We’ve seen that play countless times.
Draymond Green pushing the ball in transition, finding Stephen Curry for a dagger three. But, this one is different. With that shot, the two-time MVP records his first 60-point game of his career. 62 points to be exact in a thrilling win against Damian Lillard and the Blazers. With that shot, Curry also establishes a new Chase Center record, yet the arena is… silent.
Sitting across the court from the Warriors’ bench, Joe Labob, the Warriors majority owner, is watching with a big grin on his face but this can hardly be what he had in mind three years ago, in January 2017, when Kevin Durant was next to him for the official groundbreaking of Chase Center.
It’s as if moving to San Francisco came with a curse. Kevin Durant left for Brooklyn and would not have played there anyway because of his ruptured achilles. Klay Thompson tore the ACL of his left knee during Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals and has yet to play a game in the Warriors’ new arena. Stephen Curry broke his left hand and only played 3 home games before Covid-19 stopped last season in March.
Not the move the Warriors had envisioned
Ever since he bought the Warriors, Lacob wanted to move the team from Oakland to San Francisco. Financially, it was a no-brainer. The Warriors were renting Oracle Arena, limiting their revenue, whereas building and owning a brand new state of the art arena in San Francisco would dramatically increase the value of the franchise and help foot the bill of a star-studded roster.
Instead, Chase Center hosted a Warriors team that went from historically good to the worst team in the NBA last season. And this year, it is forced to host games with no fans. Lacob dreamed of opening a new chapter of the Warriors’ dynasty in San Francisco, instead it turned into a nightmare.
Leaving Oakland behind was heartbreaking for the fan base. Through the years, Oracle Arena had built a reputation of being the loudest arena in the league, with some of the most loyal and savvy fans. Whether the Dubs were at their worst or their best, “Roaracle” was always booming.
“The energy, the noise, the «Warriors, Warriors» chant, especially during the playoffs, it was crazy,” said Kevin Durant, during his first year with Golden State. “I played in a lot of loud venues but Oracle is atop my list.”
Even before KD joined the Warriors after the 73-9 season, Golden State had blitzed the league behind the dazzling 3-point shooting of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the all-around play of Draymond Green, and a collection of high-IQ veterans like Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.
The read and react offense installed by Steve Kerr toyed with opposing defenses while the Green-led defense was a top-5 commodity for the viewing pleasure of Dub Nation. The distinct noise of Oracle Arena anticipating a barrage of 3-point shots by the Splash Brothers or celebrating one of Draymond Green’s stellar defensive plays was like no other.
Bored by success
Kerr often used the word joy to describe how Curry and his team played. This feeling was always felt throughout the arena, especially during the first two years of Kerr’s tenure. But with the success came a dramatic increase in ticket prices to see the best show in basketball, resulting in a change in the fabric of Dub Nation.
Blue collars and die-hard basketball fans were replaced by Silicon Valley executives, and the atmosphere started to wane. Spoiled by so much winning, both the team and the fans had to fight boredom. Do you really need to go full throttle for a meaningless January regular season game when your path to the Finals is almost assured?
The arrival of Kevin Durant did create a spark of excitement but on-court domination was such that even winning titles started to become routine.
“When we won the first title, it was insane,” remembers DJ D Sharp, the Warriors’ resident DJ. “When we won in 2017, it was different. I did not recognize my Oracle. Same in 2018.”
The move to Chase Center, compounded with the end of the Warriors’ dynasty, made the transition to San Francisco even harder. Everything the Warriors were known for went out the window. No Splash Brothers, no ball movement, no defense, no winning, and above all else no joy.
The San Francisco crowd was criticized early on because it did not compare to the vibe of Oracle Arena, but how could it? Dub Nation’s standards were so high, so warped by five years of one of the most dominant runs in NBA history that it took some time for it to adjust and to process its new reality.
As the season went on, Chase Center started to rally behind the team, pushing its players to continue to fight even if the wins were far and few between, reminiscent of how Oracle Arena would cheer for the non-competitive Warriors before the Curry-era.
Another Achilles, another heartbreak
The growing belief around Warriors fans was that the lost 2019-2020 season was a blessing in disguise. A gap year for the core of Curry, Thompson, and Green to rest and recharge their batteries before climbing back into contention with the addition of the 2nd pick in the draft and a potential new star coming via trade or free agency.
And then, on the morning of the NBA draft, the curse came back. Klay Thompson, who had missed the 2020 season to heal his left knee, ruptured his right Achilles while working out in Southern California. Days before the opening of training camp, the news crushed the franchise and its fanbase, even leaving Stephen Curry in tears.
The selection of James Wiseman and the arrival of Kelly Oubre Jr. should at least be enough for the Warriors to get back to the playoffs. But the hopes of battling the Lakers and Clippers for the Western Conference crown without Klay Thompson are dead. The Warriors and Dub Nation found themselves in a familiar situation, looking at a hopeful future… that has a looming expiration date, as Stephen Curry will turn 33 in March.
The first 10 days of the season were a roller coaster, as the new team tried to find an identity without Draymond Green, who missed training camp and the first 4 games because of Covid-19. Ball movement was not there, rhythm and defense were absent, and Kelly Oubre Jr. was a shell of what he displayed in Phoenix last season.
James Wiseman and the Warriors reboot
The sole optimism came from the potential shown by James Wiseman. The 19-year old center, who only played 3 college games at Memphis last year, is as good if not better than advertised. He can shoot the ball, dribble, run the floor, and block shots. Skills that vaulted him as a new franchise cornerstone alongside Curry, Thompson and Green with the goal of rebirthing the Warriors dynasty from its ashes.
“I think he has the opportunity or the chance to be an All-Star or a premier player in this league,” said Draymond Green, who became the rookie’s de facto mentor. “He has a lot of growth, a lot of room for growth — which is exciting. The things he’s able to do on the floor now that he doesn’t really understand — the pro game. He doesn’t understand coverages, he doesn’t understand offensive spacing, he doesn’t understand none of that stuff and it’s not his fault. It’s just kind of a thing that comes with time. But to do the things out that he’s able to do out there on the floor without having an understanding of anything other than what he’s personally capable of doing, it’s pretty special. I think he’s going to be a really special player in this league and definitely for this organization.”
With Draymond Green back in action, the Warriors took a big step forward on both sides of the floor. The offense has more continuity and movement, allowing Curry to go supernova again, and the foundation of a disruptive defense is emerging thanks to the length of Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre Jr.
To that, you can add the rise of young players, led by Eric Paschall. After a stellar rookie campaign, the product of Villanona has been unleashed by Steve Kerr as a small ball center off the bench that can attack bigger opponents and provide a scoring punch while Curry takes a breather.
Steve Kerr has also praised Nico Mannion, who impressed the Warriors front office during training camp by his work ethic and passing ability. Mannion, who like Kerr went to Arizona, was drafted with the 48th pick and signed a two-way contract with Golden State, allowing him to appear in 50 games this season. “It’s not where I wanted to go numberwise, but at the end of the day I think the fit in Golden State is perfect for me,” said the Italian native after the draft.
The rookie does not project to be in the rotation but could walk in the footsteps of Quinn Cook, a point guard who starred in the G League for the Warriors in past years before earning a guaranteed contract with the team.
While Stephen Curry (30.6 points per game and 6 assists) started the season on a tear, already earning him a Player of the Week award, this season for the Warriors is about growth. Learning Kerr’s system and building chemistry will go a long way before the return of Klay Thompson next year and the possible addition of another high draft pick, courtesy of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Just imagine a Curry – Green pick & roll with Klay Thompson and James Wiseman spacing the floor, or the defensive versatility of Green, Wiseman, Wiggins, Oubre Jr and Thompson. It won’t look like the Warriors of old, it might never sound like Oracle Arena, but it does not matter.
With its foundational core and a wave of new talents, Golden State has what it takes to be relevant again.