From CEO Joe Lacob to general manager Bob Myers to coach Steve Kerr and his staff to team leaders Steph Curry and Draymond Green, the longtime Warriors are straddling the same line, one foot in cold reality, the other inches above the warm, healing waters of success.
So much for getting what they wanted, which was to emulate the San Antonio Spurs, five-time champs, playoff perennials for 20 years and widely considered the gold standard of the NBA. That dream was wiped away when Golden State went 15-50 last season.
That was supposed to be a one-season blip before regaining health and climbing back to at least semi-elite status. As in, that top-four Western Conference seed that Curry recently conceded was a “best-case scenario.”
Back to chasing that Spurs fantasy.
Instead, this has been a season of exasperation. With a 19-19 record that has them ninth in the Western Conference, a dramatic turnaround will be needed for the Warriors to get as high as a No. 6 seed. This can’t be considered a season of revival.
With the NBA-leading Utah Jazz coming into Chase Center on Sunday, the Warriors face the likelihood of dropping below .500 for the first time at such a late stage of any season in which both Curry and Green were in good health.
“It’s not fun to underachieve,” Kent Bazemore said Saturday. “But it’s part of the journey.”
This is not what Bazemore imagined when he signed with the Warriors in November. Nor is it what Kelly Oubre Jr. visualized when he was acquired via trade around the same time. Andrew Wiggins surely figured he’d come to a franchise set to resume its winning ways after a single season derailed by injuries that left an emaciated roster.
This certainly is not what Lacob anticipated in June 2018, after Myers acknowledged that the years of the Warriors destroying all comers were bound to end.
“I don’t think so, honestly, I do not,” Lacob told Tim Kawakami of The Athletic. “And I tell Bob every day, our job is not to let it end. It may change, just like we changed when we added Kevin (Durant) and (sacrificed) some really good players that won the championship in ’15. So we have to recognize that and be willing to make some changes each year that are required. Some will be of our doing and some will sort of be handed to us.
“What I’d love for us to be able to do is have a Spurs-like 20-year run of being very consistently good and competing for championships, and that’s my job.”
What the Warriors have instead is Curry, in the midst of a wonderful individual season, raising his voice in an effort to fire up teammates on the sideline. They have Green grappling with the emptiness that comes with frequent losing. They have a rotation featuring two rookies, James Wiseman and Nico Mannion, and second-year players Eric Paschall and Jordan Poole.
All of which has Kerr experimenting more than ever, making often futile searches for combinations that produce.
“When you’re developing young players, you have to live with mistakes because there’s going to be bumps in the road for all young guys,” Kerr said. “You have to figure out the balance between how many mistakes can you let a guy play through before you take him out. And you’re trying to keep guys’ confidence, let them play through a few mistakes.
“But you’re trying to win the game, too.”
The winning part has been trickier than expected. With Kerr’s decision to go with Mannion and Poole as the second unit guards, tricky is now expected.
“If it’s going to help us win games, let’s do it,” Green said of the move. “It’s great to see the young guys getting an opportunity. They put in the work, so to see them get the opportunity is great. Now we’ve just got to go and win some games.”
The Warriors will win some games, perhaps even more than they lose. But that Spurs-like run was blown to bits last season, and the 2020-21 team would have to be Super-Villain great to put the old pieces back into place.
“It’s definitely different,” Kevon Looney said of his active experience with NBA mediocrity. “For the first couple years, we didn’t lose a lot of games. Period. There were more ups than there were downs.
“This whole year has been kind of stressful to everybody, just because of the way the schedule is. And not being able to have our fans in the arena. It’s really different.”
Myers was right. The NBA does not allow 20-year runs of good to greatness. The Spurs were the lone exception, and they’ve come back to reality.
Lacob has had to reset expectations. Kerr has had to become more explorative. Curry and Green, well, they’re making acquaintance with a status they’d always hoped to avoid.