Rudy Gay, respected veteran forward, has a long journey to reach the Warriors’ rotation. And his 37-year-old legs will see that it’s all uphill.
For once Chris Paul’s role is settled and peace comes to the squad, the coaches can begin flexing an element they’ve always believed in but now is more muscular than ever.
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Never at any time in recent years have the Warriors had so much. The “Strength in Numbers” slogan of yesteryear was a simple and convenient way to express confidence in the reserves. It was a gentle tap on the butt of those summoned from the bench.
Never has that slogan rang as true as it does now, as the team prepares for its 10th training camp under coach Steve Kerr.
Signing Gay to a one-year contract, allowing him to compete in training camp, is not as significant as it might have been two years ago, or even last year. How can it be when he might not make the roster, much less become a fixture in Kerr’s rotation?
If Golden State’s starting five – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney – stays in place, as logic would seem to dictate, there is behind them an array of talent the likes of which the franchise has never known. And, for historians, we’re including the 1975 championship team, which had an 11-man rotation, with only All-Star Rick Barry averaging more than 31 minutes per game.
Golden State Warriors
Regardless of how Paul’s pride is assuaged, he is sixth in order of importance to Golden State. Slots seven-through-10 are projected for Dario Sarić, Gary Payton II, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody. That group looms as a solid second unit, though it will be supported with regular minutes from a couple starters, most likely Thompson and Wiggins.
That’s 10 deep for a coach, Kerr, who is most comfortable with a rotation that goes no deeper than eight or nine.
Barring injury or outright ineffectiveness on the part of the second five, competition for the 11th man will be an unusually intriguing subplot once training camp begins next week.
Gay averaged a career-low 14.6 minutes per game with the Jazz last season and 18.9 minutes per game the year before. He would be wrestling at least three others – among them Cory Joseph and Usman Garuba, along with rookies Brandin Podziemski and Trayce Jackson-Davis – for playing time that won’t always be there. If any one of them were to break into the rotation, it would mean there are injuries – or someone has disappointed.
The Warriors like every member of what we will refer to as the Last Five. That, however, is no assurance of any of them getting on an NBA court during the upcoming season.
The previous deepest roster was the 2014-15 group, which had a second five of Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, David Lee, Mo Speights and Leandro Barbosa. As good, in its own way, as the current second unit. More experience but much less youth. Left fighting for garbage time minutes were Nos. 11 through 15: Festus Ezeli, Justin Holiday, James Michael McAdoo, Brandon Rush and Ognjen Kuzmić – each of whom was under 30.
Within three years, all but Holiday were out of the league. The current group could have at least three players still in the NBA in 2026.
What must be noted, though, is that there will be opportunities not only for the second unit but also for those on the far end of the bench. Paul is 38, Curry is 35, Green and Thompson are each 33. Looney only is 27, but he has played every game in each of the past two seasons and likely will get a few nights off. Their workloads will be managed, regardless of new NBA rules designed to curb that.
And then there is the specter of injury. Curry missed 26 games last season. Paul missed 23 and missed 17 the year before. The Warriors realize there is no chance for a championship if these two are not kept healthy and as fresh as reasonably possible.
“Injuries are a part of the game,” Kerr told reporters on Monday. “And there are going to be games where guys are going to miss.”
The 11th man and beyond rarely mattered in years past. Unless the first 10 were compromised by injury, those on the outside were relegated to occasional spot minutes and many nights of watching and learning and cheering their teammates.
This season? They could matter and are they good enough to contribute. The Warriors are short by NBA standards, but they’re as deep as they’ve ever been.