Steve Kerr and the Warriors were willing to give up a game Thursday night to make a broader point, and their decision to imperil their chances should be easier to digest insofar as they were not likely to win anyway.
But the undertones both during and after the Warriors were pounded by the powerful Los Angeles Clippers suggested something more. That loss seemed to further open a door already cracked just enough to peek beyond this season.
Signs aplenty pointed to the Warriors pivoting toward the future. There have been other indicators this season, but this was indicative of taking prolonged gaze.
The decision to discipline rookie James Wiseman, whom the Warriors are not reluctant to refer to as a future cornerstone, was about the future. About a 19-year-old being stridently informed that his obligations are not to be taken lightly.
“It won’t happen again,” Wiseman said of forgetting the league-mandated COVID-19 testing and, therefore, not being allowed to join the Warriors in their first post-All-Star break practice on Wednesday.
“This is all part of development as a young player,” Kerr said of Wiseman.
“We’re lucky to have him. We are trying to help him become the player that he can become.”
But there was something else Kerr said during his postgame video conference, that implied the purpose of this season is on veering toward experimenting today in hopes of building a better and brighter tomorrow.
A new second-unit backcourt, with Nico Mannion at the point and Jordan Poole at shooting guard, was unveiled, opening the second and fourth quarters. They were better in the irrelevant fourth quarter than the potentially meaningful second.
But get used to seeing them, with Wiseman, because there is more to come.
“Sure, this isn’t something I’m just going to do for one game,” Kerr said. “I’m going to play those guys together. I like the potential. We got a couple guys who can run pick-and-roll and are really good passers, and we’ve got James diving to the rim. There’s a lot of potential there.
“You don’t just put a group like that out for a game or two and lose faith. You’ve got to give it a chance. We spent the first half of the season playing a second unit that never really got any traction, so it just feels like a good time to try a different tack.”
This is rather like Chapter II of the deliberate reveal of Golden State’s the 2020-21 script, with Chapter I completed a month, when Kerr said, with conviction, that he was “into the long game” and not increasing Steph Curry’s minutes to “chase wins.”
Mannion turns 20 on Sunday. Wiseman turns 20 on March 31. Poole turns 21 in June. They’re much too young to be in win-now mode.
Wiseman’s minutes were going to come anyway, but the elevation of Mannion and Poole means the depreciation of vets like Brad Wanamaker (32), Damion Lee (28) and maybe Mychal Mulder (26). Lee played 11 minutes in the third and fourth quarters Thursday, while Wanamaker and Mulder did not play at all.
Moreover, there was no temptation to play either Wanamaker or Mulder. This was going to be the introduction of the new-age second unit, built not for now but for years to come.
And it showed.
“There are some young guys in that group, so it’s to be expected,” Kerr said. “There’s going to be some struggles. I like the potential. I like the energy that they showed and they bounced back and played much better in the fourth quarter.”
For the purposes of competition, the fourth quarter didn’t matter. For the purposes of 2021 and beyond, maybe it did.
What did matter is that the Warriors understand that their stated pursuit of the No. 6 seed is becoming less realistic with each loss. And this was a night when it was evident they are coming to grips with it.