This isn’t how it ends, right?
Forgive me for thinking that one of the great dynasties in NBA history — a team that has given so much to the game — deserves a better fate. That this great Golden State core of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson deserves a more ceremonious fade. That the Warriors deserved another chance to prove their greatness.
The news Thursday that Thompson tore his Achilles tendon in a pickup game in Los Angeles portends something else.
The injury will keep Thompson out for another year; he missed all of last season with a torn ACL.
And while circumstances will no doubt evolve over that period of time, if the Warriors wait it out and stick with their core three, they’ll enter the 2022 playoff push with Curry at 34 years old, Green with excessive mileage at age 32, and Thompson coming off two unquestionably catastrophic injuries.
Is that a team with enough firepower to compete in a relentlessly difficult Western Conference?
Is this Warriors team without Thompson for another year good enough to allow Golden State to wait and see?
There’s something deeply cruel about this fate.
Whether the Warriors were the true creators of the movement or not, there’s no question that they ushered in a better era of professional basketball. Willing ball and player movement, relentless switching defense, and lights-out shooting from the two best to ever do it, Curry and Thompson, made Golden State a powerhouse that was also a joy to watch. The Splash Brothers were the backcourt envy of the league. So many around the league have tried to replicate their chemistry and success. No one has come particularly close.
The good times weren’t going to last forever. The Warriors were no doubt going to have to work harder than they had worked in a half-decade to go to a sixth NBA Finals in seven years this upcoming season.
Could they still reach those highs from a few years ago? Did they have enough around them? Had age and all those miles caught up to them? Had the league — which has been fully Warrior-fied — caught up to them?
These core three Warriors deserved a shot to answer those questions. To go out and show if championship minds could overcome the inevitable and accelerated degrading of championship bodies.
Now an even greater load is placed on the shoulders of Curry and Green. The NBA playoffs, while limited in the number of games, are so intense that players are effectively fronting themselves minutes from the back-ends of their careers. To contend in the West this season, that duo will need yet another advance, this time in the regular season.
The Warriors will also need Andrew Wiggins to be more than a big-salary placeholder. Whatever his final form is in the NBA, the Warriors need it now. And they’re hoping that’s the form of an All-Star caliber wing.
James Wiseman, the 19-year-old first-round pick the Warriors selected Wednesday with the No. 2 overall pick, won’t receive an easy onboarding, either. To help make up for some of the loss of Thompson, they’ll need production from him right away. On defense, in particular, the Dubs have an immediate need for the rim protection his talent promises. As incredible a shooter as Thompson is, it was his defensive acumen and his ability to guard the opposing team’s point guard, in lieu of Curry, that was arguably just as critical to the Dubs’ title success as his 3-point prowess.
The Warriors will have to approach free agency with a bit more urgency than was already in place, too. Without salary cap space, the Dubs have limited avenues for adding players before the season starts, but they will have to use every one of them and find a few more side streets along the way.
The $17.2 million Andre Iguodala trade exception was supposed to be used to bring in an important depth piece (or two) to augment the Warriors’ core. Now, the Dubs need to use it to acquire a starting shooting guard. That’s a big change.
The Warriors can’t miss with the player they add with their mid-level exception, either. Nor the guys that will join the team on a minimum-value contract — though interest in coming to San Francisco might not be as high given that the Warriors’ title chances dropped significantly with word of Thompson’s injury.
And all of this needs to be done in the next couple of days.
Months — arguably a full year — of planning has gone out the window.
All while this once dynasty’s championship window is likely being shut.
©2020 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)