Warriors

Warriors

After years at the top of the NBA, the Warriors spent last season getting kicked in the stomach repeatedly. With Steph Curry and Klay Thompson injured, opposing teams lined up to dunk the former NBA bully's head in the proverbial toilet.

The Warriors' dynasty -- as it was constructed with Kevin Durant -- ended when injuries and exhaustion dealt blow after blow to Golden State in the 2019 NBA Finals. Durant left for the Brooklyn Nets, Andre Iguodala now is on the Miami Heat and the Warriors were left to reconstruct their dynasty around Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green, all of whom will be rested and healthy when they take the court again in December.

Many expect the Warriors to shoot back to the top of the NBA hierarchy. Others poured dirt on their graves months ago. NBA legend Charles Barkley knows a healthy Warriors team will be a lot better, but he's not convinced title-contention is in the cards.

"The Warriors, it depends on what they do going forward," Barkley said Wednesday on a conference call for the American Century Championship. "Obviously, they are going to have a lottery pick. They are going to have a good team. Any time you got Klay and Steph you're going to have a good team. I mean they are the two greatest shooters who ever lived. They are not going to be the same team they used to be because other teams have gotten a lot better. I mean, listen, the Lakers and the Clippers are not going anywhere, the Nuggets got a good solid team. The Lakers and the Clippers are the two teams to beat, not just this year but going forward.

 

"As far as the Warriors, man they are going to be competitive because of Klay and Steph. Draymond is a good little player. But the rest of the stuff is out. The rest of the jewelry is out on the rest of that team."

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

After going an NBA-worst 15-50 this season, the Warriors will have a top-five pick in October's 2020 NBA Draft. They also will have a $17.2 million trade exception with which to add a veteran piece to a team that already has a nucleus of Curry, Thompson, Green and Andrew Wiggins.

A wobbly dynasty will have had close to 18 months to rest, recuperate and recalibrate. Thompson will not have played a game in 18 months by the time he sees the floor again. Curry will have played just five games in that span.

Five consecutive runs to the NBA Finals will wear on any team. The Warriors felt the burden of their dynastic greatness last June, as Curry and Green watched their run end with Thompson and Durant injured and unable to help them complete a three-peat.

[RELATED: Draymond, Warriors won't kind motivation in winning without KD]

The Western Conference has gotten a lot better since then. Of that, there is no doubt. But the emergence of the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers as legitimate title contenders doesn't mean the Warriors' road back to the title has been closed. The conference simply is more difficult than when they last conquered it. The best champions create their own path to greatness. That's the quest that lies ahead for the Warriors.

"The jewelry," as Barkley put it, is gone. But you can always go shopping, and general manager Bob Myers has a number of ways in which he can improve a team that will enter the season with a legitimate shot at the title.

The NBA's bully might not look the same, but it will rise again in December. Rested and rejuvenated with a new task at hand. Proving their demise was greatly exaggerated.