The Golden State Warriors won 322 regular-season games from 2014-15 to 2018-19, the most in NBA history over any five-year span. They played in the NBA Finals each of those seasons, joining Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics as the only teams to play for a championship five years in a row. The Stephen Curry-led squad won three championships during that timeframe, of course, and could have easily won five if the injury bug didn’t bite at exactly the wrong time.
Still, that unprecedented level of modern-day dominance only mattered so much coming into 2019-20. Kevin Durant was gone, and Klay Thompson would miss most if not all of this season after suffering a torn ACL last June. Golden State could no longer fall back on “Strength in Numbers,” either, after Andre Iguodala was dealt to the Memphis Grizzlies and Shaun Livingston retired. Barring a stunning and heroic return from Thompson, the Warriors certainly wouldn’t be championship contenders, and in an absolutely loaded Western Conference, even had an outside chance at missing the playoffs altogether.
Golden State’s first three games of the regular season indicated how tenuous its grasp on respectability really was, a reality laid bare on Wednesday night at Chase Center when Stephen Curry crashed to the floor under the weight of Phoenix Suns behemoth Aron Baynes.
The result? A broken left hand for Curry, leaving him out indefinitely, and the end of the Warriors’ realistic postseason hopes.
It’s certainly not hard to find a silver lining for Golden State, though.
Even with Curry and Draymond Green, the Warriors are one of the youngest, most inexperienced teams in basketball. Three unspectacular rookies are in Golden State’s regular rotation, and Steve Kerr has been forced to give major roles to reclamation projects like Willie Cauley-Stein and Glenn Robinson III. Alec Burks, playing for his fourth team since last season’s tipoff, was signed for the minimum, and Omari Spellman and Marquese Chriss were barely hanging on to their NBA livelihoods when acquired by Golden State.
Needless to say, that’s not exactly a playoff-worthy supporting cast. Even in an unlikely best-case scenario, the Warriors still would have been doomed by their utter lack of depth when it mattered most.
Now, absent the pressure of advancing to the postseason, Golden State can fully prioritize the future.
Curry and Green, both beginning the second half of their primes, will be fresher the next time their team is ready to compete at the highest level. Thompson won’t be rushed back from rehab, instead entering next season with a completely clean bill of health. General manager Bob Myers can work the phones in February on a potential Russell trade without concern for immediate on-court fallout.
Most importantly? The Warriors are poised to pick in the lottery of the 2020 draft. If Golden State had finished with one of the league’s 10 best records this season, its first-round pick would have conveyed to the Brooklyn Nets, robbing Myers and company the rare chance to bring in a cost-controlled impact player.
Just imagine how dangerous the Warriors could be next season and beyond with an elite prospect like Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball, or James Wiseman playing next to Curry, Green, and Thompson.
The league is always a better place when its superstars are healthy, and Stephen Curry is among the most popular and exciting players in basketball. He’ll be sorely missed while sidelined.
But long-term, Curry’s injury could very well prove the catalyst behind Golden State regaining its place as an annual title contender sooner than seemed likely otherwise.