`THE LAST CHANCE' ENDS FOR WARRIORS, WHO MUST DISMANTLE FOR CURRY
The dynasty was fun, but Green needs to go and Thompson should be phased out as a four-championship run fades to black — oh, and how many titles were lost after Durant left for two failed superteams?
The acidic end isn’t appetizing for anybody, even those tired of Draymond Green and how he shoved a basketball into the face of Dennis Schroder, who literally kissed it … and somehow was ejected. Consider it one final league courtesy to the Golden State Warriors, who’ve been an entertainment extravaganza in winning four of the last eight NBA championships but now must be dismantled.
It’s sad witnessing the demise of greatness, but the splash has crashed and an expiration date has passed. Stephen Curry will carry on as the shotmaking showman, but it will be difficult even for ultra-competitive owner Joe Lacob to justify more astronomical salary-and-tax checks for a team that is finished contending for titles. The Western Conference belongs to Denver and Nikola Jokic, perhaps for a while, with one last push this month by the cyborg-like LeBron James depending, as always, on the health and psyche of Anthony Davis. Or “Anchovy Davis,” as punned on the marquee of a Malibu seafood shop, where he can eat for free and have the last laugh over Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and those who’ve ridiculed him.
The Warriors? The beloved Dubs? The run was fun while it lasted, with an imprint on basketball and sports history. But realistically, Baby Dray must be coaxed to leave in free agency or a trade after cold-cocking teammate Jordan Poole in the preseason and stomping on an opponent in the postseason like a trampoline, this while Klay Thompson misplaced his shooting touch and should prepare for a farewell next season. All things must pass, in sports and life, and much as lord-of-the-rings coach Steve Kerr lobbies for Green and Thompson to accompany Curry into the future, this is no time for stubborn denial as much as finding someone — Jaylen Brown? — to salvage the remaining seasons of His Steph-ortlessness.
Unlike their dynastic forerunners in Chicago, who still had a title or two left in Michael Jordan’s realistic sights, the Warriors have fizzled out. Kerr used a similar expression to describe this particular group — “This team probably, ultimately, maxed out. … This is not a championship team,” he said after the 122-101 termination loss to the Lakers. They forgot how to win on the road and mysteriously stopped playing defense at disturbing intervals and, predictably, suffered the franchise’s first non-Finals series loss since 2014. But the entirety of the legacy has maxed out, too. They aren’t going to magically retrieve what they’ve lost to age, wear, tear and internal tumult. The grand designs of the celebrated general manager, Bob Myers, haven’t worked out, with an immature Poole unworthy of an ill-advised $140 million extension — an albatross that could kill the organization for years — as part of a junior varsity that hasn’t developed as a bridge to a new era. Myers is expected to leave as his contract expires, as a hot commodity for other teams or media networks. And for all of Lacob’s bluster in once saying his organization was “light years” ahead of the competition, the league has more than caught up to the spaceship.
Curry had tears in his eyes. “Shell-shocked it’s over,” he said. “For us, it’s an opportunity to to take stock of where we’re at. We lost, a hard truth at the end of the journey. No competitor believes that until it’s finally proven we’re not a championship team. I felt it in the fourth quarter with about seven minutes left. Never really felt that from us before. Got to accept it and try to be be better next year … There’s an understanding this is not good and we need to start re-establishing ourselves.”
As what, exactly? Short of sending private overtures to Luka Doncic or Giannis Antetokounmpo — who would command the Golden Gate Bridge and Elon Musk’s dead body in a return haul — Myers’ successor is walking into a stale, musty dive bar that once was the hottest nightclub in sports. That might be Mike Dunleavy Jr., who has been groomed for the gig, while Lacob and his sons make a hard call on Thompson, who is owed $43.2 million in his final season. He’s a Hall of Famer, a Splash Brother forevermore, but this is where heads should overwhelm hearts in decision-making. Brown could leave Boston in free agency, but having entered the whopper-contract realm of the All-NBA second team, he will command beyond $300 million. The Warriors have young but iffy trade pieces in Poole and kids such as Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody — and Green, who has a $28 million player option. For now, Lacob isn’t opposed to offering him a multi-year contract, as reported by The Athletic. Curry, too, is pushing for the return of his longtime partner in championship crime, telling the San Francisco Chronicle on Friday night, “He is a huge reason we are who we are. I know the league is an interesting place sometimes and there’s a lot of moving parts and all that, but we have a lot more in the tank, so we want the opportunity to ride until the wheels fall off.”
Um, they have.
Those who think Baby Dray can pull it together next season at 34 and Thompson can reclaim his reliable self after years of devastating injuries — that’s not sensible. Curry deserves more than sentimentality and wishful thinking at 35. Lacob cannot waste his final seasons and let him languish as a ceremonial jumpshooter. A refresh will be difficult, but bringing back the band isn’t the answer, either. The overhaul starts with Green, already politicking an hour after the loss. While saying he’d like to finish what he started with Curry, Thompson and Kerr — “I want to be a Warrior for the rest of my life,” he said — Green added that his agent, Rich Paul, will fish elsewhere for major offers. He can opt out of or accept $27.6 million next season, but why stay if a team such as the Phoenix Suns — armed with Devin Booker and Kevin Durant — might woo Green with bigger money, knowing new owner Mat Ishbia played at Michigan State before him. Or, after the long post-game hug between James and Green, might the Lakers make a run at him?
Lacob would not be light years ahead of anything but foolishness if he gave Green a long-term deal. Defense and dirty work have been his stock in trade, but he’s just as capable of being counterproductive and messy — see: the Poole punch that set a sour tone for a season. “No excuses. S— happens. If you lose, you don’t go back and blame all these things,” said Baby Dray, again citing the source, apparently never found, who publicly leaked footage of his Poole punch. “I definitely think this team maxed out. It wasn’t a championship team as it stands. We didn’t win it. It sucks. But that’s our reality.
“We lost this year. We’ll be back next year. That does not mean our core changes. That doesn’t mean our core can’t do it again. … But this thing isn’t maxed. We are made up of champions.”
Change the tense to “were.”
And one can’t help but wonder how many more titles the Warriors would have seized if Durant had stayed, after rupturing his Achilles tendon in 2019, and not launched a failed odyssey to two would-be “superteams.” When Green lashed out at him and repeatedly called him a “bitch” during a game early in that doomed season, it broke the team and set his departure to Brooklyn into motion. The Warriors have managed only one title since, while Durant endured the Kyrie Irving disaster in New York before arranging a trade to Phoenix, where he clicked with Booker but continued to suffer injuries at 34. The Suns must retool, too, as Chris Paul grows old without a championship and Deandre Ayton sulks his way into the trade portal.
Will general manager James Jones and coach Monty Williams survive the new vision of Ishbia, who is counseled by Isiah Thomas and various Michigan State buddies these days? Realistically, can a bench that was emptied in the Durant deal be replenished? And can an aging Durant, who managed only eight regular-season games in Phoenix, accept playing second fiddle to Booker, an MVP-level talent now unleashed?
“We need to understand each other on a different level individually and as basketball players, and I think that will come,” Durant said. “So we'll see what happens. Definitely frustrating and disappointing and embarrassing.”
Five maddening years have passed since he won two rings with Golden State. What could have been? For him and then?
For the next two weeks, the Warriors will watch a hypnotic Lakers team that was reconfigured on the run by general manager Rob Pelinka — did they really start 2-10, then reach the West finals with defense and grit? — and since has turned Crypto.com Arena into a celebrity party. Darvin Ham was the right coach and voice. James, at 38 1/2, had one more career statement to make before his son runs off to USC. “I felt like if we ever had an opportunity to upgrade our roster and put some more balance around myself and A.D., I felt like we could make a run,” he said. “And Rob and the front office, they did that. And then it was up to me and A.D. to come through on the moves they made.”
And Davis? Mocked by Barkley and O’Neal on TNT when he took a mean shot to the head and left Game 5 in a wheelchair, the embattled big man is clapping back with truths, eight victories from a championship, which would be a second in four seasons. “We want to shock the world,” said Davis, who had 17 points, 20 rebounds and two blocks in Game 6. “Us starting 2-10, knowing that at trade deadline, we got better. We added new pieces, and the way we were playing, guys came in motivated and want to win. … Not a lot of guys (had) been in close-out games or in this position at all in the second round on our team. They're hungry. They want it, just like me and Bron want another one.
“Now it's time to go get it, unfinished business."
As opposed to the finished business up north. The Bulls expired with “The Last Dance.” The Warriors lost “The Last Chance.”
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.