The question of how committed to the Warriors Durant has crept into the conversation. Golden State didn’t play this card until now, when its back is against the wall, when there was true desperation. All of those pent up feelings are on the organization, not KD.

Durant is back Monday night and this series will get more interesting. The Warriors are closer to their peak. We get to see the Warriors we expected.

But doing that now, down 3-1, seems a too-late gesture against a Raptors team playing like champions.

 

Kevon Looney will ‘give it a go’ in Game 4

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OAKLAND — Just watching DeMarcus Cousins struggle to defend in space, or the fact that Andrew Bogut — picked up by Golden State after his Australian basketball season ended — had to play more than 21 minutes in Game 3, shows just how much the Warriors miss Kevon Looney.

They miss his athleticism, his defense, his rebounding a lot more than most fans realize.

Which is why it’s a huge deal that he is going to try and play in Game 4 on Friday night, something Steve Kerr confirmed less than two hours before tip-off.

“Kevon’s going to give it a go tonight,” Kerr said. “So further evaluation, a second opinion, and then a lot of research and making sure that there’s no long-term risk involved with him playing. And it all checked out, and he’s dying to play, and so we’ll give him a shot and we’ll see what he’s got.”

If the injury cannot get worse, it becomes a matter of pain management on some level.

“The guy’s just tough. He’s tough and he wants to play,” Kerr said. “And the injury is in an area where it allows him to move well enough to give it a shot to play.”

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN reported earlier in the day Looney was pushing to get back on the court.

 

Looney was injured in the first quarter of Game 2 when he bounced off Kawhi Leonard and went flying.

“He’s a really good defensive player,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I mean, first of all, he’s just a good player, but he’s a problem defensively because he can switch and guard just about anybody out there. And that’s a big-time luxury. That takes you out of — that keeps people in front. That takes you out of having to play weak side on the roller, right, and tagging and rotating and X’ing out and all those things that we — terminology we have to cover screen and roll defense. He’s a good rebounder, and he’s capable on offense to face up and knock one down or keep balls alive and get an offensive rebound.”

Down 2-1 heading into a virtual must-win on Friday night, if Looney can give the Warriors even 15 good minutes they will take it. The Warriors know they are in a tough series and they need all hands on deck.

Kevon Looney out for NBA Finals with fractured collarbone

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The basketball gods have dealt Kevon Looney and the Golden State Warriors a blow.

Looney is out for the remainder of the Finals with a broken collar bone — a “non-displaced first costal cartilage fracture” if you want to be specific. It was a story first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by the Warriors:

Looney was injured in the first quarter after getting in the way of a driving Kawhi Leonard and taking a hard fall. He left the game not to return.

First, this is just a bad break for the Looney. He had come into his own this year and during the playoffs in particular.

For the Warriors, this means they need DeMarcus Cousins to continue to have the impact he had in Game 2. Also, Andrew Bogut, Jordan Bell and the other bigs on the roster are going to have to step up.

This adds to the injury concerns around the Warriors where Kevin Durant has been out the entire series with an unknown return date, and now Klay Thompson is questionable after his hamstring strain.

Game 3 of the NBA Finals is Wednesday night in Oracle Arena.