In August, when the national television schedule was being set, Warriors-Celtics looked like a premier game. The Warriors were regrouping after losing the NBA Finals and then Kevin Durant to free agency, and were expected to contend, at least for a home playoff round.
Three games into the season, Stephen Curry broke his right hand, joining fellow All-Star Klay Thompson (ACL tear) on the shelf long term. And the Warriors decided to go into total rebuild mode.
Unfortunately for Turner Sports, they don’t have the option of opting out of nationally televised Warriors games as ESPN does. ESPN has been treating Warriors’ scheduled telecasts like spam e-mails, flexing out of commitments as quickly as possible.
A 10-39 record will turn you into the team nobody really wants to watch, a complete descent from the past five years when the Golden State Warriors were the premier franchise in the NBA. Their 119-104 loss to the Celtics on Thursday at TD Garden was expected, and TNT had no choice but to broadcast the choppy, mistake-filled game because they, like the rest of us, thought things would be different.
After Curry’s injury, the Warriors decided to play a slew of their younger players, see which ones stick, and then prepare for next season with a lottery pick and a mid-level exception to foster a rapid return with a healthy Curry and Thompson.
So the league is spending this season punishing the Warriors, perhaps as payback for their dominance over the past five years. And coach Steve Kerr has to accept it, the constant losing, the error-filled play, the damage to his winning percentage.
“We have a lot to figure out between now and then,” Kerr said about next season. “Some of that is up to the front office in terms of who we draft and who we sign free-agency wise. We’ll see what that means as far as the current guys. Who knows what our team will look like? So I don’t think we can sit here right now and plan for next year. What we do know if we’re healthy, we’ve got a hell of a starting backcourt and a great power forward [Draymond Green].”
Even during last year’s Finals, when the Warriors were seeking their fourth title in five years, general manager Bob Myers said he understood his dynasty was soon coming to an end. Durant was a free agent. His bench was aging. Curry and Thompson were approaching 30-plus. And then Thompson tore his ACL in Game 6 and Curry sustained a significant hand injury in a collision with former Celtic Aron Baynes.
So it was time for a reboot.
The Warriors who showed up Thursday played hard, if not well. They have a handful of players auditioning for spots next season. But the bounce-back should be swift. Golden State is three games ahead of Atlanta for the league’s worst record and there are a couple of attractive big men currently playing in college who could be in the starting lineup at Chase Center next season.
Considering Curry and Thompson are still in their primes and will be coming off abbreviated seasons, the Warriors could be compiling a revenge list if their plans fall into place. Kerr, however, scoffed at the notion that Curry will take the rest of the year off to help the Warriors get a better lottery pick.
Kerr doesn’t like taking figurative punches to the face every night. Golden State has essentially become the rest of the league’s homecoming game. The Warriors cut the Celtics’ lead to 9 on a few occasions in the second half but Boston wasn’t threatened after the opening quarter.
Curry, according to Kerr, is getting close to a return.
“We haven’t spent one second discussing that dynamic, that winning could hurt us,” Kerr said. “When you’re 10-38, winning sounds really good. No matter what the circumstances. So I don’t think that enters our mind. The players are going to play when they’re ready to play. Steph is almost for sure going to play this season. Klay is still unlikely given he’s dealing with an ACL injury.
“Steph is coming along nicely and he should come back and we’re going to try to win every game that we can and I don’t think there’s a whole lot of value in doing anything other than that.”
Until then, the Warriors will continue to serve as essentially tune-up fights for their opponents. The Celtics committed 23 turnovers, feeling comfortable enough to try low-percentage passes and highlight plays because the Warriors never really posed a threat.
For Green, his minutes are being reduced and he’s getting practice time off to preserve his body and prepare for next year. He is the lone Warriors’ starter from last season playing this year and is spending as much time teaching and mentoring since winning hasn’t been much of a possibility.
“There’s worse problems in life,” Green said. “You’ve got to lead the young guys. That’s my responsibility. I think we could be good [next year] but I don’t spend every day thinking about how good we could be. We’ll wait until next year.”