The Golden State Warriors, mere weeks removed from their fifth straight trip to the NBA Finals, are a moribund franchise about to embark on a collapse that will give them some boffo odds in the draft lottery in 2022.
Sure, they’ll hang on in the short-term, maybe even make one more deep playoff run on fumes and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson shooting 30 threes a game between them and seeing enough of them go in to get past a not-quite-there-yet Nuggets or Jazz team in the first two rounds before the Clippers put up a Kawhilight reel in the conference finals and the new order is officially established.
But a look at the numbers, even with the addition of D’Angelo Russell, shows a team that’s well on its way to crashing and burning with stars they held on to too long who will fill the seats in the new arena in San Francisco as the franchise ends up having to go full Process to try and make another five-year playoff run between 2024 and 2029.
The Old Age Movement
Let’s start with the obvious. Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green have been locked up to long-term deals, with Curry on a supermax through 2022, Thompson on a just-as-wild monster extension through 2024, and Green on a four-year, $100 million deal with a player option he will surely pick up in 2023-24.
At the beginning of the 2021-22 season, when Curry’s deal becomes the first expiring that can be traded or released without too much cap damage, Curry will be 33 while Thompson and Green will both be 31.
Curry’s injury history hampered him as far back as the 2016 Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers. To expect a guard who relies on quickness to get him to the basket—remember, Curry isn’t just a three-point gunner, his athleticism at the rim is what elevates him into all-time-great point guard conversations over guys like his coach Steve Kerr—to be effective that far beyond his 30th birthday is to buck decades of evidence that 30 is a Logan’s Run-like expiration date for little guys in the league.
But that’s really only a problem for Steph. What about the other two guys from the classic Big Three?
Thompson: Overpaid and Overvalued
I don’t care if he’s Klay Thompson, you don’t give $40 million a year to a guy who hasn’t cracked 2 VORP since 2015 and hasn’t even cracked one VORP since 2017.
Especially if, like Thompson, the player you’re giving all that money to built a reputation as a great defender despite never—not once in his career—posting a positive Defensive Box Plus-Minus.
There’s a word for guys like that: Overrated.
Here’s the list of guys other than Thompson who posted 0.8 VORP in 2018-19:
Other than Jackson (19 years old) and Tatum (20), would you give any of those guys a big-money extension?
Then why would you give one to the 28-year-old Thompson?
Klay is one of those guys who puts up superstar individual games or individual quarters, but over the course of 82 games, he’s not doing that every night, not even close.
Most nights, he’s a great wing shooter (40.2 percent from 3 last year, 41.9 percent for his career) with an undeserved defensive reputation who fills a niche, albeit one that was in the service of a championship team.
Utah just got that for cheaper when they signed Bojan Bogdanovic.
Wait, I Thought Draymond Was Washed
The same Draymond Green who wouldn’t take a three with no defender within 10 feet of him last year because he didn’t trust his shot is getting 25 million bucks a year?
Look, I get that you pay for defense, but Green is, in hockey terms, a power play at one end of the floor and a shorthanded situation at the other.
Green scored just 7.4 points per game in 2018-19 and 8.5 per 36 minutes, lowest since his rookie season in the latter case and his second year in the league in the former.
And it’s not like you can blame Kevin Durant for diminishing Green’s role, because those 7.4 and 8.5 per-game and per-36 scoring numbers are down from 11.0 and 12.2 in the previous year.
Green shot just 28.6 percent from three. His eFG% of .501 ranked 85th out of 103 players with at least 2,000 minutes last season. The Warriors need him to resume his role as the third scorer in their offense with Durant gone, but Green’s offensive ability seems to be gone with the wind.
Playing 4-on-5 on offense for $25 million a year with an aging Green seems a questionable-at-best contract move.
No, D’Angelo Russell Isn’t the Answer
I don’t know where this idea got started last year that Russell is an elite player.
Granted, 3.3 VORP is excellent, and the guy can score in bunches (25.2 points per 36 minutes.)
But he plays the same position as one of the best point guards of all-time and any talk of a renewed small-ball lineup with Russell playing shooting guard would involve Thompson at small forward in a lineup that can’t guard anyone (again, the advanced stats say Thompson’s reputation defensively is completely undeserved, and we enforce Sheed’s Law around here.)
It’s not that Russell is a bad idea in a vacuum, it’s that he seems to be a head-scratcher of a signing unless the idea is that Curry can’t stay healthy and the Warriors need a backup point guard who is 22 years old and entering the upside of his career, but how long will Russell—who was a head case as a rookie with the Lakers—put up with not being able to show off the form that got him to the All-Star Game last season?
He’s not Andre Iguodala. To think otherwise is folly. And with another notorious head case in Green on the roster, that’s a chemistry disaster waiting to happen.
A Fan-Friendly Collapse
So what we’re left with is, eventually, Wizards West, a capped-out behemoth of a franchise that, unlike the salary nightmare back East, has the memory of five Finals appearances and three titles to sustain them through what is all but guaranteed to be a precipitous decline after one potential last-hurrah in 2019-20.
This team will be out of the playoffs by 2021. They will be mired in “trust the process” territory by 2022. And they won’t get out of cap jail until 2024.
But fans will watch guys who won them titles. Fans will buy tickets to fill the new expensive pleasure palace of an arena the team’s got on the west side of the Bay.
And with the cap looking this bad for this long, by hanging on to aging stars far longer than a sensible team trying to continue a dynasty should, the Warriors might actually be planting seeds for a young core that will come of age the way the Sixers did in 2017-18 and rule the NBA roost in the back half of the 2020s as Curry, Thompson, and Green watch from courtside seats and the broadcast crews talk about the wild franchise turnaround.
Curry at least is Hall of Fame-bound, and if he retires after 2022 and the Warriors are good in 2028 when Curry enters the Hall?
In the short term, it’s a decline. But it’s a fan-friendly decline. A decline with the plan for a revival already laid out if the team’s forward-thinking enough to take advantage of it.
But man, starting in about 2020-21, this team is going to suck.