With the win streak over and the Warriors limping into their sixth losing streak of at least three games, even those few delusional fans must bury their playoff fantasies and accept this season for what it is.
A chance to conduct live auditions for 2020-21 and, perhaps, beyond.
Which is why every member of the brain trust above coach Steve Kerr has spent the last 10 weeks – ever since hearing Stephen Curry would miss at least three months – closely evaluating most of the players on the roster.
As the Warriors sifted through the free-agent market, they sought players willing to sign one-year contracts. If there was mutual interest in a long-term deal, they would revisit that in July. If not, both parties were free.
Getting younger was the priority. If a vet or two could stick, so be it. If none did, they became what sports executives refer to as “tradeable assets” to be moved for “future assets.”
That’s how the Warriors landed upon Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson III and Willie Cauley-Stein (who has a player option for Year 2). The Warriors like all three, to varying degrees, but also realize none may be a part of their long-term vision.
Of the 16 players on the roster – we’re counting two-way players – only four are certain to be on the payroll next season: Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney (health permitting) and Klay Thompson. Only Green has been a semi-regular contributor, playing in 26 of 38 games.
Three more players aren’t far behind: Rookies Jordan Poole, Alen Smailagic and Eric Paschall. They’re young, relatively inexpensive and, for now, considered part of the future. They’re not going anywhere – unless something preposterous develops.
A fourth, rookie guard Ky Bowman has impressed enough that the Warriors have been seeking avenues to keep him beyond his two-way deal that has eight days remaining. He definitely has long-term potential.
And the Warriors, from what I’ve been able to gather, see Omari Spellman as someone capable of sticking.
That’s nine players, and we haven’t gotten to D’Angelo Russell. Where does he stand? The Warriors aren’t putting him onto the sidewalk holding a “For Trade” sign. Unless a team falls in love deeply enough to take a contract averaging $30 million over the next three years, he’s likely to last through the trade deadline and the season.
There are reasons why, 20 days into trade season, the Warriors have not completed a deal, much of it related to their persistent injury problems. They must have at least eight active players for each game, and there have been occasions when they barely met that threshold – and wouldn’t have if a healthy player were on another team.
There has been considerable dialogue, according to league sources, and there is widespread belief there will be at least one move, and probably two.
Which brings us to the other six players, those most likely to be affected.
After Burks, Cauley-Stein, Robinson and Marquese Chriss, there are Jacob Evans III and Damion Lee – who likely will be on the team longer than the other three.
The Warriors are approaching several important dates, the first being Jan. 7, when players under non-guaranteed contracts either get waived or guaranteed. Such is the case with Chriss, who as the primary backup center has started the last two games in place of an ailing Cauley-Stein.
The Warriors believe Chriss, 22, has some upside. He does. They also recognize he makes positive and negative plays (or non-plays) in near equal amounts. Despite publicly supporting his gratuitous shove of Mavericks star Luka Doncic last week, some within the organization were displeased with the outburst, given Chriss’ history of skirmishes.
Waiving Chriss would save about $900,000 but leave the Warriors with Cauley-Stein and, in a pinch, either Spellman or Smailagic at center. Smailagic is 19 and projects as a power forward. Spellman is 22 and projects as a power forward. Draymond is a power forward that, this season, should play center only in case of emergency.
In short, the Warriors likely will find a way to hang on to Chriss and Lee, even if they have to resort to 10-day contracts.
Which brings us back to the three vets signed last July. The trade deadline is 34 days away (Feb. 6), and teams are scouting the Warriors more seriously than in recent seasons because they know the team that has not been active in recent seasons will be this time around.
President/general manager Bob Myers and his personnel staff are facing an in-season challenge like never before. They’ve set a standard that is tough to maintain and are compelled to pursue that level next season.
The moves they make over the next few weeks represent the first step toward getting there.