This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.
The Golden State Warriors will be without Klay Thompson to start the 2019-20 NBA season. They will also be without Kevin Durant in perpetuity. Which will be a bigger issue is cause for much debate.
Indeed, the Warriors won a record 73 regular season games before Durant arrived in 2016. Golden State was a budding dynasty before Durant arrived, and was thought to be a lock for the best team of all-time once he did.
Now things have changed.
Thompson, who tore his ACL in the 2019 NBA Finals, will not be with the team until 2020. He’s taking it slow, and he knows how important that is for his longevity. Meanwhile, there was some debate about Golden State’s fate without Thompson and without Durant. Will they be able to survive with just Curry? What is the athletic status of Draymond Green? And can a stable of below replacement-level players keep the Warriors in the championship hunt in 2020?
For starters, this team has proven time and time again they are not to be trifled with. Organizationally, the Warriors are the class of the league. Much like the San Antonio Spurs, it’s only smart to write them off once they actually miss the playoffs. We’ve been waiting for that from the Spurs since 1997; the Warriors since 2012.
And so here we are, with many hoping that Golden State’s maladies will prove fruitful for their teams in the Western Conference. That, dear reader, may very well be wise. While the road to the Finals may not be settled thanks to the Warriors’ injuries, the road to the playoffs looks much different.
Golden State will win less games this year than perhaps they ever have under Steve Kerr’s guidance. Westgate’s current win total for Golden State is set at 48.5. That would have been good enough to battle for the 8th seed out West last season. This year, without a singularly dominant team, it’s more reasonable for wins to be spread around. It’s also possible that the bottom of the playoff bracket in the Western Conference dips a bit, too.
So when we talk about writing off the Warriors, we have to talk about what “writing off” really means. The NBA is a league where narratives and motivation matters. The Warriors, banged up as they are, are a team that wants to prove that they can still win the way they did before, and without Durant.
Green will be leading that charge, but there will also be a strong push from Curry. Offensively, D’Angelo Russell should slot right into what they need. You should still expect to see those third quarter offensive onslaughts in 2019-20.
The only problem is that Golden State is working with a rotation that is also perhaps thinner than it’s ever been. The Warriors will be relying on guys like Willie Cauley-Stein, Alec Burks, Alfonzo McKinnie, and Glenn Robinson III.
That presents a real problem defensively, where the Warriors have shined. Yes, they returned players like Kevon Looney, and it’s really a system that works off of what green brings to the table. But there is an asymptote, we think, that Golden State will reach when it comes to plugging in just any old player. The Warriors won’t be as dominant on defense this season, and so scores may not be so disperate.
The system in San Francisco works. The culture works. And, let’s be honest, the veteran buyout market works. The talent on the Golden State Warriors is still largely made up of Hall of Famers. Those Hall of Famers are in their primes, and until we see them falter — or until some horror ethic injury befalls them — it’s unreasonable to write them off entirely.
Health, by the way, is a funny thing. We don’t know when this Golden State roster will have it. It’s almost guaranteed that Green will need to come in to the season in October in the kind of shape he left it in June. He can’t drag himself up and down the floor 25 pounds overweight the way he did all last year.
But if the Warriors have a modicum of good luck when it comes to the training room, they should be able to keep their heads above water. The rest of the NBA out West still has a lot of question marks. There are no guarantees for teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers, or Utah Jazz. That works to the Warriors’ advantage in the absence of both Thompson and Durant.
For now, in September, it’s much too early to write off Golden State. They may not be who they were in the past, but until they show us otherwise, they’re still the Warriors.