The Golden State Warriors enter the 2019/2020 NBA season with a new look. After five years of dominance, including five consecutive NBA Finals appearances and three championships, the Warriors have turned over their roster and moved home to their state-of-the-art arena in downtown San Francisco as they begin anew.
Some things will stay the same, though. The three members of the original core-Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson-are all signed long-term, providing the franchise with a proven championship-level foundation to build from. Now the question is whether their new teammates can reach the heights of their predecessors. Ultimately that will determine whether the Warriors can reboot their franchise to stretch out their run of dominance, the hallmark of the truly great NBA dynasties.
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The short answer is almost everything. Kevin Durant left for Brooklyn, and Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, the Warriors’ veterans who led the locker room from the very beginning of their dynastic run all the way through to its possible end in June, are gone. Of the team’s supporting cast from the playoffs, only Kevon Looney and Alfonzo McKinnie return, and McKinnie may not make it through training camp.
On the other hand, the Warriors have a host of new, youthful faces to integrate and adapt to. D’Angelo Russell, still just 23-years old, headlines the new youth movement, but Willie Cauley-Stein and Glenn Robinson III are both younger talents looking for a new start. Rookies Jordan Poole, Eric Paschall, and Alen Smailagic join returning second-year guard Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman, picked up in a salary cutting trade for Damian Jones. That’s five players between the ages of 19 and 22. Alec Burks is the only new addition over the age of 26.
With all that turnover, the Warriors may need to make some tweaks to their vaunted system. On offense, the pick-and-roll abilities of Russell and Cauley-Stein will need to be maximized, while the loss of Durant could lead to an enhanced role for Green. His talents will be needed on the other end more than ever though as the Warriors perimeter defense and seamless switching will not be able to survive the change in personnel, especially with Thompson out until at least the All-Star break. The Warriors coaching staff, with a few new faces added in, will have their work cut out.
Best Addition: Russell holds the key to what the Warriors could become. He might already be the Warriors’ best passer, and his ability to create off the dribble and shoot is hugely valuable on a team that has lost three of its playmakers and Durant’s offensive production. If he continues his development from Brooklyn and learns from Curry’s path, the Warriors’ journey back to the top will that much easier.
Biggest Loss: This might feel like burying the lead after a summer in which Durant left, but the loss of Iguodala really changes the Warriors’ whole identity. It was Iguodala who was so vital to the growth of a young team. When he came into the game he brought calm, poise, and an ability to read the floor on both ends like a clairvoyant. Add that to his long track record of stepping up crucial playoff moments, and the Warriors have lost something that simply can’t be replaced.
The Western Conference is tougher than ever, and these new-look Warriors will have to be at their best every night to compete. They’ve got a road-heavy schedule early on which could be an opportunity to accelerate bonding and develop some good chemistry or expose some of the weaknesses on their roster. Thompson is not expected back until after the All-Star break, and then he’ll need a couple of months to really get back to form, so the Warriors are going to have to make it the playoffs largely without him.
There’s also not a whole load of flexibility to improve the team. The Warriors are hard-capped at the “apron” courtesy of the sign-and-trade for D’Angelo Russell. As it stands they can’t add any more players onto their roster until March 3rd. The deadline for signing a player who has been on another team’s roster and still have them be playoff eligible is March 1st. That means unless they waive McKinnie before his deal becomes guaranteed in January, or create more space through a two-for-one trade, they’ll be limited to promoting one of their players on two-way contracts (eg Damion Lee), or bringing in a player from another league, as they did with Andrew Bogut last year.
There will be some tough decisions throughout the year, such as the one they are already facing with training camp breakout Marquese Chriss, but if they want to be able to participate in the buyout market later on they need to keep hold of McKinnie for now.
Team MVP: This is easy: Steph Curry. If the Warriors win 50-plus games, it’s because they’ve got MVP-level Curry dropping 40 points on hapless defenses. He’s already started with a 40-point night (in just 25 minutes) in preseason. That does not bode well for the rest of the NBA.
Best Value: Once again this title goes to Looney. He returned on a three-year $15m deal that was way below the value he created on the floor last season. At just 23-years old he’s already a playoff-tested veteran on this team. With a potentially enhanced role, Looney could be the key to unlocking a new “death lineup” thanks to his switchability and intelligence. If he can hit the odd three-pointer he can become a better version of what Harrison Barnes gave the Warriors during their first title run.
X-Factor: There are plenty of potential candidates here on a roster with so many unknowns. But Willie Cauley-Stein probably has the most immediate upside. He’ll have Green alongside him to keep his concentration and focus up, and Russell to feed him plenty of dunks in the pick-and-roll, but if Cauley-Stein can develop into the defensive presence he was originally billed as coming out of Kentucky, the Warriors might have found their starting center on the cheap.
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Curry and Green remind everyone just how devastating they are together, Russell breaks out, Thompson comes back in decent shape around the All-Star break, and several of the youngsters develop into genuine rotation pieces. The Warriors win 50-plus games, go on a deep playoff run, and set themselves up to contend for several more years.
The increased load on Curry and Green ends up wearing them down physically, Russell’s development stalls out, Thompson remains out until late in the year, and few of the youngsters look like they can be part of a contending team. The Warriors still squeak into the playoffs and sacrifice their top-20 protected first-round pick to Brooklyn, but once there, they are overmatched and bounced in the first round.