SAN FRANCISCO – One night down and one more to go before Thursday night, when the rest of the NBA officially declares open season on the Warriors.
They’re coming, and there will be nights when the Warriors can’t do a darned thing about it.
This is the season for which the rest of the league has been dreaming. After being bullied for five years, they realize the Warriors are more vulnerable than they’ve been since the 2011-12 season -- the last time they missed the playoffs -- and want their piece of the franchise that has enjoyed more June champagne than any other since the Shaq-Kobe Lakers at the turn of the millennium.
So much ferocity is coming the Warriors' way, and the 2019-20 Warriors can’t reply with Kevin Durant or Andre Iguodala or Shaun Livingston. And they can’t assume they’ll have Klay Thompson.
With 70 percent roster turnover, leaving Steph Curry and Draymond Green surrounded by two familiar faces and a platoon of newbies, the Warriors are taking a break from greatness.
So, what is a reasonable expectation for this season?
A win total in the mid-40s, if Curry and Green are healthy for at least 75 games.
Golden State Warriors
And if they don’t, it’s a sub-.500 finish and a bullet train to the lottery.
Why such a dire forecast? Four reasons.
Defense is severely compromised
When the Warriors were ruling the world, their championship fabric began with defense. On those nights when the shots weren’t falling at the usual clip, the defense would turn into Seal Team Six, annihilating offensive actions, with Green leading the way.
Thompson and Iguodala were among the 10 best wing defenders in the league, each capable of guarding at least three positions. Durant was spectacular when fully engaged, terminating shots at the rim with dispassionate precision. Big Andrew Bogut was a defensive master.
D’Angelo Russell, Glenn Robinson III, Alec Burks and Jacob Evans III are your new wing defenders. The rub is that Evans, who rarely played as a rookie last season, seems to have the most credible defensive presence.
There is no replacement for KD because KD is irreplaceable. Kevon Looney is a trustworthy defender but not a rim protector. Willie Cauley-Stein is all of 7-feet but has no history of swatting or discouraging shots in the paint. The hope is that Marquese Chriss, a fabulous athlete who earned the final roster spot, can merely make a difference.
If Russell makes an effort on D, the Warriors will accept it. If not, Draymond will have his head.
Curry’s prison walls
Curry’s scoring brilliance and the lack of attractive alternatives has resulted in folks suggesting he’ll have a clear path to his third MVP award.
Um, no. Rarely at any time, in any game, will Curry have a clear path to anything.
Any coach whose defensive game plan doesn’t focus on Curry to the relative disregard of all other Warriors should find work in another profession. Teams are going to feed Stephen such a steady diet of gimmick defenses, he might wish for 40 minutes of Patrick Beverley.
Because he’s such a determined competitor, Curry will have some wonderful games. Maybe a lot of them. But he’ll spend the season operating behind so many arms and hands and forearms and elbows that it will all feel like prison walls.
Youth, youth, youth
No less than a third of the team’s rotation will come in the form of Evans, who played 204 NBA minutes last season, and rookies Jordan Poole and Eric Paschall. The Warriors have no choice but to rely on all three, with the hope of seeing consistent development.
Evans appears ready to log minutes as a point guard off the bench. His defense is solid, his smarts real and his shot is improving.
Poole is ready to score at the NBA level. His slight frame (listed at 6-foot-5, 195 pounds) and the other parts of his game are, well, trying to reach that level.
Paschall, a brawny 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, is physically ready to hold his own inside. He’ll grab some rebounds and hit a few shots.
As for the third rookie, Alen Smailagic, he missed the entire preseason and will spend the next few weeks trying to catch up.
When asked over the weekend if he likes being among the last teams to open the season, coach Steve Kerr said he does because for this roster every hour of practice is appreciated.
Youngsters are going to make mistakes. It’s part of the process.
Read between the lines
The Warriors know the vast margin of error they’ve enjoyed these past few years has expired. Curry and Green are chasing the playoffs because they know some don’t think they’ll get there.
But listening to players and coaches, they accept that this season is not an extension of the last five but the first of the next three or four.
For the first time since Kerr arrived in 2014, players and coaches are talking about “teaching” and “patience” and “surprising people” and the need to “learn from mistakes.” There is, after all, a reason the Warriors now have a 10-man coaching staff.
This season is dedicated to developing a roster that can make another run to the top, maybe as soon as next season. That’s when the Warriors can add another star. That’s when there will be no questions about Thompson's readiness.
That’s when one can assume the Warriors will make the playoffs, exact some vengeance on those who punished them this season and get back to the business of chasing titles.