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Stephen Curry, D'Angelo Russell, Klay Thompson, Warriors

Editorials

3 questions remaining for the Warriors after free agency

3 questions remaining for the Warriors after free agency

It has been an unexpectedly busy offseason for the Golden State Warriors, who saw an unusual amount of roster turnover after a fifth straight trip to the NBA Finals.

With Kevin Durant gone, the Warriors will have to heavily rely on Stephen Curry, especially since he won’t be sharing the backcourt with Klay Thompson for the first chunk of the season. The Bay Area team will also be without Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Jordan Bell, and Quinn Cook—all contributors to the championship-pedigree competitor.

Here are the three most prominent questions for Golden State in the wake of a roller-coaster free-agency period.

When does Klay Thompson come back?

Thompson suffered one of the worst injuries at literally the worst possible moment. While having one of his most impactful performances in the 2019 NBA Finals, Thompson’s awkward fall in the decisive Game 6 was later diagnosed a torn ACL, with the Warriors losing the three-peat and the star shooting guard on the same night.

Now, it’s unknown exactly when Thompson could return to the hardwood and make his Chase Center debut, but he should be back before the end of the season and might return earlier than expected.

Thompson has been a mainstay for the organization in the last eight years, providing incomparable shooting for the team while being a stout defender and hiding the defensive misgivings of Curry for years. The Warriors will most definitely feel the absence of Thompson’s half-court wandering past screens, losing a wrinkle in the offense that keeps opponents on their heels.

While it’s not a given the former 11th overall pick will set foot on the floor next season, knowing Thompson’s desire and fight, it’s hard to see him stay away for too long. The question then becomes what kind of shape are the Warriors in when he does return, and how effective he is coming off the injury.

Will D’Angelo Russell be on the team past the trade deadline?

When Durant and fellow All-Star Kyrie Irving announced their union with the Brooklyn Nets, it left one-time All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell out the door. At first, it looked like a done deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves, joining Karl-Anthony Towns, who was selected first overall and one pick ahead of Russell in the 2015 draft.

However, seemingly at the last moment, the Warriors swooped in and received Russell in a sign-and-trade with Durant and the Nets.

Russell now gets to join Curry in the backcourt starting Day 1, but it’s an irregular fit for the two. In spite of Curry’s elite play, it’s likely the three-time champ will have growing pains playing next to someone not named Klay Thompson.

Russell, meanwhile, is a combo guard who normally handles the rock but looks to score for himself. How does he handle playing second fiddle to Curry and play in an offense that looks to drive and kick and create with on-ball screens utilized less frequently than other offenses?

The first answer that pops up will likely be head coach Steve Kerr using pick-and-rolls more often than in the past for the Warriors. While the Draymond Green–Curry pick-and-roll has worked to perfection over the years, the Warriors have never been that type of team—one that operates for the constant call of picks, like Russell is used to doing.

Many believe despite signing a max deal that Russell will be gone in the near future. If the Warriors are flailing in the Western Conference by the trade deadline in February 2020, they could signal defeat and trade Russell to help balance out the roster and perhaps gain future assets, instead taking the rest of next season off to recuperate from their numerous and consecutive Finals battles, which have taken their toll on the team.

Can Stephen Curry lead the new-look team in the West?

It’s unquestionable the talent and skill Curry brings to the Warriors. However, for most of Golden State’s success, the six-time All-Star had quite a lot of help, relying on Thompson, Green, Iguodala, and most recently Durant to make major contributions.

Curry will now be tasked with leading a new group of players including Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson III, and Willie Cauley-Stein, solid players but players unfamiliar nonetheless with Kerr’s system. It’s going to be an up-and-down season for the Warriors, predictively, as Thompson’s injury and Durant’s departure loom large overhead.

The Western Conference now has superstar duos on the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers, and the Houston Rockets paired James Harden with former OKC teammate Russell Westbrook after another playoff exit at the hands of Golden State. Plus, the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz are revamped, while the Denver Nuggets have solidified their young core by adding Jerami Grant and keeping continuity.

It’s difficult to see the Warriors competing for a top-four seed in the West, and it’s unlikely to firmly place them in the playoffs before the season begins. Next year will be a learning process for the team in a new era, with Curry and Green standing pat and a lot more unanswerable questions in place.