Following Play-In Defeat, Is The Golden State Warriors Dynasty Over?

Steph Curry looks frustrated during the Golden State Warriors’ defeat to the Sacramento Kings in the Play-In Tournament. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

By Ben Morse, CNN

(CNN) — The Golden State Warriors have personified excellence over the last decade.

Mixing a revolutionary brand of basketball with star players, the Warriors have won four NBA championships since 2015 and established themselves at the top of the league’s food chain.

However, that was then and this is now. The team’s 2023-24 campaign came to a juddering halt on Tuesday night as the Warriors lost 118-94 to the Sacramento Kings in the first round of the Play-In Tournament.

It’s the first season that the Warriors have missed the playoffs when they had their star trio of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green healthy and available.

It’s been a season filled with highs and lows – from Curry’s everlasting brilliance to Green’s disciplinary struggles – but now Golden State enters an offseason filled with questions.

The Warriors’ stars are arguably in the twilight of their careers, the team’s wage bill is one of the highest in the league and Thompson – after going scoreless in the defeat to the Kings, the first time he’s done so in a game since his rookie season – is entering free agency.

For one of the NBA’s most established franchises, it’s going to be a long few months as the organization wrestles with questions about whether the team can retool around its core of Curry, Green and Thompson for one last hurrah.

‘Roll it back’

Thanks to the combination of Curry and Thompson’s three-point excellence, the defensive and passing brilliance of Green and head coach Steve Kerr’s guidance, the Warriors won four championships and made six trips to the NBA Finals between 2015 and 2022.

It was a period that had NBA fans gripped by Golden State’s protracted battles with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals between 2014 and 2018.

Golden State’s run of success looked to be coming to an end after their Finals loss to the Toronto Raptors in the 2018-19 season as Curry and Thompson sustained injuries and results on the court suffered as a result.

But the Warriors rediscovered their mojo in 2022 as the team enjoyed a magical run back to the top of the mountain and seemingly reasserted themselves as kings of the NBA again.

However, Golden State has struggled over the past two campaigns, losing in the Western Conference semifinals to LeBron and the Los Angeles Lakers last time out before missing out on the playoffs entirely this season.

Golden State’s latest campaign has been blighted by inconsistencies and controversies.

One of the team’s traditional stalwarts, Green has singlehandedly presented numerous issues: there have been battles with ejections, confrontations with opposition players and subsequently missing significant time to suspension due to his disciplinary record.

Thompson has had an up-and-down year, and one of the team’s more promising young players, Jonathan Kuminga, publicly criticized his lack of playing time during the season; however, the latter did have a positive effect in the second half of the season with the 21-year-old blossoming into a proficient NBA player.

Curry, Green and Thompson are all in their mid-30s, which means there is sizeable age gap to the Warriors’ youth movement: forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and guard Brandin Podziemski have both delivered promising rookie performances this year.

But a not insignificant salary cap means the Warriors sit way over the max league cap and leaves general manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. with minimal options for the tough task of renewing the franchise for perhaps one final title push with Curry still performing at a high level.

“I would say I believe they can,” Kerr answered when asked about the possibility on another championship run led by Thompson, Green and Curry.

“These guys are all still really damn good players, so hopefully, we can resign Klay. Draymond and Steph are under contract, so we’re going to roll it back next year.”

In his post-game press conference after the Kings loss, Curry hinted at returning with the same core while also suggesting the squad needed to make improvements to properly challenge once again.

“We obviously understand the league has changed, we’re getting deeper into our careers and we have to continue to evolve and make the necessary adjustments to win games,” Curry told reporters.

“But we put a lot of time into it. I think I worked harder than I ever have at being prepared for a season and trying to perform at the level that I expect, and those two guys have been through it with me.

“At the end of the day, I just want to win. I know that’s fully possible. I know in the summer that there is going to be a lot of conversations and trying to set up ourselves to win, whatever that means. I hope that’s the outcome.”

The Klay Thompson question

Ever since being drafted out of Washington State by the Warriors with the 11th pick in the 2011 draft, Thompson has combined with Curry – dubbed by many as ‘the Splash Brothers’ – to form an unstoppable threat from deep which has delivered dramatic success to the Bay Area.

Thompson’s 2,481 made three-pointers in the regular season are the sixth-most in NBA history and the 501 he has made in the playoffs are more than anyone other than Curry.

Thompson has provided countless memorable moments during that run, from his 37-point quarter in 2015 against the Kings, his 60-point game against the Indiana Pacers in just 29 minutes or earning himself the moniker ‘Game 6 Klay’ with his repeated heroics in the sixth game of various playoff series.

However, injuries have seemingly caught up with the 34-year-old Thompson. He suffered back-to-back debilitating injuries – first to his knee, then to his Achilles – in successive years which seemingly affected his dynamism on the court.

This season, he was reduced to coming off the bench before eventually being restored to the starting lineup.

His scoreless performance in the Play-In Tournament is the final game of his five-year contract worth nearly $190 million as he now enters free agency with questions looming over where he will play next season.

Will the Warriors bring him back at a cut-price deal allowing Thompson to finish his career as a one-franchise player, or will the 34-year-old turn to new pastures for a bigger final payday?

What’s certain is that after Thompson’s uncharacteristically miserly offensive performance against the Kings, Kerr wants him back with his team next season.

“We need Klay back. I know he had a tough night tonight,” Kerr told reporters. “I know I speak for everyone in the organization, we want him back. Obviously, there’s business at hand and that has to be addressed … But what Klay has meant to this franchise, as good as he is, we definitely want him back.”

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