The Warriors' new reality has been anything but easy for Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Steve Kerr.
This season was supposed to be the Warriors' grand reentrance to the NBA stage, but Klay Thompson's torn Achilles tendon altered that equation, leaving the remaining standard-bearers of the Warriors culture to trudge on without him. The hope for this season was two-fold. The Warriors wanted and planned to contend even without Thompson. They also wanted to lay the groundwork for a true return to contention next season, with Curry and Green helping instill the winning culture into James Wiseman, Nico Mannion and Jordan Poole, giving them the blueprint for NBA success so that they would be ready to play more prominent roles on title-contending teams in the years ahead.
After Monday night's blowout loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Warriors sit at 20-20 and in ninth place in the Western Conference. They are three games back of the six-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, a spot the Warriors would love to capture to avoid the play-in tournament.
As the up-and-down nature of the Warriors' season continues, Curry admitted it has been difficult to both bring the young guys along while also trying to win as many games as possible this season.
"It's tough," Curry said after the loss to the Lakers. "Like you said, there are expectations because we are a championship-winning team and have done it many times in different ways. There's a level of respect to what the Warriors mean now. Like you said, me and Draymond have been there and Klay. We have a lot of different guys that are coming from different franchises or young guys coming from college. It's a tough balance. There's a lot of noise at times.
"But I think for us, at times, we have to stay consistent on what we're asking everybody to do and hold each other accountable to that. We'll get better as the year goes on. I think the last two days, we've shown the highs of what we can do and the lows of what we can do.
"So you can't get caught up in the emotional roller-coaster, but you do have to have a sense of pride about playing hard, playing physical, competing and just being dead-ass exhausted when you walk off the floor because you gave it everything you had and that will, in turn, put us in better positions to win."
The Jekyll and Hyde nature of these mortal Warriors can be seen every night they take the floor and can perhaps best be summed up by the inconsistency of their young second unit.
On Sunday night, Wiseman scored 16 points on 8-of-11 shooting while playing solid defense in an all-around stellar performance against the Utah Jazz. A little more than 24 hours later, the rookie center scored seven points while going 3-for-7 from the field before fouling out in the blowout loss to the Lakers.
Kerr made the decision recently to turn his second unit over the Mannion and Poole, hoping the two young guards, along with Wiseman, would give the Warriors the consistency and explosiveness they'd been looking for off the bench. It also was a decision that signaled to Curry and Green that the Warriors were coming to terms with what this season is. One that Curry and Green fully understand as the Warriors' endgame goes well beyond the wins and losses in a pandemic-shortened season without Thompson.
"I talked to Steph and Draymond before I made this change, so we're in touch all the time," Kerr said. "They understand where we are as a team and what we're trying to do in terms of developing these young guys and giving them these opportunities. We're a team that's up-and-down, but we've been up-and-down all season. One of the reasons we made the change is we're looking for a spark and we'll see if we can get that."
Of course, it's one thing for Curry and Green to understand the Warriors need to develop Wiseman, Mannion and Poole to contend in the future, but it's another to get waxed by 31 points by LeBron James and the defending champion Lakers, showing how big the gap is between where these Warriors are and where they hope to return to at full strength.
Thompson's return will help close that gap tremendously next season. But the success and development of Wiseman (19), Poole (21) and Mannion (20) could be the ultimate determining factor in whether or not the Warriors rise again.
So while the Warriors continue to pair impressive wins with deflating losses this season, the real work is the crash course the young trio are getting in a culture that helped produce three titles and five straight NBA Finals appearances. The hope is that the daily lessons from Curry, Green and Kerr will prepare the young trio to be ready for when the bigger moments arrive.