30 Teams in 30 Days: Warriors forced to begin new chapter
NBA.com Global on Sep 29, 2019 06:06 AM
FILE - PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 2: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors looks on during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on March 2, 2019 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Like most summers in the NBA, the 2019 edition was chock full of trades, free agent news and player movement. From the defending-champion Toronto Raptors to just about every other team in the league, change was the most applicable word when it came to describing team rosters for the 2019-20 season.
With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today -- in order of regular-season finish from 2018-19 -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
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Today's team: Golden State Warriors
2018-19 Record: 57-25, lost in the NBA Finals
Key additions : D’Angelo Russell (sign-and-trade), Willie Cauley-Stein (free agency), Alec Burks (free agency), Jordan Poole (Draft), Omari Spellman (trade)
Key departures: Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, DeMarcus Cousins, Quinn Cook, Jordan Bell, Shaun Livingston
The lowdown: The most dominant era since the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers came to a crushing and painful end when the Warriors staggered and eventually collapsed at the finish line. Injuries to Durant and Klay Thompson were understandably too steep to overcome against the Raptors in The Finals and the Warriors’ championship stretch stopped at two straight and three in five years.
As the postseason approached, a Warriors’ title was almost as guaranteed as Christmas on Dec. 25 is. They were healthy and rolling through the competition. Durant, Curry and Thompson were once again at All-Star level, with a bonus in Cousins, the former All-Star who made his recovery from Achilles surgery.
Draymond Green and Iguodala suffered drop-offs, but the Warriors were still too experienced and top-heavy to dismiss. Even when Durant initially fell in the Western Conference semifinals, the prognosis was a calf strain and the Warriors could perhaps see a return at some point. Even without him they still ousted the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers to reach The Finals.
But then Durant tore his Achilles upon his return, Thompson tore his ACL and the Warriors, down to one star in Curry, had nothing left to challenge Toronto. It was quite a coincidence how a dynasty built on star power finally ended with Curry -- the first player in this process -- as the last one standing. A franchise built on smart personnel moves, solid coaching and management and a bit of luck had arrived at a crossroads.
As the Warriors began to pack boxes for the move from Oakland to San Francisco and the new Chase Center, they also braced for a summer of free agency and the potential for far-reaching implications caused by major change.
Summer summary: Durant's stay in Oakland will forever be known for a pair of championships and Finals MVP awards ... and for the look of disbelief across his face when he tore his Achilles in Game 5 of The Finals.
It was mostly fun while it lasted, for both Durant and the Warriors. They both benefitted from the experience although perhaps Durant made out a bit more, because before he joined the Warriors he had zero titles. Which is why, in some ways, it’s surprising he bailed on the franchise: Where else will he get a teammate like Curry and a run like the Warriors just had?
That said, Durant is quirky and follows his whims, which initially took him from Oklahoma City and now to Brooklyn. Yes, he suffered a major injury on his way out the door, but these aren’t the medical stone ages and in a best-case scenario will resume being a feared scorer and franchise centerpiece. Not only were the Warriors willing to give him the max amount financially, he had the most amiable superstar next to him in Curry, who willingly made sacrifices to accommodate Durant in every way.
All they can do now is retire his jersey someday, invite him to a reunion far down the road and remember the good times, which lasted until his body betrayed him this past spring. And now, what next?
Well, the Warriors helped themselves and Durant out by agreeing to a sign-and-trade which allowed them to get Russell in return. Russell is coming off a breakout season where he averaged 21 points, seven assists and showed improved maturity on and off the court; he was jettisoned by Brooklyn only because the Nets signed Kyrie Irving. Of course, once the deal was done, it came with a spoonful of skepticism about Russell being the right fit in Steve Kerr’s system and living harmoniously next to Curry and, eventually, in a three-guard rotation with Thompson.
There are no guarantees about that, although the Warriors do have an escape clause if the chemistry is all wrong. They can always find a taker for Russell, who’s only 23 and just touching his prime. So this is a win-win for the Warriors one way or another.
The other notable departure was Iguodala, a victim of the financial numbers game whose six-year stay with the Warriors resulted in three titles. Iguodala was valued for his defense, clever play and mentoring, but at 35, he’s clearly declining. With the Warriors ready to turn a page and move into a different direction, Iguodala became a symbol of yesterday.
They had no visions of keeping Cousins another year, mainly because Cousins would command more on the market than the Warriors were willing and able to pay.
Anyway, they’ll roll the dice on Cauley-Stein, a mobile and athletic seven-footer who failed to progress in four seasons with the Kings. It’s always a red flag when a franchise, in this case the Kings, bails on a lottery pick, and then that player generates very mild interest around the league. Cauley-Stein never developed a go-to move offensively and was slow to absorb the nuances of the game. But sometimes a change in scenery works, and because he was an inexpensive option, the Warriors have little to lose here.
They saw enough of Kevon Looney, who improved offensively late in the year, to give him a three-year, $15 million extension. Although he’s more of a natural power forward, Looney can give them a presence at center in case Cauley-Stein fails, and the investment wasn’t too steep.
The other two investments were steep: a $100 million extension to Green. The Warriors had to act on Green’s contract status this summer even though his original deal had another year to run. They couldn’t risk bringing back Green without any security beyond 2019-20; that would’ve created a potential headache, especially for Kerr. Anyway, both the player and the team wanted something to get done, so something got done.
The other, and more important: a five-year, $190 million contract to retain Thompson. This one registered zero on the scale of surprises because Thompson had long pledged his future to the Warriors and they showed loyalty even though Thompson spent the offseason mending from knee surgery. There’s optimism about Thompson returning this season although the Warriors could also scratch him for the season if they feel it’s the more prudent way to protect that investment.
The Warriors drafted Poole, a 6-foot-5 guard who had a solid run in the NCAA Tournament for Michigan and flashed potential in Summer League. Most likely, Poole will spend the year in player development which may include a stint in the NBA G League.
Strapped by the salary cap and stung by Durant’s departure, the Warriors did everything they could, in the confines of the restrictions, to at least keep the appearance of a contender. But visions of another epic run likely left through the door with Durant, and the franchise and the arena in which it will occupy this season will be starting anew.
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