SAN FRANCISCO -- Six days before his sixth season as Warriors coach, Steve Kerr sat in front of the just-opened Chase Center with a different mindset than normal.
"We're nowhere close to the top teams in the West right now," he admitted. "We know that, and the goal is to try to get there, but we have a lot of work to do."
A bit more prodding of one of the NBA’s most accomplished coaches did little to quell his sentiments.
"People are expecting because it says Warriors on our chest," Kerr continued. "They're expecting us to be great. We're not there."
Seeds of Kerr's declaration were planted four months ago, when Klay Thompson crumpled under the basket in Game 6 of the NBA Finals with a torn ACL. They sprouted one month later, when Kevin Durant decided to join the Brooklyn Nets, triggering a sign-and-trade that sent guard D'Angelo Russell to the Warriors, who then had to part ways with veteran presence Andre Iguodala.
Those seeds went into full bloom Wednesday night, when Steph Curry broke his hand on the Chase Center floor, throwing the Warriors’ already-uncertain season in peril while making their credo clear: Develop for a year, get healthy and try again with a full roster.
"It forces guys to step up." Russell said of Curry’s injury. “We've got a lot of young guys on the team that will get extra burn and extra opportunity. Just got to step up and take advantage of it."
Over the summer, the Warriors approached the notion of a development season in denial. After Durant's departure, Russell's max contract gave Golden State little room to fill out its roster. Still, the team added eight players, most on near-veteran minimum deals, as it ended up just under the hard-cap apron.
Despite all that, the Warriors’ core leaders -- accustomed to the taste of three NBA championship seasons -- kept the hope that they could continue their run.
"I like it," Draymond Green told ESPN in August. "Being the underdog, it's been a while since we've been the underdog. But it brings that underdog chip back, and I miss that chip."
"I just laugh at it," Curry added one week later. "Anybody can say anything about anything nowadays, and it can pick up steam."
Perhaps the biggest pushback to Kerr's preseason comments came from Green and Curry themselves. Then, over a one-month span, both truths collided.
In the Warriors’ second preseason game, against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Curry scored 40 points, including six 3-pointers, in 25 minutes. One month later, after two blowout losses, Green willed Golden State to a 134-123 win in New Orleans, finishing with 16 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists in a virtuoso performance.
In the second half of Wednesday's loss to the Suns, the Warriors found their momentary reality. After Curry's injury, Golden State's young core showed life. Eric Paschall scored 12 of his team-high 20 points in the second half, and Jordan Poole chipped in nine points, helping the Warriors trim a 34-point deficit to 13 with three minutes to go.
“It's a great opportunity for these young guys to play. It's also a little bit too much,” Kerr said after the game. “You want to bring along rookies as best you can, and we're just putting so much on their plate, but we have no choice with all the injuries.”
At the moment, it's uncertain how long the Warriors will be without Curry. A CT scan will confirm if he needs surgery, but the ensuring timetable will confirm his coach's preseason sentiments.
"Every year is different, and we have to remind ourselves we’re coming off a five-year run where we were incredibly fortunate to have one of the all-time great rosters,” Kerr said then, “and we had a stretch where we won more games than any franchise has won in a five-year span.
“Three titles, five Finals appearances. That's not normal. This is more normal. This is what the real NBA feels like."