It will be no surprise if ESPN begins flexing out of Golden State Warriors games from their nationally televised schedule. That’s the likely scenario after the Warriors fell behind by 28 points after the opening quarter Wednesday against the Dallas Mavericks and eventually lost by 48.
That loss dropped the Warriors 3-13 and, considering the treacherous Western Conference, Golden State might as well begin making draft lottery plans.
The organization fully realized this would be a transition season after losing Kevin Durant to the Brooklyn Nets and Klay Thompson to an ACL injury. But the initial plan was to build the offense around Stephen Curry — like the old days — and make a run at a playoff spot. However, Curry broke his hand in the Warriors’ fourth game and isn’t likely back until February.
With Thompson and Curry out, the Warriors aren’t even recognizable, so the organizational blueprint has been adjusted. The Warriors will spend this season using younger players, trying to figure out who will stick around for the long term, while slowly bringing back Curry and Thompson and preparing for next season.
Don’t feel bad for the Warriors. Nobody else in the NBA does.
The Chase Center, opened this season, is one of the premier arenas and will greatly aid the Warriors’ pursuit of free agents in comparison with the popular, but antiquated, Oracle Arena.
The Warriors sent a first-round pick to the Nets in exchange for D’Angelo Russell. But that pick is protected 1-20 and will turn into a second-round pick in 2025 if the Warriors keep the 2020 pick. With the Warriors entering Friday with the league’s worst record, there is a definite chance for Memphis standout center James Wiseman could be making condo plans in the Mission District.
Just think: A high lottery pick could be joining Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green next season. And the Warriors will also have enough salary-cap space to sign a mid-level exception free agent.
Even if the Warriors had been able to keep Durant — who won’t play this season in Brooklyn because of a torn Achilles’ — they would have taken a considerable step back with Thompson’s injury. But what Curry’s injury did is further clarify their plan for this season.
What would barely making the playoffs do for the franchise? Probably not much. Now Curry and Thompson get considerable rest and recovery, and the club has already said it’s not going to push the banged-up Green to play as much.
The energized Chase Center crowd Nov. 15 when the Warriors pushed the favored Celtics into the final minutes was an example that the team’s faithful will be supportive throughout this transition.
“We’re going to keep working with our young guys and try to make some strides,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “The biggest thing is just to stay positive, understand where we are with the injuries and the departures, we’re an entirely different team. We’re in an entirely different situation and that requires work and patience and effort. But we’ve got to keep these guys up. We can’t let them lose hope, lose faith, and lose patience.”
But there is hope. The Warriors have a group of young, talented players that will learn from this experience and the winning ways will return when Curry, Thompson, and the lottery pick are ready.
The Warriors’ five-year run is unprecedented for this generation, and if their transition season is limited to just one year, then they are truly a fortunate organization.
George, Leonard fit from the start
The Celtics almost spoiled the debut of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard playing together Wednesday, but the Clippers held on for a 107-104 overtime win.
What was evident that night was that opposing teams are going to have a difficult time defending without leaving someone open. The Celtics were forced to double Leonard or George, and that left Patrick Beverley open for 3-pointers, and he hit three pivotal long-range shots.
“You’ve got to pick your poison,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after the game.
Pairing Leonard and George, considered two of the league’s best defensive players, will make Los Angeles elite on that side. But it will also have a profound effect offensively. Teams will force Beverly, Lou Williams, and Landry Shamet to beat them from the perimeter.
“I thought defensively, that came natural,” George said. “Offensively, I thought we were great. We’re still trying to get in synch with everybody else. With myself and Kawhi, it doesn’t matter, we’re going to play basketball, trying to make the right plays, play off one another. In that aspect we were good.”
It will be an interesting journey for coach Doc Rivers because he’ll have to decide how important rest is to Leonard. George missed the first 11 games after recovering from double shoulder surgery and likely will get the occasional game off, while Leonard likely will be “load-managed” for the rest of the season.
Rivers said he will choose health over playoff seed every time, but the Clippers already have five losses. The Clippers quite possibly could be on the road for their first-round playoff series if Rivers decides to rest Leonard and George regularly throughout the season.
“It was fun to see what this team looks like, and how we can play off each other on the defensive end,” George said. “The fact of the matter is we’re going to have growing pains and the most positive thing about this team is we understood that. Nobody is pointing fingers. Nobody is dropping their heads. At no point was this team ever dysfunctional. We’re going to make mistakes; it’s not going to be pretty right now.”
Leonard is not one for long assessments of the Clippers’ long-term fate. He sought to play with George for the past few years and appears pleased that the two were able to pair in Los Angeles, but he maintained that becoming a championship contender will take time.
Although that matchup with the Celtics did resemble a potential NBA Finals preview.
“It’s still tough, we’re both on minutes restrictions, so it’s hard to get a flow,” Leonard said. “We’re still learning each other. Everybody here wants to win. Everybody is unselfish. You see moments out there where we are clicking. Chemistry is still not there sometimes, turnovers, passing the ball in the wrong places. But we’re not complacent. We want to get better.”
TAKING ANOTHER SHOT
Anthony happy to blaze new trail
Carmelo Anthony was seemingly gone from the NBA forever, passed up by every NBA team since the Rockets dealt him away after just 10 games in January. But the shorthanded and disappointing Portland Trail Blazers called the former All-Star to add some offense and he’s scored 28 combined points in his first two games, including 18 in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.
Anthony, 35, was waiting for a call. He had become a sympathetic figure of sorts, the former prolific scorer essentially banished from the NBA because his skills had slightly declined. Anthony clamored to return, relaying to NBA teams that he would accept a reserve role, he just wanted to play again.
The Blazers, beset with injuries, had a lack of depth at forward and had serious need for a veteran scorer, so essentially the two sides needed each other.
Portland pushed Milwaukee into the final minutes before falling, 137-129, which was an encouraging sign. Anthony is feeling more comfortable and actually wanted.
“It’s some things we’ll get better at, we’ll learn from,” he said. “It’s just more relaxed, more finding that pace, finding that rhythm, learning how to play with the guys in the team and learning how to play with this system.”
Anthony said he was able to benefit from the year off and get into better shape. Also, he wasn’t enduring the toll of an NBA season, so the transition will be more about getting into basketball shape. But the body is fine.
“I feel good. I don’t think that should be a question after this,” he said. “I’m well rested, I’ve been out for a year. I’m going to feel good from here on out. Coming to this team knowing and understanding the personnel on this team, guys being much younger and trying to find their way, they can learn from that and I can learn from them. Once I get that, I’ll be able to help them out a little bit more. We’re still trying to get this thing going.”
Why Anthony was essentially pushed out of the league is up for debate. He’s a midrange shooter in a 3-point game and the fact that he was not as comfortable with the long-range shot while being a defensive liability resulted in Anthony’s reputation taking a major shot. After his 6½-year run with the Knicks ended in 2017, he spent a year with the Thunder and then 10 games with the Rockets.
NBA teams would much rather load their bench with veterans who know their roles, or younger players with upside. Players such as Vince Carter were able to make that transition, able to accept lesser roles and become a leader and mentor.
Anthony will have to prove that if he wants to remain in the NBA past this season. But, for now, he’s got his love back.
“The love of the gamer for sure, I’ve been playing since I was 8 years old, 16 years at a high level,” he said. “When you don’t have that no more, it’s taken from you. Stripped from you, you’re shellshocked. You miss everything about that. I miss the locker room, being on the bus, talking trash to the rest of the guys on the team.
“It feels good. It’s a great feeling. All of this stuff is definitely an experience, something I won’t ever forget.”
Portland may be the perfect landing spot for Anthony. The Blazers are not expected to compete for a title and expectations are even lower because of their slow start. The media market is minimal compared with New York, so there will be little pressure besides what he places on himself.
“It will start to come back slowly,” he said. “I feel great. I think you’ll hear me talking about that a lot. I will benefit from that time off physically. It’s a super laid-back situation. The aura of the coaching staff. It’s very mellow.”
The period away was hard on Anthony. Many pundits said he’s simply a scorer who cares about nothing else. He was called selfish and one-dimensional. Now he has a chance to rectify some of those assertions, place a new stamp on his career by helping resurrect a team that appears headed for the lottery.
“I always believed in myself,” he said. “My biggest thing was just to focus on my body and be prepared for this new game. It’s a new game and a faster game . . .
“You go from being one type of player to being out of the game and then being able to come back and seeing the support system that you have. That will never go unappreciated.”
With Dwyane Wade retiring this summer, Anthony and LeBron James are the lone players from the first round of the 2003 draft remaining in the NBA. (Kyle Korver, a second-round pick is the other remaining pick still playing.)
James is playing at an MVP level approaching age 35. Anthony said he just wants to prove he belongs in a league that constantly passes 30-somethings by. It’s a new NBA, filled with athletes, shooters, and lottery picks who consider Anthony an icon from another generation.
“What LeBron is doing is incredible,” Anthony said. “The work he puts on his body, the work he puts on his mind. If this was years, if somebody was 33, 34, 35, it would be like. ‘Oh, he’s old,’ but it’s a mental thing, a mind-set thing. If you putting in the work and doing what you have to do to take care of yourself. Nowadays, the age goes out the window.”
WAITING FOR THE CALL
Crawford’s not the retiring type
While players such as Iman Shumpert gets a call from the Brooklyn Nets, three-time Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford is still looking for an NBA team and is not considering retirement.
Crawford, 39, spent last season with the rebuilding Phoenix Suns after signing during preseason and played in 64 games, averaging 7.9 points. Crawford is considered one of the nicest guys in the league and a good teammate, but he has been the victim of the roster squeeze that has left out veterans such as Kenneth Faried, Amir Johnson, Jodie Meeks, Corey Brewer, and Raymond Felton.
Meanwhile, longtime point guard Jose Calderon retired to take a job with the NBA Players Association and the Trail Blazers waived Calderon’s teammate on the Spanish national team, Pau Gasol, who has been injured the past two years.
After some contentious talks between the Suns and the City of Phoenix, the team announced a $230 million renovation of 27-year-old Talking Stick Resort Arena, giving the organization another boost after the hiring of coach Monty Williams and a strong on-court start. The Suns have struggled mightily in attracting major free agents and are now revamping the team’s practice facility and arena with the belief it can help in those areas. That was one of the reasons why the Celtics built the Auerbach Center.
The Los Angeles Clippers practice at a revamped Honey Training Center in Playa del Rey, but they are renters of the facility. The 42,500-square foot center is still owned by former Clippers owner Donald Sterling, meaning the Clippers are tenants of their former owner who was ousted for racist comments in 2014. The Clippers are pushing to build their own arena in Inglewood, where the new football stadium that will host the Rams and Chargers beginning next season will be.
Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is getting resistance from the New York Knicks, of all teams, for his intent to build the Inglewood arena. The Knicks ownership group, led by James Dolan, own the old Inglewood Forum, which still hosts concerts as a secondary Los Angeles venue.
The city of Inglewood wants to host the Clippers and the Clippers want out of Staples Center because they are considered the third tenant behind the NHL Kings and NBA Lakers, meaning they get third priority on dates, such as those unwanted Saturday afternoon games.