The Golden State Warriors did it again on Thursday night. They blew another double-digit lead in the fourth quarter and lost a game they led for the vast majority of the second half. Sure, they nearly defeated the defending champion Nuggets, but at 16-18, Dub Nation is far beyond looking for moral victories. Instead, attention zoomed to Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, who had kept Moses Moody on the bench for the entire game and Jonathan Kuminga out for the entire fourth quarter.
This is far from the first time Kerr has justifiably come under fire. He made some confusing decisions last season as well. He has been more critical of Draymond Green’s antics this season than he was after he saw Green punch a teammate in practice. Kerr bafflingly carved out a 20 minute per game role for Anthony Lamb as well, missing an excellent opportunity to give Kuminga pivotal minutes to develop.
This season, Kerr was slow to give rookies Trayce Jackson-Davis and Brandin Podziemski a shot to enter the rotation. Kuminga and Moody have continued to show promise as well, but are still looking for a consistent role.
Even with Green out, Moody has played zero minutes in the past three games and Kuminga is still not consistently receiving 30 minutes per game. With Green and Gary Payton II out on Thursday, Kuminga did not even play 20 minutes, even though Kerr admitted after the game that, “He was playing great.”
Yet, as critical as I am of Kerr, more opportunities for young players would come with some youthful mistakes as well. There are surely losses that would become wins with those changes, but there may be some wins that would have ended differently as well. That seems worth the risk given the inconsistency of the team’s veterans, in my opinion, but it’s hard to believe that would fully solve the problems.
It’s hard for me to believe a shift in Kerr’s mentality (or some midseason coaching change) would transform the Warriors into a top seed in the West. After all, it would take believing that Kerr was single-handedly responsible for a third of Golden State’s losses to argue that the players have played well enough to be a top-four seed in the conference.
Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Green are all good players, but Thompson and Green are significantly lesser versions of their peak selves that we saw during the dynasty. And when the NBA simply got deeper and more talented over the years, the Dubs had Kevin Durant to offset those gains.
The Warriors may not have had a clear No. 2 star in their last championship run, but they had three different players who had a decent chance of catching fire every night in Thompson, Wiggins, and Poole, while Green and Payton were unique defensive anchors. Thompson is arguably the same inconsistent, but quality player he was during the title run. Wiggins, though, is a shell of the player he was, and Poole is on the Wizards.
So, if talent is an issue, rookie general manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. needs to make some acquisitions.
The problem is the Warriors only have one player who could easily net an impactful return. It’s the player keeping them relevant. So if the Dubs are not trading Curry, which no one thinks would be a good idea, the Warriors good ol’ boys crew at the top of their basketball operations department needs to find some value trades to fix things.
Podziemski, Kuminga, Moody, and Jackson-Davis all have some value, but they all have clear limitations. Podziemski’s size and athleticism do seem like caps on his upside. Jackson-Davis is ultimately a rookie second-round pick. The Warriors themselves have hampered Kuminga and Moody’s trade value by refusing to let them grow into larger roles.
Paul and Thompson are the only two contracts the Warriors could singlehandedly use for matching purposes that would seem enticing to other teams. Wiggins and Green simply have too many years left on their contract to make that an easy sell to a rebuilding franchise, unless they envision one of them becoming a core piece. Otherwise, it will take a creative deal that likely involves Payton and/or Kevon Looney and only takes back a player with a salary south of $30 million.
With several Warriors first-round picks already locked up in other previous trades, the path to acquiring impact talent is difficult. Golden State owes it to Curry to try, but I’m not sure I would place any bets on the Dubs coming out of the trade deadline a top team in the West even with a couple of moves.
The frustration for Warriors fans is rooted in the third quarter. They watched Golden State dominate the defending champions on both ends of the floor for 12 minutes before it all fell apart. Despite the blown leads and the mediocre 16-18 record, there remain flashes of a contender. Flashes of a championship-caliber roster.
Maybe that’s just what it looks like on the other side of greatness, though. Light begins to blink when it is far enough away. The further off in the distance it gets, the fewer flashes escape the darkness.
Eventually, the light is gone.
I’m not going to say that’s the case for the Warriors. But I’ve watched this team dance in and out of greatness for the past two seasons with no semblance of upward trajectory. I’d love to see the light up close again. Love to see the Warriors sustain dominance en route to Curry’s fifth NBA title. But right now championship contention is light years away.