STATELINE, Nev. – In the rare instances that Charles Barkley blesses the Warriors with a compliment, it usually is grudgingly, words coming out as if he were coerced, or perhaps had lost a bet.
Sometimes, though, his dismissive point of view is valid. That was the case during a recent NBC Sports Bay Area interview with Barkley at the American Century Championship at Edgewood Tahoe Resort.
Asked for his favorites to reach the NBA Finals, Barkley initially said it’s “too early for predictions,” but then gazed into his field of contenders, beginning with the defending champion Denver Nuggets.
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“I was happy for Denver,” Barkley told NBC Sports Bay Area. “Getting a chance to see what the Joker (Nikola Jokic) could accomplish is phenomenal. It was great for the NBA.
“The Lakers have gotten better. There’s going to be some surprise teams. The Celtics are interesting, going out to get (Kristaps) Porzingis.”
Barkley mentioned one more team, the Philadelphia 76ers, adding the caveat that there must be a positive resolution to the James Harden predicament.
One team he did not mention: The Warriors.
Golden State Warriors
Though this could have been an oversight -- Barkley also did not mention last season’s No. 1 overall seed, the Milwaukee Bucks -- but, all things considered, failure to mention the Warriors is as much a clear-eyed view of where they are than his historical lack of respect.
The cold truth is Golden State has a lot of thorny questions to answer before it can officially return to elite status as defined by the four teams that reach the respective conference finals.
Four of their top six players would be at least 34 years old at the beginning of the 2024 playoffs. Draymond Green and Klay Thompson will be 34, Stephen Curry will be 36 and Chris Paul will be 39. Veteran teams can prosper in the playoffs, while old teams tend to get a cruel kick into the offseason.
Are the Warriors a veteran team, or an old team?
Curry missed 26 games last season, Thompson missed 13 and Green, who played through an assortment of aches and bruises, missed nine. Paul, then a member of the Suns, missed 23 games.
Can the Warriors keep the veteran core healthy enough to make a spirited run to the top?
Barkley said he is uncertain whether the new Warriors -- veterans Dario Sarić and Paul in particular -- will easily harmonize with the established core, and he’s not alone in that concern.
Can Steph and CP3, longtime rivals, dovetail their games? Can Draymond and CP3, longtime enemies, form a bond that makes them an effective chapter as teammates?
Will CP3 embrace the role requiring him to come off the bench for the first time in his 18-year career and become the steady, efficient leader the second unit so desperately needs?
These are reasons why oddsmakers do not list the Warriors among the top five teams racing for the NBA championship.
The Warriors say they like what they have -- a justifiable belief with a roster featuring four players bound for the Hall of Fame -- but they don’t yet know what they have.
They only knew enough to accurately conclude that they could not feel good about themselves next season if they had stayed on course with what they had last season.
“I think as far as last year (was) below our standards,” incoming general manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. said last month. “But I think we know what we need to do to improve. Now it's our job to go out and do it.”
The Warriors’ 44-38 record in 2022-23 placed them sixth in the Western Conference and ninth in the overall NBA standings. Their 11-30 road record was 27th in a 30-team league. After wheezing past the Sacramento Kings in a furious seven-game series, Golden State was eliminated in six games by the No. 7-seed Los Angeles Lakers.
Barkley believes the Warriors were fortunate to slip past the pesky young Kings and their head coach, Mike Brown, a former assistant with Golden State.
“I love where the Kings are going,” he said. "Mike did a fabulous job. I’m a big De'Aaron Fox fan. I’m a big (Domantas) Sabonis fan.
“Man, they should’ve won that series.”
When a defending champion built around postseason vets, as the Warriors were last season, survives the first round by squeezing past a team composed mostly of playoff rookies, it’s a sign. The end is coming.
How soon? That’s the question the Warriors will answer next season.
Until then, Barkley is not hating. There is logic behind his belief, as the Warriors have much to prove before they can be declared a top-tier contender for the NBA Finals.