Steve Kerr staying positive as Warriors look ahead to 2020-21 season


Steve Kerr staying positive as Warriors look ahead to 2020-21 season

SAN FRANCISCO – With Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston no longer on the roster and Klay Thompson rehabbing for perhaps the entire season, the Warriors knew this was going be the most difficult season in at least eight years.

When Steph Curry went down six days after opening night, and was told he’d miss at least three months, the Warriors knew they were destined for horrors beyond the imagination.

Yet the Warriors felt they could be respectable. They had enough decent players to believe they could compete with most opponents and pick a few wins against inferior squads. They’d win once every three or four games.

Instead, they’re winning once every five.

Which means it’s time to change the lens through which the Warriors are viewed. Rather than focus on team results, turn all spotlight toward the things that will matter next season.

Meanwhile, the coaches, as well as mainstay Draymond Green, are seeking new ways to deliver today the same message that we delivered but not absorbed yesterday.

“It’s not easy,” coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday after practice. “The toughest thing is not seeing the results that I believe are coming. When I keep saying ‘Believe it, believe it, believe it,’ and so far, it hasn’t come. It’s frustrating.

“But I’m going to keep preaching what I’m seeing, which is when we’re focused and we play with a purpose and we play together, we could be a pretty good team.”

Kerr’s optimism is sincere.

His conclusion is, um, dubious.

For a Western Conference team to compete for a championship, it requires franchise players. Plural. The Lakers and Clippers both have two. The Rockets believe they have two.

At least one franchise player is required to compete for the playoffs. The Nuggets, Trail Blazers, Mavericks. Jazz, Suns and Timberwolves meet that standard. The Spurs and Kings are making strong cases to be represented in the All-Star Game.

Teams that are “pretty good” generally have one All-Star and also compete for the playoffs.

The Warriors’ best player is Green. At his best, he is the hub of the defense and offense, giving his team an edge at both ends. But Draymond is hurting beyond the usual, and it shows. To use a football analogy, he’s a terrific middle linebacker surrounded by ordinary – or worse – defensive linemen, outside linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties.

Draymond is not making a case to be on the All-Star team, and neither is D’Angelo Russell, whose occasional incredible scoring nights aren’t enough in the West.

The rest of the roster features unaccomplished veterans – Alec Burks, Willie Cauley-Stein and Glenn Robinson III – that appear to be more impressive as citizens than basketball players, and a bevy of rookies and other youngsters out to prove they have a place in the league.

“Considering the circumstances, it’s rough,” said center Marquese Chriss, who falls into the latter category. “We’re in a tough situation. But I’ve been on teams where it’s been worse.”

That was a direct reference to Phoenix, where Chriss spent his first two NBA seasons. The Suns won 24 games in Chriss’ rookie season, 21 the next. They traded Chriss to the Rockets in August 2018, and then proceeded to go 19-63.

Even as those Suns were going through two coaches in Chriss’ first two years, they realized they had a potential franchise player in young Devin Booker. His value was evident, and it gave them an initial building block.

The Warriors don’t have a Booker on their active roster. The closest they have is Russell, now on his third team. Robinson is on his fifth team, while Burks and Chriss are each on their fourth team. The average age for those four: 24.5 years.

That’s a lot of moving in a short time, and with all of them on the same team it’s a lot to expect that team to become “pretty good.” It will get better, because they are pros. It will not get appreciably better because they are not equipped to lift a team to a higher place.

“When we’re looking at the bench, we’re seeing a lot of guys who are really even,” Kerr said. “So, we have to decide on a nightly basis how we’re going to handle this. The way we’ve been trying to handle it lately is if a group is going well let’s stay with that group. We’ll keep going down that road, trying to win a game and see what happens.”

[RELATED: Why Warriors reportedly won't shop Russell before trade deadline]

It’s hard, if not impossible, to stay positive when the same mistakes keep coming. Leaving shooters. Failing to box out. Getting beat on back-door cuts. Sloppy or selfish possessions. And so, so many defenders standing flat footings, arms limply at their sides.

The habits will get better, particularly when all the new faces accept that they are on trial for next season, either with the Warriors are elsewhere. That will result in a few more victories.

The Warriors will take the wins, but this is that season in which they really are paying closer attention to the play of individuals than to that of the overall team. Not until next season will we know how bad, or good, this season was.

Steph Curry among Warriors at Juan Toscano-Anderson's Oakland protest

Steph Curry among Warriors at Juan Toscano-Anderson's Oakland protest

How did Warriors superstar Steph Curry spend his Wednesday afternoon?

He took part in a peaceful protest against police brutality and systemic racism at Lake Merritt in Oakland.

Curry and his wife, Ayesha, kneeled during the protest.

Juan Toscano-Anderson, an Oakland native and Warriors forward, organized the event.

"No matter the color of your skin, where you're from, how much money you got -- it doesn't matter," Toscano-Anderson said to those who gathered. "We're all human beings. We're all here for the same purpose.

"Right now, it's about black people. But for humanity, there's people all over the world being oppressed. We're just trying to take a step in the right direction."

[RELATED: Brees still believes kneeling is 'disrespecting the flag']

Additional members of the Warriors arrived after the walk began.

Protests around the country continue in response to George Floyd's tragic death last week while in police custody in Minneapolis.

What if Warriors had traded Klay Thompson for Kevin Love in 2014?

What if Warriors had traded Klay Thompson for Kevin Love in 2014?

Editor's note: Twice a week, NBC Sports Bay Area will look back on biggest "What If?" moments in Bay Area sports history in our "Hindsight 2020" series. The first installment: What if the Warriors had actually traded Klay Thompson for Kevin Love in 2014?

Klay Thompson permanently has etched himself into Warriors lore over the last decade, using his superior shooting ability to help win, and even save, the Warriors dynasty. Thompson, along with Steph Curry, has given the Warriors a backcourt never before seen in basketball.

But back in the summer of 2014, the Warriors' eyes were on their first title in 40 years, and Thompson's place in the said mission was murky. His standing in the franchise was uncertain when Golden State dangled his services to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a deal for Kevin Love

For Golden State -- who ended up winning three titles in five seasons with Thompson -- Love provided star power that would have validated Warriors' rise. For the pre-dynasty Warriors, Love provided something Thompson has never been: A double-double threat not seen in the Bay Area since Chris Webber. 

Despite never making the postseason to that point, Love would bring an established name to a new ownership group led by Joe Lacob looking to make a statement to the rest of the league. However, the deal got nixed when team consultant Jerry West reportedly threatened to quit if Golden State went through the plan. 

But what if Thompson's talents were traded for Love? What if Golden State gave up on the Splash Brothers too early?

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

For context, the timing of the trade is noteworthy. While the San Antonio Spurs won the title with a modern offense in 2014, the league still put a premium on traditional big men who could roam the paint. In the same offseason, the Washington Wizards signed big man Marcin Gortat to a five-year, $60 million dollar deal.

But more importantly, the thought of adding Love -- a three-time All-Star at that point -- allowed Lacob to get the star power that'd spurned Golden State for years. Love was the prize, and the Warriors were eager to acquire him. 

But for Golden State, it would have made the team destined for dynastic glory merely a solid regular-season team. Spacing was a catalyst for the Warriors' success, and Love was most effective in the paint during his time in Minnesota.

Love's presence would have made Draymond Green expendable. At the time of the trade discussions, Green hadn't broken out as a bonafide starter. That wouldn't happen until the start of the 2014-15 season, only after David Lee was sidelined with a hip injury.

With Thompson off the roster, Curry would not have the necessary spacing or the heat-check partner Thompson provides. Love's defensive deficiencies would drive assistant coach Ron Adams insane. 

[RELATED: Six reasons why Warriors will play in 2021 Finals]

In Minnesota, Thompson would have been the franchise pillar leading a rebuild, a distinction he's never had the opportunity to live up to. But alongside Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad, he'd have little chance of success in his first season.

In 2015, he'd likely be joined by draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns. But as we learned in the Bay Area, Thompson is best served as the second or third-best player on a championship roster. The presence of Curry and Kevin Durant allowed Thompson to flourish on his own terms. On Golden State's stacked roster, Thompson's scoring binges and defense set the Warriors apart from the rest of the league. In Minnesota, his contributions alone wouldn't yield a title.

Trade notwithstanding, both players ended up on the right side of history. Love ultimately was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, winning a title with LeBron James in 2016, beating the Warriors along the way.

Meanwhile, Thompson won three titles in the Bay Area and has become an organizational pillar. The 2014 trade proposal looks preposterous in hindsight. 

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]