The Warriors had to deal with a massive amount of roster change as some of it was expected like the departure of Cousins but some of it was not such as the eventual trade of Iguodala. Golden State enters the 2019-2020 season as a title contender but they are no longer viewed as the favorites. For the first time in years, the NBA and the Western Conference feels wide open.
The Price of Contention
For the Golden State Warriors organization, the price to be a contender and/or favorite for the NBA championship has never mattered. The Warriors entered the 2018-2019 season knowing that two key pieces of their championship core (Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson) would be free agents. Golden State said all along that they planned on re-signing both men and would present them both with the max salaries they wanted and deserved.
That’s exactly what the Warriors did. They offered Thompson his max salary which he accepted and they wanted to offer Durant his max salary but he decided to leave the Warriors after three trips to the NBA Finals and two titles to sign with the Brooklyn Nets.
The Warriors did not want to lose Durant for nothing so they made a deal with the Nets. The Nets would receive Durant and a protected 2020 first-round pick in exchange for D’Angelo Russell, Treveon Graham, and Shabazz Napier. The Warriors would trade the latter two in a separate deal to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
With Russell, Stephen Curry, and Thompson all locked up on max deals the Warriors then turned their attention to Draymond Green and locked him up on a four-year extension. Golden State four all-stars are now all signed thru 2022.
Those moves did come with a cost as the Warriors had to trade away Andre Iguodala and cut Shaun Livingston to make the necessary room. Both Iguodala and Livingston were key pieces during the Warriors championship run that saw them go to five straight NBA Finals and win three championships.
When the Warriors signed Kevin Durant back in 2016 they did it knowing that it would cost them their depth/bench. In Durant’s first two years the Warriors would win the NBA Finals in dominant fashion but in year three they finally saw their own mortality.
The Warriors had issues with injuries during their three year run with Kevin Durant but those injuries paled in comparison with what would happen in the NBA Finals vs the Toronto Raptors. Golden State started the series without Durant who missed some of the second round and all of the conference finals with a calf strain. The Warriors would then lose Klay Thompson for game 3 as he suffered a hamstring injury in game 2. Thompson would return for game 4 and then with the Warriors facing elimination, down 3 games to 1, Durant would announce he was playing.
That’s when the Warriors worst-case scenario began. Durant would rupture his Achilles tendon in the second quarter of game 5 and would not only be done for the series but he will likely miss all of the 2019-2020 season. Golden State was able to pull off the win but in game 6 they would lose Klay Thompson to a torn ACL and that was the final straw.
The Warriors would lose in six games to the Raptors and in the process, they lost two of their best players to significant injuries. With Thompson likely out until after the All-Star break and Durant now gone to Brooklyn, the Warriors have a smaller margin for error.
Stephen Curry and Draymond Green will be relied on heavily along with newcomer D’Angelo Russell. Curry has had issues with injuries in the past two seasons missing over 30 games in 2017-2018 and 13 more during the 2018-2019 season. Green has missed over 10 plus games in each of the past two seasons as well. With Durant gone and Thompson out the Warriors can not have anything happen to those two as they lack the depth behind them.
Western Conference Gauntlet
Despite losing Durant and not having Thompson back until after the All-Star break the Warriors should still be contenders but this season will not be as easy as the past several seasons. The Western Conference become much more talented this offseason and it’s not crazy to think that the top seven teams could all be fighting for playoff positioning on the final days of the regular season.
The Warriors were wise to make the sign-and-trade with Brooklyn to land Russell as several other contenders in the West made splashy moves. The Lakers landed Anthony Davis, the Clippers signed Kawhi Leonard and traded for Paul George and that is just in the Pacific Division. The Jazz added Mike Conley, the Rockets traded for Russell Westbrook and teams like the Nuggets and Trail Blazers made smaller moves to bolster their rosters.
Once Thompson returns the Warriors should have one of the best starting lineups in the league with a core of Curry-Russell-Thompson-Green and either Looney or Cauley-Stein but the challenge will be maintaining playoff positioning until he returns. The Warriors will not be able to take a lethargic approach to the regular season nor will they be able to rest their stars as much as they would like to. However, as long as they make the playoffs and have their main core healthy then they should be a matchup problem for any team they play.