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Sobering reality: Warriors will be competitive but not dominate

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Their goal is not to win but to dominate. That’s where the bar was set for the Warriors when Joe Lacob, Peter Guber and their partners bought this neglected franchise 10 years ago this month. After considerable cackling and doubting, they went out and owned the NBA.

Savor those days, because after five consecutive NBA Finals appearances and three NBA championships, the Warriors-own-the-league period is over.

They’ll confront the 2020-21 NBA season from a very different perspective. After a painful tumble from the throne, the Warriors submitted the league’s worst record. And now, assuming good health, the Warriors are among seven or eight teams reasonably considered title contenders. Hardly the championship-or-bust mentality in evidence as recently as two years ago.

Yet the goal remains the same. The Toronto Raptors had 2019, the Los Angeles Lakers 2020. The Warriors so enjoyed those five years being the envy – and enemy – of the league that they want more.

“My role, our role in the front office, is we have to give the players and the coaches enough talent to win a championship,” president/general manager Bob Myers told NBC Sports Bay Area. “That’s our job.”

It’s important to note that Myers did not allow himself the oft-uttered latitude that comes with saying compete for a championship. 

No, he went with the bolder “win a championship."

 

Might the No. 2 overall pick of the draft – or the influx of talent acquired by trading it – be enough to lift them back to favorite status? 

Not likely, as getting there will require overcoming more hazards than it did a few years ago, largely because the Lakers are defending champions. After a seven-year postseason absence, they are back. The Los Angeles Clippers will be more formidable than the “Lob City” bunch the Warriors loved to destroy. The Denver Nuggets are not easily dismissed.

Moreover, the Eastern Conference is much deeper than it was a few years ago, when the Cleveland Cavaliers were penciled into The Finals. The Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics and Miami Heat are all legitimate contenders.

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A different group of Warriors will be confronting a different NBA. No longer are they young and hungry, treating every game as a demand for respect. Those crews did a fabulous job of shoving the old franchise reputation into the storage box of history. The New Warriors were kicking rumps and wrecking franchises (hello, Houston Rockets). The only thing sweeter in sports than silencing past tormentors is sending them away wounded and weeping.

Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson lived for those moments of gratification. Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston didn’t bear the burden of horrid history, but they were delighted in the accomplishments of the “Super Villains.”

And now Curry, Green and Thompson will try to recapture at least some of the magic that made the Warriors so fearsome. They’re going to need more help than they can anticipate from Andrew Wiggins, the team’s newest package of intriguing talent – assuming he remains on the roster.

“It's just it's a different team,” Myers says. “It’s three of the same guys, but we've got some new people, got some new youth, that haven't been there.

“But I'm excited. I'm really personally excited to watch this season, specifically. We've known that we've had a lot – taking away last year – and we’ve had a good sense of what we are.”

Thompson, recovering from ACL surgery, missed the entire 2019-20 season, Curry missed all but five of the team’s 65 games and Green missed 22 games. Wiggins joined in time to play 12 games but only once with Curry and three times with Green.

The familiar faces, which include Kevon Looney, are surrounded by considerable mystery.

“We know we have three guys that played together and, count Looney, maybe four,” Myers says. “But these guys have never played together. Klay has not played one second with Wiggins. And there's guys that have to find their own role. 

 

“We'd like to think, and it's not easy, it’s not going to be easy, it's never easy. That’s what makes it (so) gratifying. We’d like to think we’ve got a shot. And then see what happens. Hopefully, by the end of free agency, we've improved our chances by a few percentage points.”

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This is the reality, and it might come as sobering news to the few Warriors fans casually expecting another trip to The Finals, after a one-year absence. The Warriors, even with the core that exists before trades can be made on Monday, have the goods to compete.

Dominating, however, is another matter. No team since the Celtics of three generations ago has dominated like the Warriors did. The next few months will remind them and their fans how rare that is, and why so few teams know that feeling.