Let’s play a game. See if you can answer the following question.
You were the best team in 2015-16 (and mostly the previous two seasons, as well). You broke the NBA record with 73 regular-season wins. A top-three player THEN joins your team, making an already elite unit double-elite. You enjoy prosperity and championships for *almost* three seasons. And then he leaves. What team are you?
Hopefully, you guessed correctly, as the title of this article answers the question. The Golden State Warriors – the once mighty beast of Northern California – might come crashing down back to earth for the 2019-20 season. But – and this is a big but – don’t count them out. The team remains, in many ways, similar to the dominant force they once were prior to the Kevin Durant years.
The Warriors had all the momentum in the world going into the 2018-19 season. The Houston Rockets – a team they barely beat in a tight seven-game series the season previous – had seen pretty serious changes to their roster. There wasn’t really a team out there that looked poised to offer any sort of viable threat to them. And let’s not forget they added a hobbled DeMarcus Cousins during the offseason, as well. Sure, he wasn’t going to be healthy until midway through the season, but the idea that the Golden State roster could get even better than it already was was frightening.
Insert Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors.
Blame the Warrior’s injury woes. Blame Golden State’s medical staff. Blame whoever, really. None of it matters because the Raptors did the unthinkable and beat one of the greatest-assembled rosters of all-time.
This put the Warriors in a very awkward position. If they decided to run it back with virtually the same team, which honestly was the goal, they’d be well over the luxury tax line. They are moving into their new state-of-the-art arena for the 2019-20 season, and rostering the same squad would likely be best for ticket prices, revenue, etc., too.
Realistically, they easily could have been three-peat champions with the ability to run into the following season at full speed. Unfortunately, their best and third-best player went out with season-ending injuries, they lost to Toronto in the Finals, and the future – for the first time in a long time, didn’t look quite so bright.
There were already plenty of murmurings around the league that Durant was going to jump ship and head back East. No one was sure, really, what team he would end up playing for, but the idea of joining forces with Kyrie Irving was definitely a story that had traction.
With everything that could potentially face the Warriors in the offseason (Thompson and Durant’s impending free-agency, Draymond Green’s extension, Iguodala and Looney’s futures), let’s see how they did.
If you have lived under a rock the past three months, then the intro to this article may have ruined something for you. Spoiler alert: Kevin Durant left the Warriors to join the Brookley Nets.
The Warriors offseason didn’t go as the team had hoped. Prior to the season ending, they lost both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson to devastating injuries. Then once free agency opened up, they lost Durant to the Nets. Rest assured, it is never a good thing when arguably the best player in the NBA leaves your team in free agency. Ask the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Warriors’ offseason wasn’t all bad, however. They were able to lock both Klay Thompson and Draymond Green up with long-term deals. They signed Kevon Looney to an incredibly team-friendly deal. They did lose Iguodala, but trading him to open up cap space for the reason detailed below was overall a really smart idea.
For a team that has had about as much good fortune as the Warriors have had the past few seasons, their injury woes coupled with Durant leaving might have been enough to balance out the “scales of fortune”. But, in classic Warriors fashion, they ended up quite a solid return, considering Durant could have left for absolutely nothing. The Nets needed to free up space for both Durant and Irving to join their rosters, so the two teams hashed out a sign-and-trade that would send D’Angelo Russell to the Bay. Yes, the newly crowned All-Star guard.
So it wasn’t enough for Golden State to have a bit of bad luck. The powers-that-be felt they needed to tip the scales back in their favor, so they ended up with quite a bit more than nothing in return for Durant. Sure, Russell isn’t Durant in the least, but KD was leaving regardless, so getting someone as solid as Russell in return for Durant’s departure was a huge win for Bob Meyers and company.
Russell has the potential to be one of the next great guards in Warriors-lore. He was named an All-Star in the Eastern Conference this last season and led the young-and-hungry Brooklyn team to their first playoff birth since the 2014-15 season. His style of play isn’t exactly perfect for Golden State’s system, but he proved his maturity during his tenure with the Nets and will likely be just as coachable (if not more so) for Steve Kerr.
Signing Kevon Looney to the uber team-friendly deal of three years, 15-million was the win of the century. Looney brings a whole lot more to the table for Golden State than a measly (by NBA terms) five million a year. He’s very switchable on defense, he’s a hound for the boards, and he seamlessly fits into the Warrior’s system – both offensively and defensively. Losing Iguodala will likely injure the areas in certain lineups, but retaining Looney might end up being a bigger deal than most realize.
Shaun Livingston is also another piece that Golden State will sorely miss. He’s been huge in leading their second unit and was a key cog in every one of their championships runs the past half-decade.
DeMarcus Cousins – who played a bigger role in the playoffs than most would expect – was also not resigned. He has since gone on to sign with the Lakers, but his season is in jeopardy after tearing his ACL.
Willie Caulie-Stein was an incredibly solid under-the-radar pickup for Golden State. He’ll help bolster their bench unit and will provide high energy on both sides of the floor. He was a key piece to Sacramento’s success this past season, so it’s almost surprising they didn’t try to keep him. He’s very athletic, has a high motor, and loves to compete.
PLAYERS IN: D’Angelo Russell, Alec Burks, Willie Caulie-Stein, Eric Paschall, Alen Smailagic, Omari Spellman, Glenn Robinson, Devyn Marble, Jordan Poole (rookie), Damion Lee (two-way), Ky Bowman (two-way)
PLAYERS OUT: Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Quinn Cook, Andrew Bogut, Jordan Bell, Jonas Jerebko
Golden State – considering the fact that KD might have already been out the door – actually had themselves a decent offseason. Whether or not they’ll be able to stay afloat waiting for Thompson to return from injury is another story. Their success through the first half of the season will rely primarily on Steph Curry’s ability to return back to his MVP form. It’s not that he’s gotten worse, his play has just been severely limited to where it once was the past two seasons while sharing the court with KD.
It will feel a whole lot different. Apart from KD, their core performers the past six or so years remain rostered, but the supporting cast has changed quite a bit. Livingston, Iguodala, Cook, and Bell have all played significant minutes for them, the first two’s tenure dating back to the initial finals run.
If Curry, Green, Looney, and newcomer Russell can help keep Golden State in playoff contention before the All-Star break, the return of Klay will be ever-so-welcoming. This team still has all the tools necessary to win an NBA championship. They can defend, they can shoot, they have solid coaching, and they deploy a system that has been proven successful for quite some time now.
It’s hard to tell just where Golden State will finish in 2019-20, but one thing is for sure. This will be their hardest test yet.
Anytime the best player in the world leaves your team, your offseason grade should start at a D+ and potentially go down. But because Golden State was already next-level before KD signed with them, and also considering they nabbed a young, talented All-Star in Russell, a B grade feels right.
Offseason Grade: B
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