The Warriors are no longer on top – and they may not have a route back either

TThe detractors of the Golden State Warriors dynasty of the past decade thought the party was over when Kevin Durant left in 2019 after three seasons and two NBA titles. They thought about it again when the Warriors were an awful 15-50 in 2019-20 and missed the playoffs again the following year. But the doubters have yet to be proven right and Golden State put the band back together to win the championship in 2022.

This time around, those waiting for an end to this dominant Warriors era may actually have a point. On Tuesday, Golden State lost to the Sacramento Kings 118-94 in the NBA Play-In Tournament. The game was never close and it was heavy on symbolism. Sharpshooting guard Klay Thompson might the worst game of his career: he went 0-for-10 from the field and put a zero on his scoring line. Draymond Green, the defensive and playmaking wizard, was bullied in the post by King’s Domantas Sabonis. Future Hall of Fame guard Chris Paul had all three points in 18 minutes of action. At the heart of it all was the face of the franchise, Stephen Curry, who scored an impressive 22 points but was unable to carry the entire team.

Afterwards, the coach at the helm of these four Golden State championship teams struck a reasonable but fatalistic note. “This is life,” said Steve Kerr. “This is how it works. You can’t stay at the top forever.”

These warriors are no longer on top. For the first time, they may have no way back.

There wasn’t much to see in 2023-2024. The Warriors limped into the Play-In as the number 10 seed in the Western Conference. In the league’s traditional playoff format, instead of the format adopted a few years ago to quell drama, they would have missed the postseason altogether. They went 46-36 and gradually showed the signs of a team that isn’t quite together anymore. It all came to a head in Sacramento, where the Warriors were outclassed by a solid but unspectacular Kings team.

After the loss, the most immediate question is Thompson’s future. His contract expires this summer. He will be 34 next season. He remains a quality player, but given his age and the hellish injuries in recent years, he is no longer the playmaker he used to be. Kerr says the Warriors “desperately” want Thompson back, and the idea of ​​his final game for the franchise being a zero-point error may not sit well with anyone. But the Warriors’ handling of Thompson marks a dividing point between the past and the future.

It’s not just Thompson. Green will also be 34 next season. Curry will be 37 when it ends. (Paul, who is more of a role player at this stage of his career, will reach his 40s.) Even Andrew Wiggins, the former No. 1 overall pick who has enjoyed a career revival in Northern California, turns 30 in February. Among the stars of this team, Wiggins is a spring chicken. Time is a cruel and consistent beast and it is having a negative impact on the Warriors.

Finding external reinforcements will be a huge challenge. The Warriors have the most expensive roster in the NBA and pay a luxury tax bill for it exceeds the entire payroll of most teams. They have limited flexibility to make changes within the league’s salary cap structure, though their front office can be creative. The upcoming draft is believed to feature one of the weakest incoming classes in years, and the Warriors won’t be picked until the 52nd selection anyway.

skip the newsletter promotion

Where does that leave the franchise? Apparently in purgatory. From a storytelling perspective, it’s tempting to imagine the Warriors determining a logical end point for their legendary group of star players and then splitting the roster all at once. While the team has shuffled around supporting players and even a megastar or two over the years, this Golden State dynasty has always had Kerr, Curry, Thompson and Green. It would be fitting if the team made one or two more attempts with them, then wished them all farewell at the same time and turned to the future at once.

However, it’s unlikely that things will be that clean. More likely, the core of the dynasty is dissolving piece by piece, as it arguably began to do when longtime general manager Bob Meyers resigned after last season. Thompson’s contract is now up, but Curry still has two years left on his contract. The same goes for the deals for Wiggins and Green, but both contracts include player options for one more season. No one can say for sure when Kerr will end it, but it won’t sync neatly with the exits of each of its stars.

It seems foolish to place massive bets on a group that has achieved so much. We can’t rule out the Warriors finding a rabbit in the hat. But the reality is ultimately true for everyone, as Kerr said from the podium after Tuesday’s defeat. The Western Conference has a handful of up-and-coming teams, and the one that knocked off the Warriors isn’t even among the best of them. The most important parts of the Warriors’ battle may stick around a little longer, or they may not. But what they have built is already fading, and it cannot be reversed. The end is just postponed for a while.