SAN FRANCISCO — After moving seven times in his first decade in the NBA, Stephen Curry thought he’d found what was going to be his family’s forever home. It was in the East Bay, a short commute from Oracle Arena in Oakland. The Golden State Warriors were headed across the San Francisco Bay to the Chase Center for the 2019 season, but plenty of Bay Area commuters take the Bay Bridge every day.
To be sure, Curry started scouting his future drive before each home game last season.
“It was too variable,” he said. “Sometimes it was 35 minutes. Sometimes it was two hours.”
And so the Currys — like the Warriors — had to move on.
“That’s how it is in this league,” Curry said. “Things are always changing.”
Over the summer, everyone’s new normal began to come into focus. Curry and his family moved across the bay, to a house in Atherton, California, that he hopes is “the house our kids grow up in.” The Warriors overhauled their roster, moved into their new forever home in San Francisco and hit the reset button on the team that has lorded over the NBA.
These were huge changes in and of themselves. But after blowout losses in their first two games of the year — including Sunday’s ghastly 120-92 defeat in Oklahoma City — it’s becoming clear the biggest adjustment of all is in how far and quickly the Warriors have fallen.
“The reality is we f—ing suck,” Draymond Green said after Sunday’s game, in which the Warriors trailed by as many as 41 points and had to resort to a zone defense because it was the only thing resembling defense they were able to find. “We’re just not that good right now. I don’t know what better way to frame it. I can try in Spanish, but I ain’t really that good at Spanish.”
Head coach Steve Kerr, who had been trying to sound alarm bells on the woeful state of his team throughout the preseason, shrugged and said, “I realize I’m making plenty of excuses, but they’re real.”
Indeed, Kerr has been mentioning in just about every media session that nine of the Warriors’ 15 players are age 23 or younger. That Curry and Green are the only players left standing from the core group that went to five straight NBA Finals. That Kevin Durant left in free agency, Andre Iguodala was traded, Shaun Livingston retired. Klay Thompson is out for most — if not all — of this season with a knee injury. Kevon Looney is out indefinitely with hamstring and neuropathy issues.
Kerr tried to say all this. And yet his warnings didn’t stick until the Warriors got demolished by the Clippers and the Thunder, two teams that have endured countless drubbings at the hands of the Warriors these past five years.
“We’ve just got to re-create everything,” Curry said.
DYNASTIES RISE AND fall. Empires decay and need to be rebuilt. Rosters age out or get too expensive to keep together. But the Chase Center was supposed to be a hedge against that, generating enough new revenue to pay for what would have been a nearly $400 million roster (in salary and luxury taxes) if Durant elected to stay as a free agent.
It was the very embodiment of Warriors majority owner Joe Lacob’s infamous “light-years ahead” quip at the apex of the team’s run.
Lacob was mocked for the statement at the time, but he wasn’t necessarily wrong. The Chase Center had been planned from the moment Lacob, Peter Guber and their ownership group bought the franchise for $450 million in 2010. Over the next nine years, they would spend in excess of $1.5 billion on the project.
It was a massive undertaking, with countless twists and turns politically and architecturally — an early design looked like a toilet bowl from overhead. But the finished product seems to have successfully held on to the charms of the old place while scaling up as a beautiful, state-of-the-art arena along the San Francisco docks.
It was so much easier to support the building of the Chase Center while the team was winning, though. It felt necessary. Oracle Arena was much too small to house that team for the ages. The Warriors’ new locker room would have felt worthy of a team like that. It is big and spacious, each locker the size of three at the old place.
But this year’s team feels small in the Chase Center locker room. It has neither the stature nor the accomplishment to fill it. And because of where the Warriors have come from, both in location and organizational direction, all of the aesthetic upgrades only magnify how much things have changed.
In Thursday night’s season opener against the LA Clippers, it seemed as though Golden State’s understudies had taken the court. Rookie Jordan Poole winged a no-look pass to nobody in particular, then looked for a foul. Rookie Eric Paschall and second-year man Jacob Evans looked lost trying to defend a pick-and-roll by LA’s Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. Shoot, 10 seconds into the game, a fan spilled his drink on the floor.
“Coach Kerr has been saying this building is a metaphor for where we are as a team,” said Curry, 31, who is now the oldest player on the roster by a full two years.
In other words, they have to grow into it. Which is, and probably was always going to be, the biggest test of the culture on which the Warriors’ dynasty was built.
GOLDEN STATE PRESIDENT Rick Welts has been giving tours of the Chase Center since it was a giant patch of dirt. But even when it was just a construction site, the one thing he always pointed out was the location of the basket where Curry would shoot his pregame “tunnel shot.” In Oakland, Curry’s warm-ups became a must-see show. Fans would arrive hours before the game to get down to the lower bowl so they could watch his feats of shooting and dribbling prowess. The coup de grâce was the shot he’d take at the end of his workout, when he’d run off the court, catch a pass from assistant coach Bruce Fraser in the tunnel that led to the Warriors’ locker room and fire a 50-footer toward the basket. It went in an inordinate amount of times.
Curry has re-created just about everything from his pregame warm-up in Oakland at the Chase Center, on the same basket Welts pointed out on his tours. But the tunnel shot is problematic. The angle is different. The shot clock is in the way. And there are cables for an overhead camera that he has to navigate. After the first few preseason games, Curry wondered if he should just give up the tunnel shot.
But he’s just not there yet.
Before the Warriors’ first regular-season game at the Chase Center on Thursday night, Curry gave it a go. The ball cleared the backboard and the shot clock, somehow passed between the cables and seemed destined for the hoop. The crowd on both sides of the tunnel held its breath as the ball headed for the basket. It would be perfect if Curry opened the new place by making the tunnel shot.
But alas, the shot flew long. Perfectly in line but a few inches beyond the rim.
“I think he should just go over in the first row of the stands,” Fraser said. “Because it’s kind of an impossible shot. But he’s made impossible ones before too.
“I think this is just who he is. He’s stubborn. But he also just likes having fun stuff to do. He likes having a routine and then doing fun stuff too.”
Curry is why the Warriors keep the faith. He has always been the cornerstone of the Warriors’ culture. When Kerr arrived in 2014, Curry’s character and steadiness immediately reminded him of former San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan. If they were going to build something lasting in Golden State, something akin to the Spurs’ record of 22 straight playoff appearances (Duncan was a part of 19 of them until he retired in 2016), Curry would be their constant, the player whose character set the organizational tone, in good times and in bad.
Durant doesn’t join the Warriors in 2016 if Curry isn’t who he is. Remember, there was some very real debate over whether Durant could blend into the Warriors’ free-flowing system, which had won an NBA-record 73 games the year before. Sometimes, abundance is just too much.
“More isn’t always better,” president of basketball operations and general manager Bob Myers said at the time. “But better is always better.”
Curry’s ego could take the graceful transfer of power to Durant. So that’s what happened. And the Warriors won two titles in Durant’s three years with the team.
This, at the most basic level, is the foundation of Warriors culture: ownership’s unapologetic, sometimes ruthless devotion to progress (adding Durant, leaving Oracle, building Chase) distilled and humanized by men like Curry, Kerr, Myers and Welts.
And it’s why Lacob never apologized for the “light-years ahead” comment or the dominance his franchise has achieved over the past five years.
“When we won the championship, I told Bob right afterwards, ‘We’ve got to get better,'” Lacob explained. “I always say that. That’s how you keep going. People think I’m being egotistical or arrogant. I’m not. I’m really being honest.
“You have to continue to strive as an organization, both on the basketball side and the business side, to continually improve, because your competition is certainly trying to do the same thing.
“The rest of the league is going to catch us at some point.”
ONE OF THE signature pieces of artwork at the Chase Center is a series of portraits of the “Hamptons 5” — Curry, Thompson, Green, Durant and Iguodala — by Oakland artist Shomari Smith.
Outside one of the courtside suites, an entire wall is dedicated to a colored mosaic of the Splash Brothers. There are life-size game photos from the Warriors’ five NBA Finals runs throughout the building.
The artwork is stunning, celebrating these players and moments in historical significance. But it also kind of makes the place seem like a museum. Those moments feel like a long time ago.
In September, when the building first opened, Myers went to a Metallica concert to check the place out. He was curious, among other things, about how Durant would be commemorated.
When Durant left as a free agent this past summer, Curry’s legacy as the founding father of the Warriors dynasty was cemented. Durant’s legacy is far more complicated. The Warriors offered him — not Curry — the glory spot on the day they officially broke ground on the Chase Center in 2017. He’s there in all the pictures, holding a shovel alongside Kerr, owners Lacob and Guber, Welts and Myers.
But the Warriors don’t see Durant’s defection as a betrayal. They haven’t cast him out. If anything, they’ve gone out of their way to commemorate his three seasons as a Warrior. Lacob publicly stated that the team was retiring Durant’s No. 35.
“I think the organization did a great job of saying, ‘Yes, you were a part of this,'” Myers said. “He’s in all these pictures. The overall feeling is positive from his side, positive from our side. I don’t sense any bitterness. It’s like, ‘You’re doing this, we’re doing our thing.'”
There were pleasantries exchanged after Durant made his decision to leave, but mostly Myers had to get to work executing the Warriors’ contingency plan of a sign-and-trade for D’Angelo Russell. To do that, and stay under the hard cap, they’d also have to trade away Iguodala, the 2015 Finals MVP and one of the best stewards of Warriors culture. It was a painful sacrifice at the altar of renovation.
There is no replacing a talent like Durant. But it’s also harder than you think to replace a guy like Iguodala, whose basketball IQ became a teaching tool for coaches and teammates.
“It may have seemed like our system ran itself,” Fraser said. “But it was nurtured daily by guys like Andre and Shaun.”
Coaches teach a concept. But for something to stick, players have to reinforce it.
“It’s teaching the game. But it’s also teaching our culture,” Fraser said. “How do we instill our culture to these young guys and keep the message to the veteran guys? Part of it is that they become the teachers themselves.”
And frankly, there’s a lot to learn.
The Clippers destroyed the Warriors’ defense on opening night, shooting 62.5% from the field and 54% from behind the 3-point arc.
Afterward, Curry, Green and Kerr all took turns lamenting their poor performance while preaching patience and adjusting expectations for this group.
“We f—ing sucked,” Green said that night too. “Our defense was atrocious.”
Kerr was a bit more measured. “This is more the reality of the NBA. The last five years, we’ve been living in a world that isn’t supposed to exist. Record-wise, the best stretch anybody has had over five years. This is reality. … We are starting over in many respects. We’ve got to be patient. We’ve got to fight, continue to teach, and the players have to absorb and learn. We’ll get better. I know that.”
Because they are hard-capped this season, the Warriors have few options to improve the roster, except to just get better. Develop the young players, get healthier, find a defense that works or at least resembles a defense.
It’ll get a bit easier in the offseason. They should be able to retain their first-round draft pick in 2020, which is top-20 protected. They’ll have a $17 million trade exception from the Iguodala trade. And theoretically, Thompson should be back at full strength.
Getting through this reset year is the real test of the culture they’ve built over the past five years. How the Warriors approach this historical moment will determine their legacy. They’ll become one of the NBA’s great dynastic teams, like the Spurs, Lakers or Celtics. Or fall back toward mediocrity in which the past five years are remembered as a nice run, like the 1990s Rockets had.
“I’d compare it to a venture capitalist running different funds,” Curry said. “You have your first fund, which you build and hopefully have some success. Then you go back and say, ‘We’re going to build a second fund, invest in some different things this time.’ But it’s the same people, the same brain power.
“You’re starting from scratch on something but with the same principles that led to success.”