Warriors must prepare to embrace new NBA reality after golden era

Warriors must prepare to embrace new NBA reality after golden era

OAKLAND – After establishing a standard of excellence, the events of the NBA's latest July whirlwind have amounted to, at the very least, a temporary setback for the Warriors.

Kevin Durant’s decision to leave for the Brooklyn Nets – to partner with close friends Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan – along with Klay Thompson suffering a torn ACL that will keep him out most of next season didn’t necessarily apply brakes to the franchise’s rocket to the sports mountain. It did, however, force radical rerouting.

This is the first summer since 2015 that the Warriors are not considered serious contenders to win a championship. As someone who understands ownership is the first step toward competitive advance, CEO Joe Lacob can’t be pleased with the outlook.

The question, then, becomes whether Lacob understands the success/failure cycles inherent to teams in the NBA. The early indication is that he does.

“Joe loves action, in some respects, but not without thought behind it,” president/general manager Bob Myers told NBC Sports Bay Area on Monday. “He wants action with intentions.”

After a frenetic 17 days between the draft and free agency, here are the changes Myers and his front office team are delivering to Lacob and Warriors fans: One top-50 NBA player (D’Angelo Russell), one second-year big man already facing a career crossroads (Omari Spellman), three free agents light on credentials (Alec Burks, Willie Cauley-Stein, Glenn Robinson III) and three rookies (Jordan Poole, Alen Smailagic, Eric Paschall).

The Warriors likely will open the season with those eight players trying to create unity with holdovers Stephen Curry, Jacob Evans III, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney and Alfonzo McKinnie. The hope is that Thompson will suit up sometime after the February All-Star break.

“Joe was actually very supportive of our direction,” Myers said. “He liked the idea of us going younger. He was a little fearful of being an old team in the next few years. But with Kevin’s departure, it pushed us in this direction.

“From Joe’s vantage point, he embraced the emphasis on youth. Once we went with D’Angelo, the idea with all of us, including Joe, – was not to grab some young guys and see what they can do when combined with Steph and Draymond and Klay. Kevon is young, but on this team, he’ll be considered a vet.

“Joe was good,” Myers continued. “Joe’s super competitive, super driven. But he also does support us in our decisions. He’s involved. He’s excited about what’s coming.”

Lacob also is acutely aware that the NBA is stronger now than it was five years ago, and that the Western Conference is downright treacherous. After five years of treating the Pacific Division with the back of their hand and burying their rivals by New Year’s Day, the Warriors suddenly are looking up at the Clippers and maybe the Lakers.

Which bring us back to the subject of ownership being the biggest competitive advantage. The Lakers may be wandering through a purple haze of desperation, hoping to squeeze a championship out of the last active years of LeBron James’ career, but the Clippers are lining up to compete jab for jab with the Warriors.

“They’ve got great ownership,” Myers conceded. “And it’s not just them, it’s the whole Western Conference.”

Perhaps, but only the Clippers have tools at every level to earn respect throughout the league. Chairman Steve Ballmer is Mark Cuban 2.0, every bit as demonstrative but with an air of restraint that doesn’t extend to his net worth, estimated to be between $41 billion and $51 billion – in either case, at least twice the wealth of any other NBA chairman.

Ballmer is in many ways following the blueprint drawn up by Lacob upon reaching agreement to buy the Warriors on July 15, 2010. Like Lacob, Ballmer was accused of overpaying, at $2 billion, to purchase an underachieving franchise. Unlike Lacob, Ballmer believed in his incumbent coach, Doc Rivers. Like Lacob, Ballmer believes his coach is best restricted to coaching; he took away Rivers’ GM powers, hired a real front office and then, as Lacob did, hired Jerry West, perhaps the best talent evaluator in league’s modern age.

And with the additions of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Ballmer and the Clippers now have arranged their own “KD moment,” a seismic makeover that ensures a spotlight of levels unprecedented in franchise history while also making them at least co-favorites to win it all.

“What we’re seeing now and what makes it interesting . . . is the fluidity of the sport,” Myers said. “Everything is moving so fast now. All of a sudden, teams are compiling players that didn’t come up in their system or that they didn’t draft. And those players landed with them through free agency.”

[RELATED: Myers bids farewell to golden era of Warriors basketball]

Here comes reality, and it’s coming fast. The Warriors will, at some point, regain their footing, but next season and maybe more is time for fans, with Lacob at the top, to buckle up.

Klay Thompson believes Warriors win NBA Finals if he doesn't tear ACL

Klay Thompson believes Warriors win NBA Finals if he doesn't tear ACL

The play forever will go down in NBA history. Klay Thompson clutching his knee in agony on the Oracle Arena floor in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals is a sight Warriors fans wish they could erase. 

But it also brings up one of the biggest what-ifs ever in basketball. What if Thompson cleanly finished his dunk attempt with 2:22 left in the third quarter against the Raptors and never tore his ACL? 

For Thompson, the answer to that scenario is an easy one. 

“In my mind, yes, we would’ve won if I didn’t get hurt,” Thompson told The Athletic's Marcus Thompson. “But that’s just the nature of sports, you know? What-ifs? It doesn’t matter. It’s if you do your deed or not. In my mind, I think we would’ve. But you never know. That’s the hard part you’ve got to accept." 

Klay was at his best when he went down. He scored 30 points in 32 minutes in Game 6, and that was just the continuation of a fantastic series against Toronto. Thompson averaged 26 points in five games while shooting a ridiculous 59.4 percent from 3-point range. Catching fire isn't anything new for the five-time All-Star, but this might have been the best version of Thomson anyone has seen. 

He also knows the reality of injuries. While Thompson has been extremely durable for the Dubs over his eight-year career, he has seen stars go down in the past against Golden State on the biggest stage. 

Rehabbing from his own injury now gives him a much different perspective. 

"I look at all the guys who had bad luck getting injured against us the last few years, and I’ve honestly become so much more sympathetic," Thompson. "Yeah. That’s just the nature of the beast.”

[RELATED: Klay should sit out two years, one top knee doctor says]

Despite Kevin Durant leaving in free agency and the Warriors dealing with a whole new roster, Thompson believes the team's dynasty is far from over. But this dynasty, and the future of the NBA, could have looked a lot different with a healthy Klay Thompson in the rest of Game 6 and beyond. 

What-ifs have happened before and they will happen again. For Warriors fans, however, this one will sting for a lifetime.

Warriors' Klay Thompson opens up about Game 6 return after tearing ACL

Warriors' Klay Thompson opens up about Game 6 return after tearing ACL

It was one of the craziest scenes in recent sports history.

Warriors guard Klay Thompson, after dropping 28 points in fewer than three quarters of Game 6 of the NBA Finals, crumpled to ground clutching his left knee. Oracle Arena was dead silent, like a graveyard well past midnight, as Thompson hobbled down the tunnel with Golden State's trainer. Then, like a slowly building tsunami, the worried whispers turned to frenetic cheers as Thompson walked back onto the court to shoot his free throws in order to maintain his eligibility to return for the fourth quarter and help save the Warriors' season. 

Thompson's heroic return to the court, which included him sinking both free throws to give him an even 30 points and jogging back on defense despite president of basketball operations Bob Myers' instructions, has reached folk hero status since it was revealed he tore his ACL on the play.

The Warriors star has gutted through a number of injuries in his career, so he didn't think twice about walking back onto the court. 

“I knew I hurt something, but I’ve just never done an ACL or any type of ligament,” Thompson told The Athletic's Marcus Thompson. “I’ve never torn nothing in my life. So, when I did that, I thought it might have been a sprained knee. Maybe I’d go back … I didn’t even think about it. I just heard that I had to go shoot the free throws and I literally just turned around and walked back like it was …

“Like I had to. I don’t know. It was just something in me that told me to. And, I don’t know, man, it’s The Finals, you know? I don’t want to leave points on the board. Those are hard to get. So many dudes have a whole illustrious career and never even got a sniff of the Finals. I was very lucky to be in that position."

Initially, Thompson didn't think his return warranted praise, but now he sees why it was special to Warriors fans.

“I didn’t think it was that big of a deal after The Finals ended, Thompson said. "But as time goes on and I watch the video and hear the roar of the crowd, I realize it’s a pretty big deal. That’s No. 1 because I think it shows people how much I care, how bad I want to be out there. It showed them that I’m all in with this basketball thing.”

As for jogging back on defense with a torn ACL, chalk it up to instinct.

“I was trying to stay in,” Thompson said. “Not even, like, consciously trying. Just like, my intuition. After you hit a free throw, you just jog back on defense. So I wasn’t really in deep thought or anything about like, ‘Dang this could hurt.’ I just wanted to keep playing. It was Game 6. It was The Finals.”

Thompson's heroics couldn't save the injury-ravaged Warriors as they fell to the Raptors in Game 6 of The Finals, watching their chances at a three-peat evaporate thanks to an injury report that included Thompson and Kevin Durant. 

[RELATED: Exclusive: Iguodala finding it hard to move on from on Dubs]

With the offseason departures of Durant, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, DeMarcus Cousins and Quinn Cook, the Warriors have re-tooled their roster, hoping to extend their championship window while Thompson, Steph Curry and Draymond Green are in their primes.

Thompson will be out until at least the All-Star break as he rehabs his knee, leaving it to Curry, Green and new addition D'Angelo Russell to carry the load in the early going against a Western Conference that got a lot better during the summer.

But once he returns, Thompson and the Warriors once again will be one of the most dangerous units in the NBA.