Golden State Warriors’ ‘annus horribilis’ and the end of a dynasty

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It resembled something similar to the end of a Shakespearean tragedy as a defeated Warriors trudged off the court after their play-in loss on 15th April. A series of tragic events throughout the season culminated in a disappointing loss to the Sacramento Kings. Their result? A failure to make the play-offs for just the third time in twelve seasons.

It was alien to Stephen Curry, perhaps the most beloved player of the last decade on definitively the most successful team of the last decade, stating to The Ringer, “It’s a different experience, going to be a volleyball dad next week instead of preparing for a play-off series.” It’s going to be strange for fans as well, so accustomed we have become to seeing the blue and gold of the Warriors take the court in the play-offs.

This season was expected to be a continuation of this, coming into the season as commonly the fourth or fifth favourites for the title amongst NBA writers. Much of the squad was the same as the one that won the 2022 championship, Andrew Wiggins was back from being AWOL for the last 25 games of the previous season and Jordan Poole, who never reached the heights of the 2022 play-off after the Draymond punch, was traded away for Chris Paul. During the season they also had unexpected contributions from their rookie players Podziemski and Jackson-Davis and a breakout campaign from third-year player Jonathan Kuminga. Why shouldn’t they at least make the play-offs?

Yet they didn’t. All they could muster was a tenth-place finish and an exit in the first round of the play-in.

As the players pack from a summer in Cancun, let’s look back at the series of events that led up to this point.

Draymond suspension number 1

The Warriors started off the season with four wins and one loss but by the 14th of November, they sat sixth in the conference with a record of six wins and six losses as they played the Minnesota Timberwolves. Their season needed to get back on track.

Not even two minutes into the game a scuffle broke out between the Warriors’ Klay Thompson and Minnesota’s Jaden McDaniels. A petty scuffle at that, merely some exaggerated shirt pulling; it would work itself naturally. Yet Draymond Green, often the pain in the Warriors’ proverbial arse, had decided to place it upon himself to act as peacemaker. He’d also evidently picked up MMA lessons during the offseason and bless him he just wanted a bit of practice.

Green put his newly learnt MMA skills to work breaking up the fight, Gobert being the unfortunate target as he launched himself into the scuffle, dragging Gobert away around his neck.

Wait, what’s that? Choking players isn’t allowed in the NBA! Thought so. Green was rightfully served a 5-game suspension and in his absence, the Warriors slipped to tenth. Sixth was a dizzying height they failed to reach again.

Much of the squad was the one that won the 2022 championship […] why shouldn’t they make the play-offs?

Draymond suspension number 2

You’re kidding, right?

It appeared Green hadn’t done much reflection during his time on the naughty step, as shortly after his return from suspension he struck centre Jusuf Nurkić in a game against the Suns. This proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Green as the commissioner Adam Silver, left without any other options, suspended Green indefinitely for repeated on-court incidents.

Green’s defense, along with his ability to create opportunities for Stephen Curry, was sorely missed as the Warriors failed to progress past tenth place for the twelve games Green was eventually suspended for.

A test of patience

In a Thursday night game against the Denver Nuggets, Jonathan Kuminga sat helpless on the bench the entire fourth quarter whilst the Warriors blew a lead to lose the game. However, Kuminga, who was having his breakout year and was one of the Warriors’ best players up to this point in the season, should have played in that fourth quarter. Kuminga agreed with this sentiment but unusually, rather than go directly to head coach Steve Kerr to voice his frustration, he went to the media, revealing to The Athletic that he had “lost faith in coach Steve Kerr.” Great, now there was unrest amongst the squad and where there is trouble, a disappointing season follows.

Whether the Warriors would have won the game with Kuminga playing is hard to answer but what this saga did highlight was the Warriors’ lineup problems. Steve Kerr had failed to find a lineup he trusted and that won games, constantly chopping and changing. His preferred lineups lacked athleticism with aging players like Paul and Thompson yet he showed little patience with younger players who, whilst error-prone, added needed athleticism. The Warriors would eventually land on a lineup towards the end of the season but their failure to do so early on ultimately cost them wins.

Thompson’s benchings act as an untimely reminder the Warriors’ core was ageing

A harsh new reality

Klay Thompson is a beloved figure in the Bay area of California, the Warriors’ home. Drafted by the Warriors in the 2011 draft, he has gone on to win 4 rings with Golden State and his prime formed one half of the formidable ‘Splash Brothers’ with Curry. But now 34, his prime had been and gone and he now struggled with consistency, having more nights where his shots would not fall than in previous seasons. He started to be benched down the stretch more and more until ultimately being dropped from the starting lineup for the first time in his career for a game against Utah on 16th February. A tally of 727 consecutive starts ended. Thompson now faced a harsh new reality: he wasn’t the player he once was.

Thompson would ultimately finish the season on 17.9 points per game on 38.7% from three. Not terrible stats, but his benchings throughout the season would leave scars and act as an untimely reminder for the Warriors that their core was ageing. Their chances for one more title decreased as the grey hairs on the team increased.

Failure and Uncertainty

The Golden State Warriors’ season ended in failure, crashing out of the postseason at the first hurdle. This loss also starts a period of uncertainty. With a record-high payroll this season, surpassing $205 million, and a bloated squad, the Warriors have very little room to manoeuvre when it comes to building a title contender next season. Questions also loom about Klay Thompson’s impending free agency and whether to re-sign him. The Warriors now face a dilemma: break up their team’s beloved trio in search of one more title or respect their wishes to stay together, to the detriment of their championship ambitions.

Whatever they choose, the end of an era is near.

Image: nikk_la via Wikimedia Commons

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