The Warriors New Normal: Injuries, Young Players, Hope

In the summer of 2018 when DeMarcus Cousins signed a cheapie deal to play for the Golden State Warriors there was a lot of oh my God moaning and groaning about how unbeatable the Warriors were going to be, and how the rest of the NBA was doomed. But two years later, the Warriors have had three players go down with severe injuries. Two of those players, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant tore their Achilles. DeMarcus Cousins ripped his quad. 

If reality is the best teacher, then the Warriors are already accustomed to their new life, one in which star players get hurt, the season is derailed and those historic glory years become smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. Klay Thompson’s Achilles tear was a gut punch. Before Wednesday, the talk was if the Warriors were actually considering a LaMarcus Aldridge trade. Now a page has turned. Kelly Oubre is the savior.

While Kelly Oubre stops the bleeding somewhat and the Warriors will make the playoffs, they are far from their golden years of 2015-18. We knew it was a lie when the Warriors touted how they were different from every other organization. Nah. They are just like everyone else. Injuries take a dominant team and turn them into a sixth seed. 

Regardless of who is playing alongside him in the backcourt, Steph Curry is going to have a dominant year if he is healthy. The Warriors bleed “Strength In Numbers.” While they do have the strength. They don’t have the numbers. 

Last season was the best of Kelly Oubre’s career. He was a career 35% from three, 6.4 rebounds, and 18.7 ppg. Oubre will be 25 years old in a couple of weeks. He’s a good player but he’s replacing a great player who at the same age was shooting 43% from three, averaging 3.8 rebounds, and 21.5 ppg. (Klay Thompson made his first All-Star game that year.) Oubre is an upgrade over anyone the Warriors started at shooting guard last year but his defense is mediocre and although his offense has improved, he still needs to take 15 shots to get 18 points. 

Without Steph Curry and Klay Thompson last year, and without Klay this year, the Warriors were camouflaging the struggle to fit a round peg in a square hole. Their high expectations were always going to crash against the reality of professional sports because despite how grand they think they are the Warriors aren’t outliers, just a very good organization that deals with what all organizations have to deal with. Bad luck. There’s a reason why after five years almost every dynasty is done. Players age and get injured. Luck goes out of the window. Other teams the Warriors used to manhandle have gotten better. It’s not that the Warriors title years are over. But they need a resurrection because in the summer of 2022 when Klay returns for the playoffs it will be a 4-year Warriors drought of not being in the Finals.

While Dwyane Wade managed a 5-year drought and Kobe Bryant managed a 6-year drought and Tim Duncan managed a 4-year drought and a 7-year drought (of Finals absences), getting back on top was a Herculean effort for the Heat, Lakers, and Spurs that included drafting well, signing the right free agents, and injury grace.

The NBA has one constant: everything changes. In 2018, Boogie Cousins was supposed to put the Warriors over the top with his screen setting, his rebounding, and offensive game. Boogie wanted the one experience that had alluded him in Sacramento and New Orleans. He wanted to play in the playoffs. And then disaster. 

Interviewed awhile back on 60 Minutes, as a collective group the Warriors said they didn’t believe in karma, hexes, curses. They don’t have to. Those from the bayou know what happens when witches mix potions and stick pins into likenesses and pray to the basketball gods. Funny things just have a way of going wrong at the worst time to good people. Like tearing your Achilles after tearing your ACL.

For a while, it appeared as if the Warriors were operating sans equal playing field. But they drafted well (Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green). They hired Steve Kerr which was an A+ move. They created an identity and style of play. When Andre Iguodala was available, they grabbed him. When Kevin Durant was available, they grabbed him. When Boogie Cousins was available. They signed him too. From the outside looking in it appeared as they were going to be elite for a very long time.

Except. (Insert Herm Edwards voice). That’s why you play the game.

Crazy, tragic unfortunate things happen. To the Warriors. And the rest of the NBA for that matter. There’s no whining (or crying) in basketball.