Ja Morant has arrived, and on the heels of a valiant 47-point
effort, his upstart Memphis Grizzles have given us all the reason
in the world to believe that they’re a team on the rise.
Of course, the entire Western Conference is paying attention to
what the Grizzlies are doing, but perhaps the team that needs to
consider how Memphis will impact their immediate future most is the
one that the Grizzlies dispatched en route to punching their ticket
to the NBA’s version of the big dance.
My, how the mighty have fallen.
Morant sent Gregg Popovich’s team home for the summer before
putting Stephen Curry and his Golden State Warriors on ice. And
based on what we’ve seen from both he and Luka Doncic, it stands to
reason that we’ll be watching those two 20-somethings make noise in
the postseason for many years to come.
So what exactly does that mean for Golden State?
It’s not absurd to believe that — despite what Draymond Green
tells you — that the franchise’s best days are behind it.
Whatever Bob Myers is being paid, he deserves a raise, because
things aren’t getting any easier out West. And despite having some
tools at his disposal, getting Golden State back toward the top of
the Western Conference won’t be an easy feat, not with the team's
three core players advancing in age and its supporting cast
becoming less talented over the years.
It’s crazy to think that Curry will be 34 years old by the time
2022 NBA Playoffs begin, and — who would’ve guessed it? — by that
time, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson will each be 32 years old.
It’s easy to overlook their advanced ages (they’re “advanced” at
least in terms of basketball years) because each of the three began
their careers relatively late — Curry and Thompson, both of whom
spent three years in college, were both 21-year-old rookies. Green,
who played four years at Michigan State, didn’t make his NBA debut
until he was 22.
By the time they started winning, they were more-or-less in
their mid-20s and that was six whole years ago. It’ll be at least
seven by the time we see them in the postseason again.
Time sure flies, because it certainly doesn’t seem like it’s
been five years since the Dubs won 73 games in 2016 or three years
since they won a championship. Thompson’s unfortunate ACL injury
during the 2019 NBA Finals left everyone believing that the team
would be back once he returned. But then he suffered another
catastrophic injury (a torn Achilles tendon), which caused him to
miss two full seasons in a row. And although Kevin Durant’s
recovery from a torn Achilles provides hope for a full recovery, by
the time we see Thompson suit up in a playoff game again, it will
have been about three calendar years.
Boy oh boy, 2018 was a long time ago.
Since the Warriors hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy that last
time, its back-to-back NBA Finals MVP dumped the Golden Gate Bridge
for Brooklyn. Gone are the likes of Andre Iguodala, Shaun
Livingston, JaVale McGee and David West. Aside from the trio, Kevon
Looney is the only other championship player who remains with the
team. And even he could opt for free agency this summer and take
his talents elsewhere.
Under our noses, the Warriors’ championship team has
systematically been replaced by newer, younger, less experienced
When Morant and his Grizzlies sent the Warriors home for good,
the team’s game plan was obvious — force anyone not named “Curry”
to beat them. It worked (for Memphis).
So in it all, we’re forced to come to terms with a
second-consecutive postseason without the electrifying Steph Curry
and without his Warriors. As has become a theme over the past
couple years, we will collectively look toward next year to see if
they can take back the throne out West. But all things considered,
that would seem to be not only a far-fetched assumption, but an
Since the Warriors won their first championship with their core
in 2015, the Western Conference hasn’t exactly become any less
competitive or any less talented. Morant. Doncic. LeBron James’
relocation to Los Angeles. Anthony Davis. Chris Paul’s Suns. The
becoming of Devin Booker. Donovan Mitchell’s rising. Nikola Jokic
becoming the MVP. Kawhi and PG’s Clippers. Holy cow, look at New
And Curry and Thompson are older than Damian Lillard and CJ
In short, the Warriors have their work cut out for them. If
nothing else, the Boston Celtics have taught us that a collection
of talent is only as good as its ability to coexist. As Jayson
Tatum and Jaylen Brown attempt to lead Team Green back to the
heights of the East, they weren’t able to get it done with Kyrie
Irving, Terry Rozier, Al Horford, Marcus Morris and Gordon
Translation: nothing is promised. The Oklahoma City Thunder can
tell you that, twice over.
On the bright side? Golden State has some tools in its toolbox.
Wisely (and perhaps clairvoyantly), Myers has refrained from
sending out first-round picks in pursuit of talent. That discipline
led to James Wiseman and will also yield two more lottery picks
this summer — the Warriors own their own pick and will land the
Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round pick in this year’s draft if it
falls outside of the top-three. If the Wolves’ pick ends up
top-three, it becomes unprotected for the Warriors in 2022. Thus, a
very valuable trade chip.
Perhaps ironically, the only trade the Dubs have recently made
that cost them a first-round pick was the one they executed to get
rid of Iguodala, once considered the fourth member of the “Core
Four.” He was sent to Memphis along with the Warriors’ (top-four
protected) 2024 first-round pick.
In other words, in the form of Wiseman, Andrew Wiggins, its own
2021 first-round pick and the pick due from the Timberwolves,
Golden State is a rarity in the NBA — a team with both young and
contending-level veteran talent that also has draft capital that it
can use to build out its rotation.
But make no mistake about it: Build they must, because a core
featuring three players who will all be at least 32 years old when
the 2022 NBA Playoffs begin should never be considered a
Father Time, after all, remains undefeated. Even in San