Why 2022-23 Warriors couldn't measure up to championship expectations

Why these Warriors couldn't measure up to '22 champions originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO – When talent and measurement and age are similar, disposition tends to separate the satisfactory sports team from the good and the good from the excellent. Consider, please, the Warriors of the last two seasons.

They won the 2022 NBA Finals with a splendid blend of established stars and hungry grunts with varied experiences. The grunts – Nemanja Bjelica, Damion Lee, Gary Payton II, Otto Porter Jr., Juan Toscano-Anderson, all in the late-20s or older – consistently scratched and scrambled to prove they belong in the NBA.

They knew and embraced supporting roles. It was a flawed roster, but ideal dispositions helped Golden State exceed expectations.

“Last year's team was a lot older with Beli and obviously GP2 coming back, Juan, D-Lee, Otto,” Moses Moody recalled Saturday. “Those guys have been in the league for a while, and they approach the game with a different ... they have been here before. They have done it so much. Yeah, you can just kind of feel that.”

Porter and Bjelica were veterans in comeback mode. Payton, Lee and Toscano-Anderson had worn out roads, some internationally, in their quest for a job in the league and were desperate to make good of the first hint of NBA security they’d ever known. Through grit and grind, they earned rings.

Eleven months after the championship parade, the Warriors were ousted by the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday in the Western Conference semifinals. This was another flawed roster, but one with a very different disposition.

The hungry grunts had been replaced mostly by young players who didn’t have the same fire in the gut. Lottery picks, eager to make a splash in the NBA, generally are not fond of supporting roles and fluctuating playing time.

This season’s supporting cast had more personal agendas, which breeds discontent with roles and playing time.

Which is bound to influence overall team chemistry as well as lead to uneven individual performance.

Kevon Looney, the hungry grunt in the starting lineup, has seen the Warriors win championships with a supporting cast of highly skilled vets such as Andre Iguodala, David West and Shaun Livingston on the dark side of their careers, as well as those seeking security.

“You could do it with different types of supporting casts,” Looney said. “We did miss ... those guys had a lot of experience, and they had a lot of pedigree and been around and seen a lot of different basketball. We missed some of that basketball know-how, not having Andre being able to play this year a lot because of injury. Otto and Beli had played a lot of basketball in their lives, and they knew what to do with the basketball IQ that they brought.

“When you don't replace that, it's kind of tough.”

Jordan Poole, a young player trying to prove he was worth the contract extension he signed last October worth as much as $128 million, submitted a startlingly inconsistent season, whether in the starting lineup or coming off the bench. His disposition seemed to fluctuate based on conditions.

Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman and Moody – lottery picks over the last three drafts – were eager to play but not always able to produce what the team needed. Wiseman was traded in February, creating an opportunity for the Warriors to reacquire Payton. Kuminga, in the rotation for much of the season, clearly was out in the postseason. Moody, out of the rotation for much of the season, clearly was in it during the playoffs.

Veterans could more easily accept such instability. The veterans from the championship team were accustomed to it. Their dispositions allowed the Warriors to reach full potential in 2022.

The youngsters on this team struggled with instability. It is new to them.

“We got guys on our team who are in the NBA,” Poole said. “I feel like they have proven that they deserve to be in the NBA. If you can keep teams together and after winning the championship, people want that to happen.

“But guys have to make decisions not only for their future and their career but for their families.”

RELATED: 'Maxed out' Warriors kingdom crumbles in predictable fashion

Lee, Porter and Payton left as free agents last summer, getting bigger paychecks elsewhere. Toscano-Anderson left as a free agent. Bjelica did not return because he was offered more security in Europe.

The youngsters that filled those seats might have better careers. They might become stars. But they weren’t ready for the big stage, nor were their dispositions equipped to handle the uncertainty. It showed.

These Warriors, given their challenges, were in many ways fortunate to finish among the top eight teams in the league.

Download and follow the Dubs Talk Podcast