SPORTS

Golden State needs to let go of the past & maybe Klay Thompson

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The NBA season is now a three-part campaign. The NBA Cup is the opening sprint featuring teams working Usain Bolt hours to determine the NBA’s 100-meter champion. It’s fitting that this season the finale whittled down to the league’s fastest team and the oldest player in the league. The rest of the season is an endurance campaign that ratchets up the pressure, favors fresh legs and basketball IQ.

LeBron James’ NBA Cup title should serve as an example for Golden State.

A year ago, the Lakers were refried beans until some tinkering around the edges propelled them into the Conference Finals. The shrewd brilliance of James is that he never gets stuck in neutral. He decamped from Miami right when Dwyane Wade was slowing down. He sensed the end was near in Cleveland and bounced to greener pastures in Los Angeles and when L.A. was in a malaise, he co-signed Rob Pelinkas’ roster mid-season overhaul that propelled them forward.

Golden State, likewise, needs to let go of the past. The jury is still out on Andrew Wiggins, but they need to consider phasing out of their Big three era.

On Monday, I examined their Big 3 lineups’ dwindling edge over opposing lineups. Every metric points to the same reality. Even if Klay Thompson is able to rebound from his shooting slump, this current iteration doesn’t have the engine to win the NBA marathon.

The last time Steve Kerr coached in Phoenix, he lamented how loud the club-like atmosphere was in Phoenix. It wreaked of an ornery, old coot, screaming about how basketball used to be played before Jerry Buss put a club in the old Forum. His commitment to sticking with Thompson and defending Draymond Green’s actions was a symptom of him letting nostalgia overrule his reasoning skills.

Golden State has to decide if they want Steph Curry to head out guns blazing or leaning on their walking sticks. In the second half against Phoenix, Kerr finally abandoned Thompson, and Draymond Green disqualified himself by loading up and slapping Jusuf Nurkic in the face. It nearly paid off.

Watching their Death Lineup get outplayed so routinely makes this different than any struggles the Warriors have ever faced. As currently constituted, they are done as NBA championship contenders. When and if management realizes that, they’ll come to the only realization that matters. If Thompson isn’t willing to take a pay cut to accommodate his current reality, he’ll be wearing a different uniform by next season. Tuesday’s loss was a microcosm of Golden State’s regression.

Thompson’s comeback from an ACL tear and ruptured Achilles was a relative success, however, there are a slew of sharpshooters around the league who can provide what he does at this juncture of his career. Moses Moody has already begun eclipsing Thompson on both ends. Instead of Thompson and Green balling out, Brandin Podziemski chewed up scenery during a career night while Jonathan Kumingas and Moody delivered during the Warriors fourth-quarter comeback. But first they have to navigate the reality of what severing the emotional connection between him and Curry could bring.

The Athletic’s Zach Harper pointed out that the Pistons starting lineup of Cade Cunningham, Ausar Thompson, Isaiah Stewart, Jalen Durant and Killian Hayes have nearly identical net ratings when on the floor as Golden State’s five-man Death Lineup. There’s still a possibility they could reel in a big fish on an expiring contract like Pascal Siakam near the deadline, but it would cost them young assets and leave them in a deeper hole a year from now if their gamble doesn’t pay off. The scythe is coming for Golden State, whether they like it or not.

Follow DJ Dunson on X: @cerebralsportex



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