With trade and free agency winds blowing stronger than ever in the NBA, there is a legitimate chance we are witnessing a dynasty in decline.
LeBron and Anthony Davis are looking to shore up their finals chances by acquiring the reigning finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard, the Philadelphia 76ers have waved goodbye to Jimmy Butler and bring in a reported “glue guy” in Al Horford, whilst the Brooklyn Nets have taken a longer view to team success, adding both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to a roster expected to contend in the 2020-21 season.
But where does that leave the Golden State Warriors? And where does it leave Stephen Curry in all of this?
There are a couple of ways to look at the situation in Golden State. Rocked by both injuries and criticism of their ability to manage players through them, the Warriors are, for the first time in years, under pressure leading into a season.
Kevin Durant has gone. After snapping his Achilles tendon and, through no fault of his own, all but ruining the Warriors’ chances at coming back in the NBA Finals in the process, Durant has opted to look for greener pastures. Or perhaps a chance to truly make a team his own. How he’ll do this paired with fellow superstar, Kyrie Irving, remains to be seen.
Klay Thompson landed awkwardly on an attempted dunk in the finals and tore his ACL – a twelve-month recovery is on the cards for him to get back and contribute, however knowing the way Klay, carries himself I’d estimate he’ll be looking at more like ten months before we see him back on the court.
Assuming the Warriors make the playoffs, that is.
It’s quite incredible we’re even contemplating the Golden State Warriors missing the playoffs at this stage after the last five years they’ve put together. After pulling a move of their own and acquiring D’Angelo Russell, the Warriors are retooling on the fly, and have made a statement that they may not entirely be done yet. They traded away Andre Iguodala in a move that was as much about bad blood brewing as it was about clearing cap room. In the wake of revelations Iggy had also had an injury misdiagnosed at one point, the Warriors medicos apparently mistook a fracture for some bruising – I had a doctor do that with me once. He diagnosed bruising on an ankle broken in two parts.
He then let me walk home. Great to see he’s found a home with the Warriors medical team.
The Warriors still have Draymond Green, who showed during the playoffs that his run as a top tier defender was far from over. It was his blocked shot late in Game Five, on an amazing defensive rotation, that temporarily saved the series. Or prolonged the agony, perhaps.
But as much as Draymond provides defensively, and as much as Russell may help (assuming the Warriors don’t just flip him in December), there is one man who can hold the fort until his partner in crime returns in time for the playoffs, and perhaps lay to rest some of the criticisms levelled at him in recent seasons.
Steph Curry has to have an MVP season for the Warriors to remain in the 2020 playoff hunt. It does not get any simpler than that.
Often deferring in the last three years, Curry willingly took a back seat as Kevin Durant went about establishing himself as, arguably, the best player in the world.
2015/16 was Curry’s monster year – 30.1 points per game whilst shooting above 50% from the floor, 45% from three, and 90% from the line , Curry put the Warriors on his back and appeared destined to cap one of the greatest seasons in history with a title.
But when it mattered most, the shots didn’t fall, and LeBron James spoiled Steph’s party.
In the eyes of many, Steph couldn’t carry the Warriors, and he sought help to ease the burden. Enter Kevin Durant, and enter the back seat for Steph.
But there is no one else to take the wheel in the coming season, and, perhaps a little reluctantly, Steph finds his way back into the driver’s seat for a Golden State team looking more than a little bit shaky. In the 2019 finals, the team looked old. Old and hurt, and with two pieces of what was supposed to be the nucleus of a championship three-peat gone, more than ever, this team needs Steph Curry to be the player he was before KD landed alongside him.
Does Curry have it in him to elevate his game again? Teams have learned a few tricks when defending Curry over the last couple of years, and with no Thompson or Durant to throw the ball to when in doubled, Steph must know he is going to see two and three defenders whenever he catches the ball off a screen and is forced to take a dribble. Teams will not wait to see who else is left open. They simply won’t care – Draymond is not going to murder them from long distance.
Only Curry can.
They will bump him, bully him and knock him down if he goes to the hole, and we need to see more of Curry picking himself up and nailing his free throws than sitting on the ground pleading for calls if the Warriors are to make something out of what may be the end of their dynasty.
Many have spoken about LeBron James’ ability to carry a team into the playoffs. He did it with inferior rosters in Cleveland before moving to Miami, but even ‘the King’ couldn’t do it last season as his Lakers missed the playoffs – the first time since 2004/05 the NBA post-season was without James.
And whilst there is no question that the Toronto Raptors offence revolved around the skills of Kawhi Leonard, the days of one special player being able to carry a roster seem to be fair behind us.
Can Curry buck the trend?
Some people have mentioned Curry as a second-tier star at times – mainly stupid people, but people nonetheless. They have pointed to his failure to be at his best when his team has needed him the most. They’ve filled column space and podcast hours with rhetoric about Curry’s toughness and his willingness to step up in big moments.
They’re searching for controversy, and if they can’t find it, they create it.
They forget that this is a player that revolutionised the game. They forget that he is a transcendent player, with an unselfish element to his game rarely seen in a superstar. And they forget that it was Curry who put his hand up and carried the Warriors many times in the time before KD landed.
Many have prophesized the end of the Golden State dynasty, and in the wash up, they may be correct. However their speculation plays out remains in the hands of one man.
In the 2019/20 NBA season, only Steph Curry will determine whether this is the beginning of the end for the Golden State Warriors, or simply the end of the beginning.
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