From the spate of injuries to essential stars to hard-cap restrictions to sending a delegation of VIPs to Michigan to celebrate Draymond Green’s college career, illustrating their warm and inclusive support system, it’s a brilliant blueprint guiding the Warriors this season.
The stopgap roster explains the losing, while simultaneously providing a valid response to allegations, whispered or shouted, of tanking.
The hard cap prevents making a bold move for immediate help, so the roster is, pretty much, all it’s going to be.
The trip to Michigan State this week for the retirement of Draymond’s college number is the sort of first-class gesture that makes its way around the NBA. It’s a low-key pitch for future recruiting efforts.
See, we’re doing the best we can! We’re unlucky.
The plan to Make the Warriors Great Again was moving along without a hitch until the past few days, when they comprehensively stunk up joints in Atlanta and Charlotte.
Losing to the Heat last Friday in Miami was expected. The Heat, always combative, have added legitimately gifted players.
What has happened since, however, raises a few eyebrows.
The Orlando-Atlanta-Charlotte-Chicago portion of the road trip might be the softest road stretch in the NBA and surely is the most appetizing the Warriors will see. It’s one limo after another, four in all, taking them to the doorstep of victory. This was the trip during which they would get healthy, win two or three games, and return home still on track to get fat in the 2020 NBA Draft.
For if the Warriors were to come back to the Bay at 6-18 or 7-17, the upcoming schedule would have them still in line for the bottom-three status (based regular-season records) that is the closest thing to a guarantee of getting a top-three pick. The first-, second- and third-worst records have the same odds of getting the overall No. 1 pick.
Once the Warriors get past the Grizzlies and Knicks, they’ll see a spike in the quality of opponents. The next 10 games include the Jazz, the Trail Blazers, the Rockets, the Suns and the Mavericks – all teams on a rail to the postseason or at least at the front of the ticket line.
It only gets harder next month, the Warriors see the Bucks, Clippers, Mavericks, Nuggets, Blazers, Jazz, Pacers, Sixers and Celtics.
The Warriors are assured of seeing teams that will crush them, keeping them on a course to 18 wins, give or take a couple. The kind of defeats that will be both expected and understood.
Losing by four to the Magic while allowing Evan Fournier and Markelle Fultz – you read that right – to combine for 16 fourth-quarter points on 77.7-percent shooting invites skepticism. Losing by 25 to the Hawks is far worse. The last time Atlanta beat an opponent so thoroughly, Mike Budenholzer was the coach and Trae Young was in college.
Then Wednesday night, in Charlotte, the Warriors lost by 17 to the Hornets – Charlotte’s first double-digit win this season – because 6-foot-1 guards Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier combined for 15 3-pointers, many with the closest defender roughly an acre away.
Glenn Robinson III, speaking of Graham’s 10 triples, said the Warriors “just lost him a couple times.” Losing the dude who entered the game trailing only serial launcher James Harden in 3-point makes this season is not unlike losing the game plan. And we believe there was one.
Asked a few weeks ago about the prospect of tanking this season, Warriors CEO Joe Lacob replied as if insulted, telling ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne that “It is against every single thing I and we stand for.”
That’s the scripted response and it is credible. There is no questioning Lacob’s will to win, his desire to dominate, his thirst for champagne in the locker room in June.
This road trip, however, is offering a rebuttal. The final four legs were there to pick up a few wins. But instead, three skeptical losses have ensued. A fourth, against the Bulls on Friday in Chicago, would have been clever a few years ago, when owning the worst record boosted the odds of being first in line on draft night.
But by the rules of 2019-20, it’s not at all necessary to accept a succession of losses that qualify as curious. Their blueprint, as is, will take them where they want to go.