The Warriors were coming off a loss in the conference semifinals with a collection of young and less-young talent, having given their passionate fan base in the Bay Area something real to cheer about again. Most folks loved their coach. Most folks saw bright things ahead for their youthful guard with rare offensive gifts.
The future seemed bright.
Yet after that Warriors team fell to the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals in 2007, a loss that itself came after an improbable six-game victory as an eighth seed over the top-seeded Mavericks in the first round, their state was never quite as golden again. The Warriors won 48 games the following year, but that was good for no better than ninth place in a brutal West that boasted eight teams with at least 50 wins. Within two years, team leader Baron Davis was gone, dynamic youngster Monta Ellis was battling injuries and the Warriors were back in the high lottery, where they have been ever since — until this season.
We bring this up not solely to rain on the Warriors’ parade. In the wake of their six-game loss to the Spurs in the semis, the Dubs’ bandwagon only seems to be growing. They are the team of the future. Every player of consequence is likely back next season, including a fully healthy David Lee and Brandon Rush. They gave substantial minutes to three rookies in the playoffs. Meanwhile, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes presumably are only going to get better.
Forgive us for being a bit tentative in joining the chorus, though, because we have seen this before from this franchise and others. Yes, the ownership group is different, as any dedicated Warriors fan reminds us. Joe Lacob is (mercifully) not Chris Cohan, and there is legitimate hope for a new era with a young core of talent and a new arena on the horizon.
There is always a but.
Things were actually pretty bright for the Warriors when Cohan took control in 1995, too. The team was a year removed from a 50-win campaign and plans were in place to renovate Oakland Arena. Yes, Lacob and Peter Guber seem more personable and accessible than their predecessor, but look back at the glowing profiles of the Maloof family shortly after they purchased the Kings in 1998. It now seems clear that Rick Adelman, Chris Webber and the rest of the upstart Kings were able to excel in spite of, not thanks to, the influence of the Maloofs. If the next few years end up being anything like the Maloofs’ first eight years in Sacramento, Warriors fans will take it, but that is far from the only possible scenario.
Ask the Sixers how things look in Philadelphia. This time last summer they were coming off a surprise trip to the Eastern Conference semis, two years into an ownership change and ready to do brave, new things. Joshua Harris and the Sixers were so confident, they hopped in on a four-team trade that brought them All-Star center Andrew Bynum. Now, they are in the process of replacing their general manager, coach and possibly Bynum as well.
The point is not that Lacob and company should not be trusted. There is nothing so far to suggest they will be as incompetent as Cohan or the Maloofs. But as the Bynum trade attests, seemingly wise decisions can backfire. Curry’s ankles continue to be a concern. Andrew Bogut has to prove he can avoid his annual freak injury. David Lee must continue to prove he is worth making north of $13 million through 2016, when he will be 32 years old and have a history of hip trouble.
Nobody in Golden State’s “core” is older than 29, and there is a big gap between Lee, 29, and Bogut, 28, and the next key player, 24-year-old Curry. If all goes well, the Warriors should be in the Western Conference title conversation for the next two to three years, at the least.
All seldom goes well in the NBA, however. No matter how favorable the circumstances, the Warriors still face tough odds to make this memorable season more than just a flash in the pan.