The 2023-24 NBA season is here, so at the end of another eventful summer we take our annual trip too close to the sun, daring you to stand the swelter of these views. This is Hot Takes We Might Actually Believe.
The Golden State Warriors are less than two years removed from their fourth NBA championship, but they are light years from the dynasty's dominance, and age is no friend to teams that hold on to history too long.
We can debate how much the injuries and inexperience of their playoff opponents greased the wheels for those Warriors, but the further we get from 2022, the more that title feels like a last dance. Two years is an eternity in the NBA, especially when your projected starting lineup averages 33 years old, and the balance of power has shifted dramatically away from the Bay Area and toward a new generation in the meantime.
As an encore to their latest championship, the Warriors placed sixth in the Western Conference last season, one game from a second play-in tournament berth in three years, and lost a second-round playoff series to the Los Angeles Lakers, the only team anchored by someone their senior. Golden State was outclassed by a seventh-seeded squad that the eventual champion Denver Nuggets swept from the conference finals.
In four seasons since Kevin Durant left the Warriors, they are 151-150 with a +0.4 net rating — essentially an average team. That includes the championship season and their miserable 2019-20 campaign, when Klay Thompson rehabbed a ruptured Achilles tendon and Stephen Curry fractured his non-shooting hand five games into the season. The other two seasons averaged to 44 wins and the equivalent net rating (+1.4).
That is no contender. Anyone who expects the stars to align for another outlying season is ignoring both the history and the future of the league. The volatility of their own last four seasons shows just how vulnerable the Warriors are. Curry played no more than 64 games in any of them. Thompson's 69 games last season were his most since before back-to-back season-ending injuries. Green's 73 were his most in seven years, and he enters this season with a bad ankle sprain that threatens his availability for Golden State's opener.
You generally do not increase your NBA workload at 33 years of age and older, and Golden State may be more reliant on that trio than ever before. The "Strength in Numbers" edition that won the 2015 title and set the single-season record for wins in 2015-16 is no more. The addition of Durant in the 2016-17 season shortened their bench, and their failure to turn three lottery picks from 2020 and 2021 into equivalent value did nothing to restock the depth chart.
The resurrection of their reserve unit in 2022 was a short-lived affair. The Warriors were so desperate to rectify the free-agent losses of Gary Payton II, Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica that they traded James Wiseman and five-second round picks to reacquire Payton, even after he failed his physical. Jordan Poole regressed after his breakout campaign, so much so that they flipped him for 38-year-old Chris Paul in July.
Paul brings his own health concerns, dwindling production and a decade-long rivalry with the Warriors that is supposed to resolve the team chemistry issues from last season, when Green punched Poole in the face.
Andrew Wiggins and Kevon Looney are the youngest of coach Steve Kerr's "six starters" by a handful of years. Beyond them, the Warriors are reliant on a rehabbed Payton, a pair of unproven prospects (Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody) and two journeymen (Dario Šarić and Cory Joseph). The free-agency loss of Donte DiVincenzo could be more significant than any of Golden State's gains. The Warriors not only failed to address what made them a middling defensive and rebounding team; they might have made it worse.
Bill Russell, Michael Jordan and LeBron James were all 35 years old when they won the last of their rings. Russell and James had a 28-year-old John Havlicek and a 26-year-old Anthony Davis as their respective co-stars, and Jordan gutted through a league that was still waiting on its next generation to challenge him.
Curry turns 36 in March, and he has shown no sign of slowing down, but Wiggins is the only other core member of the Warriors in his prime. The hope is that Thompson, Green and Paul can stay healthy enough for their collective know-how to mask their diminishing skills against a league that is changing its guard.
Nikola Jokić is unquestionably the best player in the league, having collected three MVPs in three years — two in the regular season and one in the Finals — for the reigning champions. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and Devin Booker are All-NBA first-team talents, each under 30 years old, and their teams reloaded around them. They are the four clear favorites, according to both BetMGM and common sense.
Also in the West, Ja Morant, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luka Dončić are coming for Curry's Best Point Guard Alive crown. The Lakers leaned into the youth movement on a team that, again, handled the Warriors. This is not the road Jordan traveled through Keith Van Horn's New Jersey Nets, Glen Rice's Charlotte Hornets and 32-year-old Reggie Miller's Indiana Pacers on his way to "The Last Dance" championship.
The Bucks, Heat and Lakers are also hanging their title odds on aging stars — Damian Lillard, Jimmy Butler and James, respectively — but none of them is so reliant on so many players with so many miles on their careers. Most everyone has long since written the Los Angeles Clippers off as serious contenders, but consider this: Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are both younger than Paul, Curry, Green and Thompson.
Golden State's 2022 resurgence is the only reason to believe, but odds are the Warriors will finish closer to the play-in tournament than the NBA Finals because they need four players to defy the odds instead of one.