SAN FRANCISCO -- For the last five years, the Warriors have had the biggest presence in the NBA.
So far this season, they've lacked presence because they're most important pieces have been absent.
Through four games, the Warriors have missed multiple players at various points. Klay Thompson is out indefinitely as he rehabs from a torn ACL, but expected contributors Willie Cauley-Stein, Kevon Looney and Alec Burks have also missed time. Even as Cauley Stein and Burks returned Wednesday, Golden State announced Looney (hamstring) would miss the entirety of the three-game homestand beginning Wednesday night against the Phoenix Suns, and guard Jacob Evans (abductor strain) would be out at least three weeks.
The Warriors -- longtime kings of the league -- are getting a dose of the real NBA.
Golden State's injury bug came to light on the eve of training camp, when general manager Bob Myers announced Cauley-Stein sprained his mid-foot in a summer pickup game. Over the next three days, Looney, Burks and rookie big man Alec Smailigic went down with injuries, crippling the Warriors' depth.
The timing might be worse than the injuries themselves. In the last six months, the Warriors have lost Kevin Durant in free agency and Thompson to the torn ACL, making way for eight new additions to the roster. A sign-and-trade for talented guard D'Angelo Russell put Golden State in salary-cap hell. Now, with little practice, Burks and Cauley-Stein are entering an unfamiliar environment.
"We have to see where they fit," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said prior to Wednesday night's game. "And it's tough because they've never -- forget playing in a game for us -- they haven't even scrimmaged. We barely know these players, and they don't know their teammates very well."
"It's hard not being able to practice and not really feel like the gel," Cauley-Stein said earlier Wednesday afternoon. "This will be the first time I'll practice with these dudes in a game setting, so it's going to be a lot of learning on the fly.
Burks and Cauley-Stein debuted Wednesday under dire circumstances. Entering Wednesday, the Warriors had been outscored 166-146 in the paint and lost two games by an average of 18.5 points. Once a vaunted defense, the Warriors have toiled to the bottom of the league in defensive rating this season.
"These things take time, and we have to put them out there and let them learn on the floor," Kerr said. "We'll learn about them as well, we'll get some games on film that we can really examine it and see what the best combinations are going forward."
Even Golden State's small victories come with a caveat. In Monday's 134-123 win over the Pelicans, Evans limped out of Smoothie King Center. After struggling to find minutes last season, Evans had finally shown promise.
"A young player who was finally getting some time," Kerr said. "Finally getting some minutes to show what he could do, so I feel bad for Jacob."
As Evans reconciled his latest injury, Looney was disappointed with his latest diagnosis. Though he has participated in pregame drills, Looney is out indefinitely as neurologic specialists try to find the remedy to his hamstring troubles.
"He's frustrated," Kerr said. "We're frustrated for him."
Throughout Golden State's dynastic run, Kerr warned the Warriors could be back in the "real" NBA soon. Now, with the latest injury bug, his words are coming true.