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The Golden State Warriors have made it clear they have no intention of trading their young players to win now, but is that the right decision?
After two consecutive years with a postseason appearance, expectations were tempered for this year’s Golden State Warriors. Yet a third of the way through the season, the Warriors have been one of the best teams in the league and look like they could again be a Finals threat. They currently have the league’s best defense, its fifth-best offense, and its best net rating. However, the Warriors do not appear eager to potentially capitalize on their early start, instead prioritizing the distant future over the present.
When Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber helped purchase the Warriors in 2010, Stephen Curry was already on the roster. He was not yet the superstar he would become, but the foundation for the future dynasty was present, waiting to be built upon. While Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were drafted under the stewardship of the current owners, it sometimes feels like the team’s leadership wants to prove that they are as responsible for the team’s success as Curry is.
In the last two years, the Warriors have had three lottery picks, using them to draft James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, and Moses Moody. Warriors management is reportedly particularly enamored with Wiseman, with Lacob calling him “a once-in-a-decade kind of guy,” seeing him and Kuminga as essentially untouchable, the potential cornerstones of a new dynasty once Curry, Thompson, and Green are gone. But Lacob and general manager Bob Myers seem to be overvaluing these young players, seeing them as not only as players who can carry the team into a new era, but a validation of their own judgments, their own basketball savvy.
Do the Golden State Warriors value their future more than their present?
There are reasons to be optimistic about Wiseman, Kuminga, and Moody. Each player was a lottery pick for a reason and each has shown flashes of promise: Kuminga as a versatile defender, Moody as a scorer during his time with the team’s G-League affiliate, and Wiseman as an athletic big who could improve with experience. However, none of these players are ever going to become a player of Curry’s caliber; only a few players in NBA history ever have been. Each, or all, is worth sacrificing to make the most of Curry’s remaining prime.
James Wiseman is the biggest question mark of these young prospects and also the player that Lacob seems most enamored with. The Warriors’ motion-heavy offense accentuates the strengths of Curry, as a shooter and someone who can move so well off-ball, and Green, as a passer. But it also has a learning curve that proved difficult for Wiseman to climb last year. Wiseman often looked lost, slow to recognize what the situation demanded of him. Accordingly, the team played better with him on the bench, and likely would have missed the play-in entirely if he had not missed the end of the season due to injury.
With him only being 20 years old, it is far too soon to panic about his long-term potential, especially considering that he had not played high-level basketball in a year when he first suited up for Golden State. At the same time, it is also too soon for anyone to have the sort of optimism regarding his future that the team’s leadership does.
This is not to say that the Warriors should be shopping some combination of them immediately, but that ownership’s reported refusal to consider doing so thus far is misguided. As players get disgruntled and teams fall short of preseason expectations, the chance to buy low on players who can help the team win a championship this year is likely to present itself.
Stephen Curry remains one of the absolute best players in the NBA. He changes the game and impacts defenses in a way that no one else ever has. In the process, not only can he put up flurries of points on his own, but he also makes life easier for all of his teammates. His presence alone ensures that the Warriors have one of the best offenses in the NBA. However, he cannot keep this up forever. Curry is in his 13th season and turns 34 in March. The time to capitalize on his greatness is now, not several years in the future.
Jerry Krause, the architect of the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s, once said that players don’t win championships, organizations do. There is something to be said about the importance of stability and executives who are smart and willing to spend, but ultimately, no championship is won without great players leading the way. However, Krause’s desire for recognition went so far that he blew up the team after their sixth title, in part so he could rebuild the team his way and prove that he was deserving of more credit than he had received in the past.
Warriors ownership is not threatening to go that far – they certainly aren’t foolish enough to force Curry out of the Bay – though they do appear similarly eager to move into a new future shaped fully by them and not by the greatness of a superstar they inherited. If it works, it will be an unprecedented success. However, in ownership’s desire to be light years ahead, they are at risk of falling prey to myopia instead.