As the flurry of activity that defined this NBA summer ambles toward its end, debating the future of the Warriors continues to run hotter than it has since 2008, when folks argued the merits and potential of Year 2 of the “We Believe” team.
After four seasons during which it was widely accepted that the Warriors were championship favorites, 2019-20 brings fresh intrigue and -- as we’ve learned in casual conversations around the league -- sharp differences of opinion among media members, scouts, agents and others.
One side: If Stephen Curry and Draymond Green stay healthy, they can reach 50 wins. Maybe more. And if Klay Thompson makes a strong return by March, they’ll win a playoff series.
The other side: Anyone putting the Warriors in the playoffs is delusional. Their defense will spring too many leaks, Curry is bound to miss games, they’re too small and the Western Conference is too deep.
Seeking a candid opinion from an informed individual, I reached out to Warriors assistant coach Ron Adams. He’s pragmatic, devoid of BS and, obviously, has a stake in the matter. I dropped some of the outside chatter into his lap.
“I don’t know,” he said recently, chuckling. “I mean, we have a lot of moving parts, a lot of young players. They’re good guys, willing to learn and eager to get better.
Adams is 11 days away from perhaps his most important season as a member of Steve Kerr’s coaching staff. He thrived in his initial role, to coordinate and promote a defensive mentality. His new role means a reduction in game input, with greater emphasis on behind-the-scenes development. His job is to help the kids grow up.
He has a ton of clay to mold.
D’Angelo Russell last season progressed from gifted player to All-Star. What’s next for D-Lo? The Warriors, for the first time under this staff, which has been revamped, will need contributions from at least one rookie, maybe two. Can 7-foot Willie Cauley-Stein become, at age 26, the rim protector in San Francisco he was not during four seasons in Sacramento?
Adams on Russell: “I’ve spent some time with D’Angelo and I find him to be a really charming guy. Intuitively, I really like him as a person. He’s still young, still growing, but I like what I see. He’s going to help us.”
On rookies Jordan Poole, Eric Paschall and Alen Smailagic: “I like all of them. We have a really good crop of gym rats. I don’t think there’s any question Jordan is a pro shooter. He has quick release, can handle and has defensive potential.
"Eric has a chance to contribute this year. He needs to keep working on his shot, but he's got a good vibe. Alen is very dedicated and wants to be good, but he’s pretty green.”
On Cauley-Stein: “This experiment is going to be really interesting. He’s got length and he’s a good athlete. He’s got some developing to do, and I think he knows that.”
On the reserves playing behind Curry, Green, Russell, Cauley-Stein (the presumptive starter) and whomever opens the season at small forward: “Our bench could be a little more dynamic, regarding the ability to score, than it was last season. But stopping people is going to be challenging.”
Adams can be an old-school contrarian, but he enjoys the teaching aspect of his job. That’s one reason for modifying his duties toward that end.
Kerr, on the other hand, takes more of a new-school approach, no doubt because of his own 15-year playing career.
But, yes, both agree that defense is going to be pivotal.
“Nobody knows what we have right now,” Kerr said earlier this summer on the Warriors Insider podcast. “We know what we’ve lost. We’ve lost Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and Klay Thompson. So, from that perspective it doesn’t sound that great.”
Kerr allowed himself a laugh before continuing.
“We’ve got all these young guys and we’ve got to see how they fit together. We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to play, who can play together and what our defense is going to look like. That’s probably the thing I’m most worried about. We’ve had a great, versatile defensive club every year since I’ve been here, and we’re losing so much of that defensive versatility on the perimeter.
"We’ve got a lot to sort through.”
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That’s why there is such fuel to the debate. The Warriors have gone from sure thing to mystery team. Adams and Kerr know what’s ahead, and they understand it will be their most challenging season.
On that point, there is not even a rumor of debate.