1. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors, more than any team in the NBA, are at a crossroads. They are a season and a half removed from winning an NBA championship but are no longer among the elite teams in the league. Golden State made the playoffs as a 6-seed last season and eventually fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in the West Semis.
Now, many people aren’t sure the "Dubs" can make the West Play-In.
Stephen Curry (35), Klay Thompson (33), and Draymond Green (33) are not getting any older. Of the three, only Curry is still playing at an elite level. Thompson has struggled with his shot and has lost a couple of steps defensively. Draymond Green can’t seem to keep himself out of controversy.
Green’s recent indefinite suspension won’t help the struggling Warriors who are currently 11th in the West. Six of their losses to date have been by 3 points or less. Golden State’s offense isn’t an issue. They can’t guard a traffic cone as a team right now.
In addition, Warriors ownership owes so much money to players under contract over the next three years that it would make Shohei Ohtani blush.
Despite all of that, the Warriors are only 2.5 games out of a Play-In berth and 3.5 out of the sixth seed. The problem is that this is a Golden State organization that has bigger goals in mind – championship or bust. The Bay Area has been accustomed to winning.
Simply qualifying for the Play-In for this organization, with that payroll, and lofty fan expectations isn’t good enough. It reminds me of another historic and successful franchise about 30-some years ago.
The Boston Celtics of the 1980s were among the best teams in NBA history. They were led by arguably the best frontcourt in league history – Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. The Celtics won three championships during the 80s and played in two other NBA Finals.
The late Hall of Famer Red Auerbach made the most masterful moves to put the Celtics in a position to maintain success into the ‘90s around a soon-to-be aging core. Auerbach somehow acquired the No. 2 pick in the 1986 draft and drafted Len Bias – who was supposed to be the next Celtics great.
Bias tragically passed away days after the draft. Meanwhile, the Celtics core was aging but the team remained among the Eastern Conference’s elite teams. Auerbach was able to add young wings in Reggie Lewis, Kevin Gamble, and Brian Shaw.
After losing in the 1987 NBA Finals to the Lakers the Celtics won 57, 42, 52, 56, and 51 games but didn’t get past the conference semis. Bird retired after the 1992 season. Lewis, Parish, and McHale led the Celtics to 48 wins and the playoffs in 1993. They lost to the Charlotte Hornets in the first round.
Lewis tragically passed away that offseason. McHale retired. Parish left the year after. The Celtics were done as contenders.
The Warriors as we know them seem to be experiencing a quicker fall from grace than the Bird-era Celtics. Klay Thompson is a free agent and could even be traded this year. Who knows when Draymond Green will be back? Andrew Wiggins has regressed dramatically. Chris Paul, while effective, no longer moves the needs for a team at 38 years old.
I don’t envy Warriors GM Mike Dunleavy, Jr. Either he finds a way to retool around Curry, or watch the Warriors fall into the same fate as the ‘90s Celtics – irrelevant for years to come.