Fresh Take Friday: Why the Warriors will be Fine once Steph, Klay, and Draymond Move On

One of the most entertaining parts of sports is dynasties. Fans may hate when their team feels like they couldn’t win in the postseason as long as they had to face the 2000s New England Patriots, the 1990s Chicago Bulls, or even the New York Yankees in the 1950s and 60s, but dynasties are great for sports and their ratings. The NBA owes so much of its popularity to Dynasties, as the reason the NBA was able to become the global sport it is today is due to the Lakers and Celtics in the 1980s and the previously mentioned Bulls led by Michael Jordan throughout the 90s, however when talking about NBA dynasties, it’s impossible to miss the run the Golden State Warriors have been on since the 2014-2015 season. Since the beginning of that season the Warriors have made the finals six times (including five straight from 2015-19 and the ongoing 2022 finals), won three championships, and have seen their all time point guard Steph Curry win back-to-back MVPs (including the NBA’s only unanimous MVP in 2016), and having the best single season win-loss record of 73-9 in 2016.

Unfortunately for the fans of dynasties, all dynasties must come to an end at some point. Players will either become old or injured or seek larger contracts elsewhere, coaches and general managers can enter a power struggle or retire, or a new dynasty emerges as the new top dog, and the Warriors are no different. Many NBA fans saw the loss to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 finals, coupled with the departure of Kevin Durant and the injuries of Klay Thompson as the beginning of the end of the Warriors dynasty, and the injury riddled Warriors finishing the 2020 NBA season with a league worst 15-50 record as reassurance that the glory days of the splash brothers and the dominant playoff runs as over. Even though the Warriors made the play-in tournament in 2021 it seemed like they couldn’t recapture the magic as Lebron James and the Lakers eliminated the Warriors before they could even make the playoffs. Since then the Warriors have put the league back on notice, making an incredible run to the finals in 2022 and are currently favored to defeat the Boston Celtics before the beginning of the series. This renaissance in the Bay Area has made many fans realize that as long as the Warriors have the core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, they can compete for a championship, but taking a deeper look into this Warriors roster begs the question? Can they still be contenders once those three move on with their careers?

The trio of Curry, Thompson, and Green will undoubtedly be hall of famers and remembered as some of the greatest players of the modern era of basketball. The trio have spent their entire careers with the Warriors and have led the team to three championships, six finals appearances, and the all time single season wins record, and their individual accolades are just as impressive. The trio have combined for two MVPs, one defensive player of the year award, 17 all-star selections, four first team all-NBA selections, four second team all-NBA selections, and four third team all-NBA nods, among other achievements. The trio are also ages 34, 32, and 32, respectively, and will likely be retired or at the very end of their careers within the next five years, and perhaps not even playing for the Warriors anymore, and they definitely won’t be the first option on a championship team, but the Warriors may still be competing for championships.

At a glance, this seems like an absurd take, as the Western Conference is filled with young stars such as Ja Morant, Luka Doncic, and Devin Booker, while the main contributors for the Warriors are older than 30. But the first factor that will keep the Warriors playing in April and May for years to come won’t be a player, it will be head coach Steve Kerr. Kerr has the fourth best win percentage of all time by a head coach (68.2%), his players love playing for him, and he knows what it takes to make it to and win a championship. Kerr is also only 56 years old, which may seem old at first as the NBA is seeing new coaches being hired in the age range of 35-45, but Gregg Popovich is currently 71 years old and many coaches across the big four professional American sports have seen head coaches be in their late 60s and early 70s before they even consider retirement. The Warriors will not be showing Kerr the door anytime soon, barring anything drastically unforeseen happening, so Kerr will be able to continue to build the Warriors in his image for at least another decade.

The second key to the Warriors being able to compete is their youth. The Warriors have a roster loaded with youth with players like Jordan Poole (age 22), James Wiseman (21), Moses Moody (20), and Jonathan Kuminga (19), who have all been contributors in their run to the finals in 2022. To start, Jordan Poole has emerged as the long awaited third splash brother, and has been on a run to remember during these playoffs. Poole has averaged 18.4 points, 4.5 assists, and 3.2 rebounds while shooting 39.3% from three and 53.1% from the field while averaging 30.1 minutes per game. Poole has not only been statistically great, but he has quickly become one of the most beloved players in the league among fans. Poole has taken a huge step in his third year in the league and will likely be a centerpiece on the Warriors for the next five to ten years. James Wiseman was the second overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft, and in his rookie season Wiseman was able to post 11.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 0.9 BPG while shooting 51.9% from the field. The seven footer missed the entire 2021-22 season with injuries and won’t be playing in the finals this year, but he was a number two overall pick for a reason and the Warriors should be excited to get him back fully healthy in the fall. Wiseman may not have put up the best stats or made either of the rookie teams but it is important to remember he was only 19 years-old while putting up those stats. The league may have forgotten about Wiseman but the Warriors held off on trading Wiseman for another older player who could have helped them win games right now, so there is confidence surrounding Wiseman within the organization.

Poole and Wiseman are the two obvious players that stick out as the current Warriors who could carry the roster in a post Steph-Klay-Draymond era, but the aforementioned young talents of Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga will be much more crucial for the Warriors’ future. At 19 and 20 years old Moody and Kuminga are the youngest two players on the Warriors roster and both have been able to show promise during their rookie campaigns. During the regular season, Moody only averaged 4.4 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 0.4 assists, but he also only averaged 11.7 minutes per game. During the playoffs (from the first round to the Western Conference Finals) Moody has averaged 4.3 points, 0.9 rebounds, and 0.4 assists, while only averaging 10.4 minutes per game. So what has Moody done to prove he can handle a larger workload? In a Monday night game in March against the Denver Nuggets, Curry, Thompson, and Andrew Wiggins were all sidelined with injuries and Moody was able to step up. Moody started the game and logged 22 points in the first half, the most by a Warriors rookie since Steph Curry, and finished the game with 30 points scored in 36 minutes. The most points ever scored by a teenager in Warriors history, and the most minutes logged for the Warriors that night. It may be an incredibly small sample size, but being able to shine when given the opportunity is the most important thing for any player trying to find their place in the league and Moody is incredibly young. With a lengthy and strong build for a shooting guard and the ability to shoot 36.4% from three, the Warriors should be excited for a future including Moody.

As for Jonathan Kuminga, he finds himself in a similar situation to Moody. During the regular season, Kuminga averaged 9.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 0.9 assists in 16.9 minutes per game. He contributed more than Moody, but still was not a primary option for Golden State, and Kuminga has also seen a minimized role during the playoffs. From round one to through the conference finals, Kuminga has been cut down to 10.8 minutes per game, while falling to 6.9 points per game, 2.2 rebounds per game, and 0.7 assists per game. However Kuminga was also able to put together a solid night when the Warriors played the Raptors on December 18th without Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, and Green. This time it was Kuminga who was given the most minutes, also playing 36, and putting up a career high. Kuminga was able to score 26 points while shooting four of six from three point range and recording one rebound, two assists, and two steals. In his 12 games as a starter this season, Kuminga recorded 12.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.4 assists while seeing 24.1 minutes in those games Kuminga started. Once again, Kuminga has a small sample size but he has also been able to capitalize when the spotlight is the brightest. 

While a young core of Moody, Kuminga, Poole, and Wiseman may not have a bona fide young superstar, the Warriors have more talent aged 22 or under than arguably any other team in the league. Golden State was able to capitalize on having lottery selections over the past two years and that coupled with Kerr at the helm for the future gives the Warriors a chance to be competitive, but there is one more factor working in the Warriors’ favor: The salary cap. Looking forward to the 2022-23 season, Curry will have a cap hit of $48 million, Thompson will have a cap hit of $40 million, and Green will have a cap hit of $25 million. These three will eat up a combined $113 million of a $122 million dollar salary cap, and a luxury tax threshold of $149 million. Assuming that those three are off the books in the next five years, and the warriors don’t give max extensions to their players aged 22 and under, they will be able to bring in at least one player on a supermax deal to compete with those four, without even counting the $33 million Andrew Wiggins will be getting paid next season on the final year of his deal. The NBA is also the perfect league to have that money available in. Player mobility is at an all time high, and the Warriors could look to trade one of their aging stars or expiring contracts with picks to bring in a young star who could look to be on the move in the near future. Names like Zion Williamson and Donavan Mitchell have already been rumored to potentially be looking for a new home if their current team fails to meet their demands, and the Warriors will undoubtedly be one of the top destinations for players searching for a fresh start. This is also speculation based on what we know today. Over the next two to three years it is impossible to know which stars may become upset with their current teams and look for a swap. A year ago it would have been seemingly impossible to imagine Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant not being on the Nets or the Suns and Deandre Ayton being so far apart on a contract extension. The NBA is truly unpredictable and it would not be a shock for the Warriors, who have been one of the most well-run and professional sports teams over the past ten years, to try and capitalize on an opportunity to keep contending for another decade.

Leave a Reply