“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain.” For 40 years, the Golden State Warriors died as heroes. They were universally liked, even if they weren’t winners. You’ll find very few people who didn’t like Run TMC, a fun style of Warriors basketball in the 1990’s consisting of the trio of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin. How about the “We Believe” team who upset the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks and then took the Utah Jazz to seven games in the 2007 playoffs? Those teams never won championships, but they were beloved in the basketball world. Even in the later 2000’s to 2011, the Warriors were bad record wise but fun to watch. Now fast forward to 2018, the Warriors have three championships in four years and have arguably built one of the league’s most hated teams ever. When did it change, how did it get to this point?
Where it all started
It’s easy to say the Warriors’ dynasty started when they drafted Stephen Curry in 2009, but success didn’t happen overnight. Golden State suffered through three straight losing seasons to begin Curry’s career, averaging 28 wins in that span, all while having three different head coaches. Ownership changed hands to Joe Lacob in 2010, who bought the team for $450 million. In 2011, they made a GM change, hiring Bob Myers, who at the time was a player agent and was considered a risky hire. In one of his first player moves, he traded Monta Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks for Andrew Bogut. It was not a popular move at the time in the Bay Area, trading a beloved star for an injured center. Warriors’ faithful chastised Lacob and Myers, even chanting boos during Chris Mullins’ jersey retirement. It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, and it felt like more discombobulation than a dynasty brewing.
In the middle of all this madness, though, they were able to draft Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Harrison Barnes, completing their nucleus. Thompson allowed them to trade Ellis and grab a center. Green gave them the ability to move on from David Lee. Harrison Barnes then developed into the small forward and wing they needed. Yet, the biggest question mark was Curry’s durability. Ankle injuries were limiting him every season, and there were questions if he could be the leader and best player on a contending team. Those questions led to him signing a team-friendly contract extension, far under his market value.
In the 2012-2013 season, under head coach Mark Jackson’s tutelage and a breakout season from Steph, the Warriors made the playoffs as the No. 6 seed, knocking off the third-seeded Denver Nuggets. After that, they fought the San Antonio Spurs to six games. In the end, they put the basketball world on notice. They died as heroes once again. That off-season, they then added Iguodala after beating him. Sound familiar?
The turning point?
The following year, the Warriors fell in the first round, this time to the Los Angeles Clippers. Something was missing; something was off. Controversially, they fired Mark Jackson and hired Steve Kerr, who had no coaching experience. A bold, risky move to make to a playoff team, Kerr immediately thrust Draymond Green into the starting lineup, suddenly making Iguodala a 6th man. In hindsight, this begs the question: what if these moves never pan out?
Golden State went 67-15 in the 2014-15 season, capturing their first title in 40 years. Everyone calls their title fluky, yet no one takes them as serious as they should. Suddenly, they aren’t so likable. Curry is criticized for chewing on his mouthpiece; Green talks too much trash. The next season, they start 24-0, finish the season with 73 wins, and Curry accomplishes the best offensive season in NBA history, but people aren’t happy. People didn’t like the love Curry was receiving; people didn’t like them winning more games than Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. We all know how their season ended, of course, blowing a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cleveland in the NBA Finals. However, on July 4th, 2016, everything changed.
When Kevin Durant joined Golden State, they became villains. They’re hated by the majority of basketball fans now. The chant of “they ruined basketball” now echoes across the basketball landscape. What do they have to show for the two years KD has been there? How about two championships, and 29 other teams scrambling to catch up.
I don’t remember a time where there’s been so much player movement than we have seen recently. We’ve seen super teams formed before, but this is different. What makes them unfair? It’s because they move the ball so well. They are the most unselfish team in basketball. They’ve effectively killed the era of isolation basketball. Small ball, the use of small lineups to add more spacing on the floor, is now the go-to lineups for almost all 30 teams. They play basketball the right way, the way you should want to play, and yet they’re not celebrated for that.
For better or worse, Steph Curry has changed the game of basketball forever. His combination of shooting, dribbling and spacing the floor is something no player has showcased before. For better or worse, Kevin Durant has changed the game of scoring: he’s essentially a 7-footer with sharp-shooting touch blessed with the ability to handle the ball everywhere on the court.
For better or worse, Draymond Green’s ability to be a playmaker on offense and be one of the best defensive players we’ve ever seen is unmatched and immeasurable in today’s league. Klay Thompson dropped 60 points in a game while dribbling 11 times. None of these players get the credit they deserve. KD and Steph might be two of the ten best players ever when it’s all said and done.
Appreciation for the Warriors
This team was built, organized, and constructed better than any other franchise in this generation. They drafted well, they took risks and signed big name free agents. They’re unselfish, play together as a unit and have fun doing it. Their head coach is the ultimate player’s coach and also isn’t afraid to speak his mind on social issues. When we look back on this team 10-15 years from now, people will praise them for lifting the bar higher than any organization. They just won’t get that love now. Oh, did I mention they also signed DeMarcus Cousins? Light years ahead. You may not like the Warriors, but it’s their world and we’re just living in it.