When small things run into big things, big things usually win. Even if the small thing is as lithe and agile as Steph Curry. Last night, in a game against the Phoenix Suns, there was Golden State’s Curry getting tangled up with Aron Baynes on his way to the basket.
The result of that collision? A sore wrist for Baynes, a broken hand for Curry.
The Warriors were already looking like hot garbage to start the season. A team I felt was going to win the title before the pre-season began has steadily watched things get worse. Klay Thompson isn’t likely to return, despite the fact he’s a basketball playing cyborg, Curry wasn’t waking up and hitting 50 in his sleep, Draymond Green didn’t have another offensive gear, the bench... well, the Golden State bench is as awful as expected.
With a historically brutal defense (72 points to the Suns at the half?), the Dubs were facing more of an uphill road then I, or maybe anyone expected. Most prognosticators had the Warriors at least fighting for a final playoff spot. Now, even if Curry misses the six-to-eight week minimum, it seems very likely that Golden State has dug themselves a hole too deep to escape — even if Thompson does walk through that door in mid-Ferbruary.
“Cool story, Conor,” you say. “But this is a Raptors blog, so what’s the deal?”
I’m getting to that.
The deal is, the Curry injury, given the Warrior’s awful start, might be the best thing that could have happened by the Bay, and it could present Toronto with another massive roadblock in Masai Ujiri’s quest to build a dynasty.
The simple math is this: David Robinson’s injury + 1997 Draft = Tim Duncan.
The Robinson injury let a good, not great Spurs team crater, grab a player that a team of their baseline talent never should have got their hands on, and sparked a twenty-year run of championship level basketball in Texas.
These Warriors could do the same thing, albeit a lesser version. That means teams like Toronto, even if they are as in the mix for “free agent Giannis,” as reports say, could face another huge obstacle to getting back on top of the mountain.
Now, let me be clear, the 2020 draft class does not, right now, profile to have a dominating player in the mold of Duncan. The names you see on top of most mocks are LaMelo Ball, James Wiseman and Anthony Edwards — these guys are not likely to be stars, and I’m by far the first one to say that.
Here’s the thing though, the Warriors don’t need stars — they already have three. Those ‘97 Spurs couldn’t boast that. What the Warriors do need is a dynamic young player with the highest floor. Think non-freshman who lead teams like Michigan State, Villanova, Gonzaga.
If the Warriors can find a star? That’s terrifying, but all Golden State needs here, to create a long-term headache for the rest of the league, is to grab a Brandon Clarke, or a Danny Green, or a Jonathan Issac.
The Warriors don’t have to risk their high pick on the big-upside, big bust type of player that can either bring a team to glory (Curry), or set them back a decade (Jonny Flynn). The Warriors can look for this year’s Clarke (and there are always a couple), the kid with one or two elite skills, whose basketball IQ means they’ll be able to contribute right away as a complementary piece. Sometimes, as is the case with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, you realize that you got a star anyway.
It also makes the plan for the year very simple. Keep Curry out as long as possible. As a small guard with injury problems who’s unafraid to venture into the trees, don’t waste a single mile on those tires on this lost season. Keep Thompson out all year too. Klay will hate that, but the goal is to take zero risks now. Start Willie Cauley-Stein at centre — don’t make Draymond spend all year banging with behemoths. Oh, and manage Dray’s minutes. Get him load management days.
In short, wave the white flag, finish in the bottom five of the league, and get the young, cost-controlled, valuable piece you won’t be able to get any other way. It’ll suck in the short term for fans of the Warriors, and the basketball viewing public who want to watch the absurd show Golden State has consistently put on over the years, but this is the business, sadly.
All of that creates problems for the Raptors in 2020-21 and beyond. The Warriors can spend all of this year allowing their young players to grow by tossing them into higher usage roles and seeing who can thrive or at least survive. Those guys are your bench next year. Add it to Klay-Dray-Steph and whoever you take with that Top-5 pick and suddenly you have the skeleton of the type of team that won two titles without Kevin Durant.
Suddenly for Masai, the dream of Pascal Siakam and Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t look like an incredible luxury, it looks like a necessity (or Bradley Beal, or Karl Anthony-Towns or... you get the idea).
The injury also hurts the Raps in the here and now. It’s long been rumoured that the Warriors would be open to trading their big free-agent acquisition D’Angelo Russell. Russell was basically a Thompson placeholder — keep the Warriors offense humming well enough that the Dubs stayed in the hunt until Klay could come back — move to the sixth man position and in the playoffs be the multi-faceted offensive release valve that keeps teams from doing what the Raps’ defense did to them in last year’s Final.
Now? Russell is a piece they don’t need. In fact, he’s a piece that could hurt them, if, as lead guard, he’s effective enough to keep the Warriors only bad, instead of awful. Trading Russell when he’s eligible in a couple of months makes tons of sense — and that means that if Ujiri ends up deciding that Kyle Lowry is most valuable as a trade piece, his partners have one more elite-ish level asset they can consider, possibly driving down prices, or taking some suitors off the market entirely.
It could even push Masai away from dealing Kyle at all — great for Rap’s fans souls, but strategically, who knows?
The NBA is a league filled with tough breaks. The worst are the literal ones that happen to someone else, that become a metaphorical one for your team.