Warriors

Warriors' goal next season must be playoffs, not NBA title

Warriors
Steve Kerr talking to Warriors on bench

Each NBA season presents teams and coaches with new challenges. 

For Steve Kerr and the Warriors, this year's challenge was navigating the loss of Klay Thompson to a torn Achilles a month before the start of the season. How do they fill the gaping hole he left with young players? And how do they do that while winning and being competitive in the standings?

Kerr says the goal next season is to "get it done." For the Warriors, that can't mean winning an NBA championship. Not right now. Instead, it's just getting back into the playoffs, which they've missed the last two years.

"As far as being a playoff team, I think we're there, as close as you can be without making it," general manager Bob Myers said Monday.

The Warriors were one win away from making the playoffs this season, so saying they should make it next year isn't a wild statement. 

Thompson will be back. As will center James Wiseman. If those players are healthy, in addition to the emerged talent of Jordan Poole and Juan Toscano-Anderson, the Warriors should have no problem picking up the handful of games they dropped this year and getting into the playoffs. 

But, the bigger challenge is balancing that with the need to continue rebuilding toward a championship-contending team, maintaining a similar mindset they needed this season: How to win now while also growing for the future.

 

Of course, having Thompson back will help the Warriors take a step in the right direction. His impact on the team cannot be stated enough. But, it's important not to assume the Warriors will be right where they left off prior to Thompson's injury when he gets back.

"I want to talk about Klay a lot, but I'm reluctant because I don't want to use that as an excuse. I don't want people to think when Klay comes back, everything is going to be great," Myers said. "As great as he is, and it will help a lot, we have to look at our team and say, Klay will be a huge addition, but there are other areas where we need to improve on, as well."

One of the other areas is the continued development of the Warriors' young guys, such as Poole and Toscano-Anderson, in addition to getting Wiseman back. 

Without question, one of the reasons the Warriors were able to make a final push at the end of the regular season to get the eighth seed in the play-in tournament was the play from Poole and Toscano-Anderson. Their emergence is one of the brightest spots from this season. 

But their development is far from over. And now, the challenge with them is to continue their growth while integrating them next to Thompson.

"I've seen Klay, Draymond [Green], and Steph [Curry] together. You have, too. But I haven't seen them recently, in the last two years," Myers said. "Not only that, but just as there were growing pains this year as new, young players learned how to play alongside Curry, they will now have to do it all over again with Thompson."

As for Wiseman, the challenge is finding ways for him to succeed after a rookie year plagued with injuries and COVID-19 protocols that prevented him from picking up any sort of rhythm.

"To be where we want to be when Klay comes back, we need these younger guys to be pretty good," Kerr said. "You see what Jordan Poole meant to us by the end of the season. Think how much better of a team we're going to be next season with Klay back, knowing that Jordan developed the way he did. So as it relates to James or these two first-round picks or one first-round pick, it's the exact same concept. You want to bring guys along so they can help you."

As I said before, having Poole, Toscano-Anderson and Wiseman next to Thompson, Curry and Green will more than likely lead the Warriors to the playoffs next season. So, the short-term challenge can be considered a success. 

But, in order to achieve the long-term goal of winning another ring, more needs to happen. The Warriors need to flush out their roster with experienced players who can help balance the youth of the players who will be the future of this franchise. They need to find veteran players to take on the roles once owned by Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala and David Lee.

 

At face value, it's easy to say that if the Warriors had Thompson this season, they would have made a run in the playoffs. It's just as easy to say that getting him back will allow them to make it next season. And all of that is probably true.

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But, the Warriors are still in somewhat of a rebuild, and no one player is going to accomplish everything that needs to be done. Golden State is heading one of its most important offseasons in recent franchise history, and both the short-term and long-term success of this team relies heavily on what's done over the next few months. 

"I think it would be arrogant for us having just missed the playoffs to say, 'Hey, we're right there,' " Kerr said. "We're a ways away, but we like the path that we're on. 

"We love the fact that ... we've got Steph and Draymond playing at a high level, we've got young players who have emerged. We know James is going to be better with a year under his belt. We've got a couple of first-round picks, we've got free agency coming up. Most importantly we've got Klay coming back. You throw all that together and I like our chances to make a big leap. But no, we can't sit here and honestly say we're close to a championship because ... we've got to make the playoffs first before we say that."

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