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The Warriors’ fall from glory, explained

Things are getting bad quick for the Warriors.

Stephen Curry looking distraught on the court.
Can this Warriors season be saved?

The Golden State Warriors were always going to be a different team this season after losing Kevin Durant in free agency and Klay Thompson to injury. But 0-2, having not led for a single second through 96 minutes of play, having lost by 19 to the Clippers at home and 28 to the Thunder in Oklahoma City? No one expected them to be this bad.

Why are they this bad? Are they this bad? What’s the path back to some semblance of Warriorhood? Are Stephen Curry and Steve Kerr and Draymond Green frauds? Are their championships tainted? Is this the end of a dynasty? Is this the end of this era of Warriors basketball?

Let’s dig in.

Are the Warriors actually this bad?

Are the Warriors the second or third worst team in the NBA? No, of course not. Golden State ran into a buzzsaw Clippers team on a mission to scare everyone in the opener. The Warriors looked massively unprepared to take a punch from the Thunder on Sunday, and they never recovered once they got way behind. The offense is a total mess with only two plus passers (Curry and Green) and with no one shooting well. The Warriors are trying to play like they always have, with movement of bodies and the ball. They just don’t have the players skilled enough to pull it off right now. The defense is a total mess right now, too. Golden State basically doesn’t have any playable centers, and D’Angelo Russell is an enormous defensive drop-off from Klay Thompson.

But the Warriors do have one of the five best players in the world in Curry, and a top-notch defender in Green, and a top-flight coach in Kerr. That combo, if healthy, prevents this team from being among the worst in the league. These two games are forming a bit of a mirage here.

Beyond Durant and Thompson, how did this team get so depleted so fast?

When Durant chose the Nets, the Warriors had two choices: let him walk or try to maneuver for an asset in return via sign-and-trade. Golden State, already capped out due to massive contracts for Curry, Thompson, and eventually Green, opted to pick up an asset in the transaction. The Nets weren’t going to keep restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell, having also nabbed Kyrie Irving in free agency. So the Warriors got creative and agreed to take back Russell on a fat contract.

But to do that, the Warriors had to cut salary. That meant trading Andre Iguodala and a draft pick to the Grizzlies. (Iguodala is now one of the most sought-after veterans who could hit the buy-out market. Memphis is trying to trade him for an asset before it comes to that.) So to get Russell, the Warriors lost Durant and had to trade Iguodala.

A pricey new contract for Thompson plus the Russell deal had the Warriors looking for other ways to lower the luxury tax bill for this season. One way of doing that was to waive Shaun Livingston, another rotation player for the title runs, to shed some guaranteed salary.

Jordan Bell and Quinn Cook walked in free agency. DeMarcus Cousins, injured again after not contributing much to the Warriors’ 2018-19 effort because of injury, left. Kevon Looney is hurt, and it doesn’t sound good. This is how a roster gets destroyed: a few big slashes and a dozen little cuts.

Why isn’t Russell working out yet?

It’s early. It’s been two games! Be patient.

That said, Russell had one season of success in Brooklyn, and he handled the ball a lot (31.9 percent usage rate, which is star level). That’s going to be different when you’re playing with Curry instead of Spencer Dinwiddie. Sure, Curry co-existed with Kevin Durant. But Durant also plays like a high-usage big man, not a high-usage guard. The impact is just different.

At minimum, there will be a serious adjustment period for Russell to learn how to play with Curry and vice versa. At maximum, Russell’s 2018-19 season was a bit of a fluke and he got paid off a mirage. The truth is probably somewhere in between, and will only be revealed with time and effort.

Smart money would probably bet on Kerr and Curry figuring out how to best use a talented guard, even if it means changing up the offense.

Does Curry need to be more like James Harden given the state of the roster?

I mean, that’d be fun to watch, right? No one knows whether Curry can really do that — he hasn’t played like that since Davidson. To suggest Curry can is to diminish Harden’s gifts and, frankly, Curry’s gifts too. But it’s something that I’m sure a few people within the Warriors front office have thought about.

Will the Warriors miss the playoffs?

It’s possible. The playoff teams from last season minus the Thunder and Warriors all look really good or at least still expect to be. That’s six teams. The Lakers are going to make it. That’s seven. The Mavericks and Timberwolves look game to compete this year. That’s nine. We can’t definitively say after two games that the Warriors are better than any of those teams or even the Thunder. I mean, what would the line on a Warriors-Suns game be right now? It’s possible the Warriors miss the playoffs. Mike Prada wrote all about that possibility before the season began.

If the Warriors miss the playoffs, does that tarnish the legacies of Curry and Kerr?

No. Of course not.

Why not? Take away Durant and Klay and they can’t win ...

You fool, the presence or absence of Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson are not the only variables here. The Warriors are starting Glenn Robinson III and on Sunday gave a start at center to forward Marquese Chriss, who got renounced by the Phoenix Suns and would have been out of the league right now if the Warriors didn’t need bodies. He started on Sunday.

Eric Paschall, a rookie who turns 23 next week, is third on the team in minutes. Rookies Jordan Poole and Ky Bowman have gotten run. Second-year players Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman are getting lots of run, by necessity.

We are not witnessing what happens when you take Durant and Thompson away from Curry, Kerr, and Green. We are witnessing what happens when you strip all veteran talent from around Curry, Kerr, and Green and replace it with D’Angelo Russell on a max deal and a thrift shop tote bag full of uncelebrated youngsters. And you’re still leaving them in a vicious Western Conference where even the bad teams have Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Steven Adams.

If you gave LeBron any leeway at all last season, you have to give it to the Warriors’ legends here. And if you didn’t give LeBron leeway last season, what’s wrong with you, hater?

Is it fair to cheer the Warriors’ demise?

If you are a fan of an NBA team the Warriors tormented in the past half-decade, of course it is fair. And if you are the fan of an NBA team other than, say, the reigning NBA champion Toronto Raptors, your team has definitely been tormented by the Warriors. Relish their demise ...

... for now. Klay will be back at some point, and odds are so will the Warriors. Get those jokes in now before it’s too late.