Kevin Durant left last summer and everyone threw the Warriors on the scrap heap. That was before Steph Curry broke his hand and the Warriors sunk to the bottom of the NBA with a 15-50 record.
For over a year now, the Warriors' doubters and detractors have relished in the thought that the dynasty was over. That without Durant in the fold, Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and coach Steve Kerr would wilt back into irrelevancy. The Warriors, however, have spent the past season resting and rebuilding, devising a way to restart a dynasty many hope has been extinguished.
By the time the 2020-21 season rolls around in December, Thompson, who missed all of this season while rehabbing a torn ACL, will have gone 18 months without playing a competitive game. Curry will have played in five over that stretch. The NBA's former Goliath will be healed and motivated to silence everyone who has been dancing on their grave since Durant left.
That's something former Warrior David West has no doubt they will do.
“I think they’re going to be ready to roll, honestly. …You know, I think that they’re going to be in a mode where they’re crazy enough to feel like they’ve got something to prove," West told The Athletic's Sam Amick. "So I wouldn’t be surprised if they literally come back and … just bum-rush the league (with) the kind of thrust that they hit the league with (that’s) similar to what they did when they first sort of started. Because they’re wired that way. They are really wired to be competitive. I mean, (they’re) great guys, but literally some of the most competitive people you’ll ever be around, and willing to work to win, you know what I mean?
"And so, I think (Andrew) Wiggins (who was traded to Golden State in February) will add (something) and he’ll be more comfortable. I thought he played well when he came over. I think with a healthy crew, he fits in and some of the pressure that he was facing in Minnesota, he’s obviously not going to face. But this dude is a former No. 1 pick. He’s a super, super talented guy, and he’s still fairly young, so he’s still in a position to learn and absorb knowledge. And then, they’ve got a top draft pick, so they could conceivably have something really tough, really more developed, I think, in terms of their roster and their team than people are expecting. And then, they’ve got some good young players.
"I really like (Eric) Paschall. I think he’s got the grittiness and the edge. He’s edgy enough to really eek out a spot for himself in the league. So you know, I don’t think that they’re going to be as down as people think. I think because of the way they’re wired, they’re going to come out and try to hit the league, land that first punch to establish themselves as being back in the mix.”
After five straight trips to the NBA Finals, the Warriors' wobbly dynasty was done in by injuries and exhaustion during the 2019 Finals. The Warriors needed a season like this past one to recharge their batteries and chart a new course for the rest of Curry, Thompson and Green's prime.
The Warriors turned Durant's exodus into D'Angelo Russell and promptly flipped him months later for Wiggins and the Minnesota Timberwolves' 2021 first-round draft pick. Kerr spent the past season seeing what he had in certain young players. The Warriors found a good young center in Marquese Chriss and rookie Eric Paschall was the bright light in an otherwise down season.
Curry, Thompson and Green will be at full strength next season, motivated after hearing over a year's worth of talk about their demise.
The Western Conference looks different than it did when the Warriors were last on top. Both the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers have risen to the top after superstar acquisitions. The Houston Rockets still lurk with James Harden and new running mate Russell Westbrook. The Dallas Mavericks led by Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis have one of the most potent offenses in the NBA.
The Warriors will return to a new NBA next season. A landscape that looks much different than when they last lorded over The Association. To them, proven champions, that only means new challenges to prove their historic greatness. A new way to show rumors of their demise have indeed been greatly exaggerated.
[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]