Though the run of the young Warriors expired at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in Thursday night’s 94-82 series-clinching Game 6 loss, Golden State will be back.
They should be a Western Conference powerhouse for years to come.
Yes, the Warriors.
Golden State’s rise to the final six teams standing wasn’t some multifarious plan finally coming to fruition. No, to the contrary—it’s genius in its simplest form.
This season’s success came with a franchise leap wider than the Bay Bridge.
Injuries to key players, including Stephen Curry’s severe ankle injuries, led to an unheralded 2011-12 season and 23-43 finish. But this season’s Warriors finished 47-35 for the sixth seed in the West before falling in the conference semifinals in six games.
Success has blossomed from a young core that includes Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes. The Warriors have built the team through the draft, making uncomplicated decisions on the best player available at needed positions.
The additions of Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack, both of whom will be free agents this offseason, added to the perfect touch of veteran depth on a roster with just two players ages 30 and above (David Lee and Richard Jefferson).
The foundation is set and the franchise’s seemingly endless wobbling may finally stop.
The team is working from the outside in. It started with drafting Curry, who inked a four-year, $44 million extension this past offseason. Next, it was the move to draft Thompson and then trade Monta Ellis to establish a more sustainable backcourt.
Curry averaged 23.4 points and 8.1 assists per game in the postseason while Thompson became the team’s go-to defender and averaged 15.2 points and 2.1 three-pointers per game.
This postseason then revealed that the young perimeter has another rising talent, often quite literally. Barnes, the team’s athletic forward who showcased a fantastic isolation, back-to-the-basket game in the Spurs series, completes the talented perimeter.
Barnes was the best rookie of the postseason through the first two rounds. The only lottery pick still playing, Barnes’ emergence in the playoffs has been necessary after injury significantly hampered Lee, the team's All-Star this season.
Barnes averaged 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in the playoffs, and added to the Warriors' deep threat with 1.6 three-pointers per game. The 20-year-old has the most athleticism of anyone on the team, and he uses it well both at the rim and on the glass.
So, how’s that for a young trio? The plan delivered by Jackson and general manager Bob Myers has arrived early.
The frontcourt, if it can stay healthy, has nearly as much promise as the perimeter. The team’s “old man” is Lee, who is still just 30 years old and averaged 18.5 points and 11.2 rebounds this season. He is under contract through 2015-16.
Andrew Bogut is just 28 years old, and his lane-clogging presence and toughness were crucial for Golden State this postseason.
Like Curry, Bogut comes with concern due to his vulnerable ankles. He continues to be a bended-mirror version of what he was with Milwaukee. But successful teams need an anchor in the middle, and the Warriors finally have one.
More than just spelling Bogut is 23-year-old Festus Ezeli, who started 41 games his rookie year. Taken No. 30 in the draft, Ezeli is yet another young piece moving forward. He was a byproduct of the Ellis trade, as the Warriors received Stephen Jackson in that deal and sent him to the Spurs for Richard Jefferson and a conditional first-round pick that turned into Ezeli.
The future also includes second-round pick Draymond Green, whose energy and intangibles create “that one worker guy” that all successful teams need and have.
A postseason series can equate to something like 20 regular season games in terms of experience for a young team. The Warriors run to mid-May acts as another half of a season for the inexperienced roster.
The ceiling is high for this Golden State team, and contending hopes are sky-high for next season. The Warriors already took care of Denver, and if not for a 16-point collapse in the final four minutes of Game 1 in San Antonio, they could be returning to play Game 7 in San Antonio.
It’s no longer implausible to say the Warriors could become a routine sighting around the Western Conference Finals for years to come.
No one anticipated any of this. Not this soon.
Golden State arrived well before its expected window by earning the No. 6 seed in the West. This postseason, it shattered through that window and fully arrived.
The shooting of Curry and Thompson is just the headline over a Warriors team with some of the best young overall talent in the league.
The Western Conference certainly no longer belongs to the Los Angeles Lakers, and it might not belong to the San Antonio Spurs for much longer. It’s the new days of the West, a future of the already-present Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies, the budding Houston Rockets and now the Warriors.
The health of Curry’s ankle may always remain an issue from season to season, and the team must address whether or not it can bring back either or both Jack and Landry, but those are lesser question marks when compared to other West contenders.
The Warriors have room to grow. The combined $34 million tied to the contracts of Bogut, Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins all come off the books in the summer of 2014.
Yes, the future is golden for the Warriors.