Golden State is probably permanently entrenched as a middle of the pack team. There’s no renovating crumbling support beams around their Big 3 pillars because they are the source of deterioration. All they can do now is continue their reign as the most well-adjusted teammates ever cobbled together in a modern NBA dynasty and ease into their twilight with grace.
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Aside from their dwindling effectiveness, Klay Thompson has been less productive, more ornery than usual, got into a shoving match with Jaden McDaniels that led to Draymond Green putting Rudy Gobert in a headlock, and quick to defend his resumé. Behind the scenes he’s requesting a max contract extension that’s unlikely to come. The franchise already showed faith in Thompson bouncing back from serious injuries five years ago. Expecting that to happen again at 33 as his production declines, and four years after an Achilles tear, is a pipe dream. Thompson appears to have confronted reality during an early 2024 conversation with Steve Kerr.
“Steve [Kerr] and I actually had a great conversation yesterday, and that helped me relax a lot,” Thompson said during his press availability on Jan. 3. “Sometimes I forget just how successful, how lucky I’ve been to be a part of the championship teams, All-Star games and gold medals. You want to get back to that level so badly you can kind of get in your own way. And rather than forcing it, we had a conversation about just enjoying this last chapter of my career, how lucky I truly am to still be playing this game, doing it at a high level and being a better mentor for these young guys and leading by example and having my energy right every game.”
Added Thompson, “We had a great conversation, and that just helped me change my whole mindset and forget about shooting splits, points per game or All-Star games. Just to enjoy being in this Warriors uniform, and appreciate what we’ve built because it’s such a rare opportunity for any professional athlete to be part of so much success.”
That sort of enlightenment had eluded Draymond Green until he got so crotchety, Commissioner Adam Silver had to step in a second time after he inexplicably smacked Jusuf Nurkic in the face not long after he returned for choking Gobert. Green has said all the right things since his suspension was lifted, but his actions over the next few weeks will echo louder.
As a unit, the Warriors’ place in history is etched in stone. Michael Jordan’s Bulls won more titles in the post-ABA merger Association than any other dynasty, but the Triangle offense is no longer in circulation. Kobe and Shaq gave the Triangle a sequel, but those Lakers are always going to be defined by the soap opera that played out in front of our eyes. Greg Popovich and Tim Duncan’s longevity is unparalleled. No core group has ever gone 15 years between their first and last titles.
On the floor, Golden State is the NBA’s Roger Bannister. It took centuries of training and increasingly advanced training techniques for runners to shatter the 240 second barrier. After Bannister rammed through that brick wall, Australian John Landy followed through 46 days later with a world record time. He only held it for three years. Prior to that, Landy’s best mile was running in the 4:02s in six races between late 1952 and March 1954.
“So the four minute mile was an enormous sort of goal to a lot of people, but in my mind it was unlikely that I would run it or anyone would run it.” Landy told World Athletics
Likewise, Golden State’s paradigm-shifting title tilted the NBA from an inside-out game into a perimeter sport. After Golden State proved it could be done, everyone set out to perfect the framework they designed. In the process, they’ve turned an entire generation of hoop heads into the mirror image of their parents asking ‘where did all the jump shooting go?’
The Boston Celtics are the presumptive favorites to return to the Finals and are making more triples than any team in the league. The 73-win Warriors then-record for 3-pointers made broke the previous record by 250 triples. Their historic mark of 13.1 treys made per game that season would rank 13th in the league this season. Golden State is still one of two teams to make more than 1,000 triples in a season at a 40 percent clip or better, but if you stuffed the 2023-24 Knicks into a time machine, plugged it in and dropped them off eight years ago, a Tom Thibodeau coached team would be the most prolific 3-point shooting team in league history. If there’s any consolation, it’s that Golden State recaptured their record last season.
Sam Presti took what Golden State showed the league and added a Voltron of long and rangy playmakers to the formula instead of the iso machines he originally targeted in his first iteration with Oklahoma City.
Steph Curry is obviously the King of the Arc, and eight years later, remains the only player to drain 400 long-distance buckets in a single season. Thompson is a similar caliber of marksman, but provided the defensive cover for Curry to hide defensively. Heading into Wednesday night, Thompson is 647 triples behind Ray Allen in career treys, and along with James Harden, is still on pace to surpass Jesus Shuttlesworth. It’s a milestone he would have cleared already if he hadn’t lost two-and-a-half years to injury during his prime.
Green was the prototype for modern defensive free safeties who could defend slashers in the lane, reject weak attempts at the rim or body up perimeter ball handlers. Green has been the inverse of the Splash Brothers, rejecting more triples than any player since 2013. Green clones have become ubiquitous enough that the pick-and-roll has lost much of its effectiveness, but Green is still the standard bearer, playing with the intensity of a second-round pick on a two-way deal.
Over the past decade, no franchise has been more allergic to utilizing the screen-and-roll for Curry, or isos, than Golden State. Kerr won five titles and the war for basketball’s soul.
If Nike and Tiger Woods can part without acrimony, Golden State can, too. The New England Patriots have been prepping for a separation from Bill Belichick all season. Nick Saban retired. Time waits for no one. Manny Fresh and Juvenile’s club hits are old enough to be spun on vinyl and played on oldies stations.
Golden State has to decide by the trade deadline if they want to scale back and enjoy their classics tour or make one more push with a new cast. Green’s 17-game absence due to a variety of incidents muddies the answer to that question, but the chances of them reaching one last crescendo in 2024 are shrinking by the day