SAN FRANCISCO – For the many observers dismissing the Warriors as legitimate championship contenders next season, the man at the top of the franchise has a message:
“There are nine or 10 teams that legitimately have a shot, or they think they do,” Warriors CEO Joe Lacob told NBC Sports Bay Area on Tuesday. “That’s great for the league. And we’re one of those teams.”
The Warriors’ five-year run as a favorite to reach the NBA Finals, and likely win it, is over. The general consensus, based on deductive logic, is that they are not among the league’s top five teams but still have what it takes to be among the top 10.
That’s the direct result of losing back-to-back Finals MVP Kevin Durant (to Brooklyn), trading influential veteran Andre Iguodala (to Memphis), reaching a buyout with reliable third guard Shaun Livingston and losing four-time All-Star Klay Thompson for at least the first half of the season as he rehabilitates his surgically repaired ACL.
The remaking of the roster, with combo guard D’Angelo Russell the prize offseason acquisition, has left only three players – Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Kevon Looney – set to enter training camp Sept. 30 with more than one season as a Warrior.
All of which means the first month or two will be as much about training and measuring progress as actually counting victories.
“By All-Star break, we’re going to see where we are,” Lacob said. “I personally have great faith in our coaching staff and our players. I like any team that has Steph, Klay and Draymond. When you add D’Angelo Russell to that, I’ll take that.
"I don’t know of any other team that has more than two All-Stars, and we have four. From that standpoint, we have a shot to be pretty good by the second half of the year.”
A quick check of the 2019 All-Star game rosters supports Lacob’s statement. Several teams have two All-Stars, none has more. Yet the Lakers’ All-Stars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, are widely considered to be among the league’s five best players. The Clippers’ All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are considered among the league’s top 15, at worst.
The 76ers, however, have four potential All-Stars: Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons participated in 2019, and Al Horford and Tobias Harris certainly have the goods to make the team in 2020.
That the Warriors are down two starters and four of the team’s top eight players has only slightly dampened Lacob’s confidence and ambition.
“When he came here, he chose us,” Lacob said of Durant. “We had three great years. Two championships. Three Finals. He chose, for whatever reason – I can’t tell you because I don’t know, exactly – to do something different.
“So, we had to be aggressive about the transition, more aggressive than we might have been otherwise. We were fortunate to get D’Angelo Russell, a 23-year-old All-Star. And all of a sudden, we still have four All-Stars. Maybe not Kevin Durant, but four All-Stars. And we got younger.”
The Warriors ended the postseason with nine players 28 or older. The current roster has only three players over age 26.
So it’s reasonable to expect trying times – and to believe that, under these conditions, making the playoffs is an achievement and winning a first-round series would be a triumph.
By the time next April rolls around, Lacob himself might see it that way.