14 Jan

Warriors headed for a Goodfellas ending as their ‘light years’ luck finally runs out

Whenever I watch the Golden State Warriors these days, I think about the movie Goodfellas. I see Henry Hill, played by the late, great Ray Liotta, looking like a haggard wreck, paranoid to step one foot into the world he once had by the you know what for fear of being whacked right outside the jail.

“This is the bad time,” he says.

For the Warriors, this is indeed the bad time. They lost again on Sunday. A 133-118 whacking at the hands of the Raptors. Their fifth loss in seven games. Bad enough to drop them below the play-in line at 17-19.

If you’re a Warriors fan, this bitter ending to a once golden era is becoming increasingly painful to watch. Draymond Green is off the rails. Klay Thompson might as well be trying to outrun helicopters. In the case against Steve Kerr, Jonathan Kuminga has turned state’s evidence.

If you’re not a Warriors fan, this is the best part of the movie. This is where the guys who for so long acted like they were untouchable come crashing down. As it turns out, the Warriors were never, as Joe Lacob so arrogantly claimed in 2016, “light years ahead of probably every other team in structure, in planning, in how we’re going to go about things.”

In fact, the 2022 title notwithstanding, the Warriors have botched just about every opportunity to validate this supposed organizational superiority. How often does a team with six straight Finals appearances get the No. 2 overall pick two years removed from its last championship? It was another lottery ticket that fell into Golden State’s lap. All they had to do was cash it in.

LaMelo Ball. Tyrese Haliburton. Tyrese Maxey. All these guys were available.

The Warriors took James Wiseman, one of the biggest busts in recent memory.

There are only two explanations for how poorly Wiseman turned out for the Warriors. Either he wasn’t any good to begin with, in which case Golden State’s talent evaluators shot a blank, or he was as talented as the Warriors tried for so long to claim but just wasn’t properly developed. Either way, Wiseman was at the front end of a futile two-timeline fantasy the Warriors are still, stubbornly, trying pull off.

One year after taking Wiseman, the Warriors had two more lottery picks — with which they took Kuminga one spot ahead of future All-Star Franz Wagner, and Moses Moody two spots ahead of Alperen Sengun, who is on the fast track to stardom.

It’s true, all teams miss on draft picks. But the Warriors made themselves out to be different. Smarter. Turns out, they’re not. They’re just an organization that lucked into Stephen Curry long before Lacob arrived, and subsequently signed Curry to a clearance-rack contract.

That contract eventually allowed them to sign Kevin Durant.

This isn’t to say the Warriors haven’t done smart things along the way. They traded for Andrew Bogut. They resisted trading Thompson for Kevin Love, though half the brass was reportedly in favor of making that deal. They fired Mark Jackson, and hired Kerr. They signed Andre Iguodala, but even that was a backup plan. Their first choice was Dwight Howard. He did them the favor of going to Houston. Again, let’s not confuse smart with lucky.

But this stuff happened more than a decade ago anyway. Even if you subscribe to the idea that the Warriors were more smart than lucky leading up to and during their golden years, they have been anything but since. They could’ve traded Wiseman before he became a negative asset, but they refused to admit their mistake until it was too late. They could have traded Moody last year, but of course they saw him as a foundational piece. Now he’s taking DNPs.

And then we have Kuminga, whom the Warriors — stop me if you’ve heard this before — are reportedly “loathe to trade” as they see him as a “potential star who can help them win now and in the future,” as reported by Michael Grange.

Yet again, the Warriors cannot give up on this two-timeline thing. Basically no team other than the Spurs — who lucked into Kawhi Leonard while Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were still championship-level players — has pulled it off, but the Warriors, of course, aren’t like other teams. They’re smart!

So smart that Kerr can’t even figure out when to play Kuminga. He hates playing him alongside Andrew Wiggins like he hates pick-and-roll offense, even though Golden State lacks severely for athleticism and downhill leverage. In Golden State’s meltdown loss to the Nuggets last Thursday, Kuminga had scored a super-efficient 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting when he came out of the game at the 5:38 mark of the third quarter. He never went back in.

On Sunday, Kerr started Wiggins and Kuminga together, then, after the Warriors were blitzed over the first 24 minutes, replaced them for the second half with Brandin Podziemski and Dario Saric, along with Kevon Looney for Trayce Jackson-Davis. NBA teams don’t scrap 60% of their starting lineup at halftime because they’re lights years ahead. They do it because they’re 27 points behind.

The simple truth is Kerr and the Warriors are throwing everything they can think of against the wall, and none of it is sticking. They committed $100 million to Green, who has essentially derailed the past two seasons. They’re probably going to give Thompson a legacy deal this summer, and continue to play him over the guys they supposedly want to develop. They really had themselves believing that Chris Paul was some secret-sauce move. Turns out, he’s just as expired as all the other ingredients.

And now Curry isn’t even able to cover up the stink of their egg noodles and ketchup. He had nine points on Sunday. Missed all nine of his 3-pointers. He’s shooting under 42% since Dec. 1.

It was only because of Curry’s brilliance to start the season that the Warriors were even able to masquerade as a serious team. Now they can’t even fool themselves. They’re an average nobody. And unless they look in the mirror and make some serious, probably unpopular changes, they are going to be forced to live what is left of their once-blessed basketball life like a schnook.

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