The Golden State Warriors were eliminated from the 2023 NBA playoffs Friday at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6, and it was a historic loss for the team. It was the first time the Warriors had lost a West playoff series in the Steve Kerr era, and snapped Golden State’s record of 28 straight playoff series with at least one road win. It was also the first loss for the team in the Kerr era when Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson have played in every game.
All those streaks ending, along with Golden State’s aging roster and salary cap considerations, have many wondering if this is the end of the road for the Warriors dynasty. In the modern NBA where stars change teams frequently, the Warriors were a rare franchise showing consistent brilliance. The team went to six NBA Finals since Kerr arrived in 2014, beginning with five straight and then returning last season. They won four, and came a few shots and injuries away from potentially having six.
There were some lean years in between, and there was reasonable doubt across the league and internally as to whether the Warriors would ever get back to the Finals after the run from 2014-19. Green was aging, Thompson had gone through two major injuries and the fringes of the roster weren’t developing as expected. However, the Warriors were able to endure and rise from the depths of the league to the top of the mountain. Will they do it once again after this playoff exit?
We’ll take a look at the reasons for optimism and concern surrounding Golden State’s future, the key decisions the franchise has to make and what the most likely outcome will be.
Reasons for Optimism
Everything here starts and ends with Curry. He’s remained one of the best players in the league despite entering his late 30s and his game should age well. Curry has improved as a defender and his 50-point Game 7 against the Kings showed he can turn things on to another level.
The Warriors did win a title last year, and exiting the playoffs the following season would be no reason to overreact. Curry and Andrew Wiggins missed significant stretches during the season, which never allowed Golden State to gel entering the postseason. The Warriors went 44-38 despite Curry missing 26 games and Wiggins missing 45. Golden State still has one of the best homecourt advantages in the league, posting a 33-8 mark during the regular season in San Francisco.
The historic series loss to the Lakers came because of a rare decline in production across the board. Everyone had a down series at the same time, and this roster was not equipped to handle that type of drop.
Curry posted 49/38/83 shooting splits against the Kings. Those splits were 44/34/88 against the Lakers. Thompson had 43/36/88 splits against Sacramento. Those splits were 34/38/83 against LA. Wiggins and Green were slightly down offensively as well. Despite these down numbers, the Warriors were a few solid minutes in Game 4 away from tying this series at 2-2 instead of going down 3-1.
Reasons for Concern
The road struggles were real for the Warriors. Golden State went 11-30 on the road this season, ranking 28th in road defensive rating. The rest of the teams posting similar defensive metrics were tanking.
The turnovers are also concerning. Golden State ranked dead last in the league in turnovers per game during the regular season, averaging 16.8 per game. The Warriors had 96 turnovers in seven games against the Kings (13.7 per game) and 82 in six games against the Lakers (13.67 per game). Part of this is due to Golden State’s fast-paced offense which is built on ball movement but the players were extremely sloppy too often. And these Warriors were not equipped to overcome that like previous teams.
The fouls tell a similar story. The Warriors were 28th in personal fouls committed per game during the regular season at 21.4. They also drew the least personal fouls per game in the league at 18.4. That problem wasn’t as evident against the Kings, where the fouls were 159-158 in favor of Sacramento. The Warriors committed 139 fouls against the Lakers, who only committed 97 on Golden State. Once again, this roster was not equipped to handle this gulf like previous iterations.
Even the most optimistic outlook of Golden State shows a team that is unlikely to defend well on the road, unlikely to cut down on turnovers and unlikely to stop fouling at a high clip. The key is whether they can go from near the bottom of the league to slightly below league average, and that’s hard to tell with an aging core and young players on the fringes.
The front office has also attempted to thread the needle with two timelines, and it could cost them. Moses Moody has become a rotation player, which is about in line with expectations for a player taken in the middle of the first round. Jonathan Kuminga went in the top half of the lottery, and he couldn’t get any time in the playoffs. That’s a big concern when it comes to his development. The James Wiseman pick remains a debacle and the Warriors may have conceded too much in the trade, but they cannot do the same if they decide to move on from Kuminga. And then there’s Jordan Poole.
Poole was rewarded for his growth last season with a four-year, $123 million deal and some additional money through incentives. The punch with Green at the beginning of the season changed everything for the guard, who probably never truly recovered emotionally from that incident. For a team built on trusting each other and playing for each other, this was a fracture unlikely to be smoothed over completely. In the playoffs, Poole averaged 10.2 points, 3.5 assists and 2.2 rebounds per game while shooting 34.1% from the floor and 25.4% from deep. That is a massive decline in production. Poole was a G League player for a while before breaking out last year. There’s a possibility his 2022 season was more of a fluke than a sign of true growth. Will he be able to bounce back?
Key Decisions in the Offseason
Green has a $27 million player option and the opportunity to create financial flexibility hinges on him. Warriors owner Joe Lacob has shown he’s willing to spend money if it means a championship roster, but even he has some limit. The team is approaching a luxury tax bill north of $400 million, and that’s on top of a team that will run $200 million or more. Eventually, there will be some type of hard stop.
According to Shams Charania and Anthony Slater of The Athletic, the Warriors intend to discuss a new deal with Green. That could come whether he opts in or out. There could be a pay cut involved down the line to help the team improve on the fringes.
Thompson is also eligible for an extension, and he’s unlikely to be able to command the $200+ million he was headed for prior to his injuries. The shooting guard is likely to sign a discounted deal as well.
There are questions about who will be making those deals. Bob Myers, who has overseen this dynasty, has an uncertain future with the organization. According to The Athletic, Lacob wants Myers to come back. And Myers likely has the most cache with Green and Thompson of anyone in the front office. If those guys are going to take discounts to help build the team, Myers will be best equipped to handle that type of negotiation.
Poole is a potential trade candidate with his salary spiking, but he’s also a 23-year old guard who averaged 20.4 points per game last season. He’s one of the few players outside of Curry who can consistently create his own shot, and there’s reason to think he can mature under the veterans. His trade value is also fairly low right now, so would the Warriors get enough in return to make that move? Can he repair his relationship with Green, or will that fissure ultimately push the Warriors to cut bait?
Kerr is also in the final year of his deal but is not planning on going anywhere per The Athletic. The decision surrounding him is likely the easiest.
Most Likely Outcome
The head coach said it best after the loss in Game 6.
“Draymond. Klay. Steph. Our core guys, they have plenty left to offer. It’s not like this is the end of the road. The organization has some decisions to make. We’ll eventually get to that point.”
Green has also expressed a desire to stay with Golden State for his entire career. Here’s what he had to say after Game 6.
“I want to be a Warrior for the rest of my life. I want to ride out with the same dudes I rode in with.”
Thompson and Curry have stated similar sentiments. So the idea that any of the “core 4” are going anywhere is laughable.
Wiggins and Poole will be on the roster, but the latter will certainly be a trade candidate. Moody and Kuminga’s team options should be picked up. Kevon Looney and Gary Payton II are under contract and have the team’s trust. Donte DiVincenzo is likely to test to market in free agency, and Golden State’s salary situation might not make his return possible. There will be some veteran minimums and a late first-round pick to include as well.
The Warriors endured hell in 2020 and 2021, both as a team and as individuals. They came back from that to win a title in 2022. The situation is a bit different this time around but the overall goal is still the same. Golden State’s dynasty survived one potentially disastrous stretch. A familiar cast of characters will try to ensure it returns to glory from a different yet equally problematic juncture.