The Warriors are quietly, subtly but suitably warning their fans that the goal is shrinking, that next season will be about dialing it back, with excitement focused on “where” rather than “who.”
This hardly is what team executives were visualizing over the past 30 months while sinking copious amounts of money and time into Chase Center. They imagined opening the doors to Year 6 of the platinum age, with Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and the rest of a stellar cast established as the most powerful force in the NBA.
A Warriors game in Year 1 at Chase was to be the hottest ticket in American sports, a perfect convergence of brilliant basketball, crackling atmosphere and dazzling backdrop.
Instead, 2019-2020 will be a season of transformation. The loss of Klay Thompson and Durant -- whether temporary or permanent -- as members of the home team forced the franchise to face the mortality of this era and, therefore, pivot toward refreshing the roster.
“Next year will be a totally different approach after spending the past two seasons giving our guys rest,” said one source with knowledge of the team’s thinking. “Now it’s all about bringing these young guys along and throwing them into the fire.”
That explains the two trades on draft night, which resulted in the Warriors moving up in the second round to select teenage big man Alen Smailagic and later moving up again, with an additional pick, to grab Villanova power forward Eric Paschall. Both will join first-round pick Jordan Poole in trying to earn minutes as rookies.
The Warriors want first-year production out of this group. Moreover, they need it.
When president/general manager Bob Myers was asked before the draft what the team’s biggest need was, he dropped a clue:
“Good young players, whatever position they are. Those players have the most value in the NBA. Rookie-contract players that show themselves to have a skill and can play.
"Maybe next year we afford more opportunity for who we pick. Maybe we get a guy who can step in. We will have more opportunity next year. No matter what happens in free agency, we’ll have more of an opportunity for a young guy.”
The Warriors actually wanted to get younger last summer but weren’t able to, partly because young wing Patrick McCaw wanted out, partly because rookie wing Jacob Evans III couldn’t stay in the NBA, much less crack the rotation, and partly because skilled veteran center DeMarcus Cousins surprisingly offered himself at a bargain price and the franchise couldn’t resist.
This time, they don’t have much choice. The original core -- Draymond Green, Curry and Thompson -- still are very much in their primes, between ages 29 and 31, but they don’t have much behind them. The Warriors since 2012 have drafted one rotation player, Kevon Looney, and he’s an unrestricted free agent they hope to re-sign.
Andre Iguodala is 35, with one season remaining on his contract. Shaun Livingston, with only a partially guaranteed deal, has played 14 seasons and might retire.
So, yes, the Warriors have to get younger. And that comes with bumps and bruises.
The Warriors enter this weekend with a lineup that looks like this: Curry and Evans at guard, Iguodala and Green at forward, and Damian Jones at center. That’s the beginning and end of players with guaranteed contracts.
There are no reserves -- not yet -- and none can be identified until rookies and free agents are signed. Though a trade is possible, finding one that will make the Warriors better by opening night would require creative wisdom beyond genius.
With consistent talk about changes beyond the roster, expect changes in the coaching staff beyond replacing former player development coach Willie Green, who is headed to Phoenix. There likely will be new roles for those who remain.
The hopes of January 2017, when Durant grabbed a shovel to join co-owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber in breaking ground at the Chase Center site, have faded from dreamy to practical. Reality beckons, and it’s unforgiving -- though the arena will be magnificent.