As part of a four-team trade the Golden State Warriors sent five future second round picks to the Portland Trail Blazers and 2020 No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman to the Detroit Pistons. In return they received Gary Payton II who is injured and may not see the court for a month. The Warriors hope Payton II, who won the title with the Dubs last season, can infuse them with the spark they need to get on a run and defend their title. Wishful thinking. The dynasty looks like it’s dead.
It’s easy to romanticize sports dynasties and imagine their players going out on top. But the reality is, the often end amid injury and less than stellar play. Why? Because it’s hard to be the best for an extended period of time. It takes a mental and physical toll. The Warriors are learning that lesson.
You are what your record says you are
The Warriors are 28-28 in ninth place in the Western Conference. They’re only a game and a half out of sixth place, the final playoff spot, and two games out of having home court advantage in round one of the playoffs.
But there are four teams between them and home court and none of those teams will be tanking. So the Warriors are going to have to play above-.500 basketball, which they haven’t all season, and hope that those teams play below .500.
That’s a tall order.
Yes, the Warriors have been injured, and you can argue that once their two-time MVP Stephen Curry is back they can go on a run. Maybe.
Curry is 34, and the best predictor of future injuries is previous injury. He’s dealing with a very tricky lower leg injury that does not offer a straightforward timetable in terms of healing. Not to mention in the games Curry has played the Warriors are only 20-18. Not exactly world-beaters.
Stephen Curry injury update: pic.twitter.com/a7Wtm5t044
— Warriors PR (@WarriorsPR) February 9, 2023
That’s what advancing to six NBA Finals over eight years will do to the body in the modern game. It’s extremely physically taxing and guys get worn down.
Their young wing stopper and athletic forward Andrew Wiggins is also dealing with injuries this season, and his play has regressed from last year’s title form.
Andrew Wiggins is listed as questionable for tonight with an ankle sprain.
Gary Payton II is listed as out with adductor soreness
— Shayna Rubin (@ShaynaRubin) February 13, 2023
Father time catches us all
Still, when he plays Curry remains an MVP-level top-five player in this league. Assuming a younger player like Wiggins can bounce back we are two fifths of the way there.
Championship minted stars Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are both battling Father Time and injuries. Thompson suffered two debilitating injuries and missed all of 2020-21 and more than half of the 2021-22 season. He’s back but not quite what he once was.
Green has the ability to still be the best defender on the floor on any night. Can he consistently ratchet it up for four straight playoff series against the best teams in the league?
That was in question last year and he rebounded and the team won. Can he do it again?
The kids are not all right
The Warriors thought they could extend their title window by keeping Curry, Thompson and Green together and developing their young draft picks in Wiseman, Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga.
That has proved not to be possible. Wiseman, as mentioned, has been dealt, and Moody is not in the regular rotation. Kuminga has shown promise and gets regular rotation minutes. Can he be counted on in the playoffs when you don’t have the luxury of playing weak teams?
Myers said the team examined all angles of the trade with Payton when asked if he though about rescinding the deal. One factor was the Warriors "didn't see a path" for Wiseman to come back and be successful with the team. But, he also called first moving Wiseman a tough decision
— Kendra Andrews (@kendra__andrews) February 13, 2023
The eventual return of Payton II brings a player back who is an elite defender and understands how to play in the team’s read-and-react offense. His corner shooting and cutting will be a welcome sight for head coach Steve Kerr.
Bob Myers said Gary Payton II will be evaluated in a month. He said Warriors hope to get him back "pre-playoffs."
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 13, 2023
But will it be enough?
Jordan Poole had a very good year last year and moments in the playoffs. He’s not playing as well this year. Can he turn it on for the playoffs?
The team moved on from Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica. Their veteran presence seems to be a lot of what the Warriors need right now.
Winning four titles in eight seasons and still having a starting five (Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, Green, Kevon Looney) that has one of the best net ratings in the league leaves room for optimism.
But the Warriors are no longer light years ahead of the competition. Their style of play has been seen and emulated. Their margin for error is not as wide as it once was, and their clear advantages are no longer that.
Could they go on a run and win a title? Sure. Anything is possible.
But given how they’ve performed this year and the injuries it’s not likely. Just like that, one of the great dynasties in NBA history might soon be no more.