The Golden State Warriors are no longer the Golden State Warriors, even if there are moments when it might look like it.
The minute Stephen Curry stepped onto the court during the team’s media day, everyone pushed to surround him.
Even if nothing had changed for the Warriors, it would’ve been like this. Curry is the face of the franchise, the baby-faced, deep-shooting, mini-golfing hero for the Bay Area. But with seemingly everything changed, the cameras all found Curry that afternoon and stayed with him.
After all, where else were they going to go?
Kevin Durant is gone. So is Andre Iguodala and DeMarcus Cousins. Shaun Livingston retired. Klay Thompson is injured and could be out most, if not all, of the season. D’Angelo Russell is new.
The Warriors that you knew, the ones that who have been so feared by the league, teams that won three of the last five NBA titles, have been reduced to Draymond Green and Curry, with Curry, somehow, the oldest player on the roster at 31.
“Stop reminding me. ... I mean, just hearing it is weird, but I’m still young,” Curry said, jokingly. “I wake up every day with a smile on my face, with the opportunity I have in front of me, being in my prime, being able to play basketball at the highest level and do it with this team and in front of our fan base. And I know I have a lot, a lot of years left at this level.”
But even Curry has to know how hard it is to look at the Warriors, who open their season Thursday against the Clippers, and think about what they can be. It’s much easier to focus on what they no longer have.
The changes stretch from the roster to the real estate, with Oracle Arena now a memory as the Warriors have moved out of Oakland to a beautiful new waterfront venue in San Francisco. The old building pulsed with the team and replicating that won’t be easy.
The sterility of their new home court might be the least of the Warriors’ problems. Durant’s departure and a pricey contract extension for Green trapped Golden State financially. The team was able to land Russell from the Brooklyn Nets and give him $117 million. Getting a 23-year-old All-Star as a consolation to Durant leaving lessened some of the sting, but it hardly erased it. It was a move that forced the Warriors to shed some valuable role players.
The erosion of their bench has been a long-term cost of acquiring such great players. In the past, you’d look at the Golden State roster and say, “They got him?” Now, there’s more “Who is that?”
“This is such a dramatic change from where we’ve been the last four years,” coach Steve Kerr said.
A rival Western Conference executive put it less artfully.
“I think the Warriors might just be bad,” he said.
If they are, it won’t be because of Curry, who showed how ready he is for the season when he scored 40 points in 25 minutes during the preseason. But can Curry’s greatness really lift up a rotation that’s replacing players like Durant, Iguodala, Livingston and Cousins with veterans like Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson III and Willie Cauley-Stein? Will rookies like Jordan Poole and Eric Paschall contribute from the start? Can Marquese Chriss, joining his fourth team in four seasons, be salvaged?
It’s a lot of questions for a team that hasn’t had to answer any until the NBA Finals for half a decade.
A more shared opinion is that the Warriors are going to be very different, and when you’ve been to five consecutive championship series, different probably isn’t good. They seem energized by all the change.
“I think there’s definitely a lot of unknowns, but it is exciting, Green said. “You know, stuff has kind of just been status quo for the last few years and just kind of knew what to expect going into it, and it’s pretty much just been that. It’s a new challenge now, which as a competitor is very exciting. We’ve been to the mountain top with the previous group, and we know how that feels.
“Now, can you do it again? Can we bring this team together and get back there?”
Those Golden State Warriors could. These Golden State Warriors? That’s an entirely different question.