The beauty of sports is that while the core principles never change, the games themselves always have a different story to tell. For the Golden State Warriors, those many individual stories have yielded a promising—albeit incomplete—script.
It tells a story of a refreshing blend of young upstarts and grizzled veterans banding together to finally achieve what their patient fanbase has so feverishly yearned for: true contender status.
As with all stories, however, there are dips along the road, some bigger than others, and the completion of that script doesn’t always yield the result we so desperately crave. In regard to these Warriors, the dips have shown up with increasing frequency, and the picture they’re painting is fairly murky.
Clearly the main character in this grand story is Stephen Curry, the baby-faced assassin who has emerged as one of the top players in the league this season. A healthy Curry ensures that the Warriors have a chance to compete against just about anyone. A healthy Curry, however, is never guaranteed.
While he was blessed with the quickest release in the league and an uncanny ability to put the ball in the rim, regardless of his position on the court, those blessings came with a curse. Size was unfortunately left out of the package, as well as ankles strong enough to deal with the rigors of the NBA.
The threat of injury will always exist for Curry, and for a team like the Warriors that relies so heavily on its star, the results would be disastrous should that threat become reality.
It’s not just Curry, however, that the injury bug dastardly plagues. The cornerstone of the Warriors’ defense, Andrew Bogut, has also seen a good chunk of his career waste away while on the bench, playing an average of just 54.3 games a year since playing all 82 in his rookie season.
With injuries ranging from fractured ankles to dislocated elbows and broken fingers, Bogut’s career has doubled as a game of Operation; his injury report might as well be an anatomy cheat sheet.
For Bogut, he’s emphasized in the past that while the injuries have piled up, they have not been related, and it is that fact that he draws his confidence from, courtesy of Rusty Simmons of SFGate.com:
Anyone can go on Google, research my past two injuries and realize that they're not chronic. I do the right things in the offseason. These are just freak occurrences. These aren't issues of being overweight or being out of condition.
After handing out a three-year contract extension worth $36 million to Bogut this season, the Warriors are gambling heavily that his injury history is behind him. Just like with Curry, should Bogut falter, so too would their status of title contenders.
Making sure that their top stars stay healthy is of the utmost importance because without any picks in this year’s draft, strengthening their roster won’t happen there. In order to bring Andre Iguodala into the mix this season—the move that truly earned them their contender status—they had to pay a steep fee.
Iguodala came with a price, and that price was four draft picks to the Utah Jazz in the next four years. And with other trades having already taken place before that with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Indiana Pacers, the Warriors will have just two total picks in the next four years, courtesy of Pro Sports Transactions.
Considering the fact that the young core of the Warriors—Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green—all came via the draft, not having the opportunity to attempt to strike gold again stings a bit.
Fortunately for the Warriors, however, the fact that they already had their core made those picks expendable. Even beyond that, though, the dirty little secret of the draft is that for every Curry, there’s a Patrick O’Bryant or Anthony Randolph.
With the Warriors likely to be out of the lottery for the next few years, the importance of those picks dropped considerably. Being able to turn them into Iguodala constituted a win for the franchise.
What will really determine how long the Warriors’ contender window lasts will be how they navigate the contract negotiations of Barnes and Thompson in the coming years. With Curry, Bogut and Iguodala all locked up for at least the next three years, making sure that the pieces around them remain there will determine their future.
As the Oklahoma City Thunder proved last season with their trade of James Harden, keeping stars in place with the current cap restrictions is no easy feat. Fortunately for the Warriors, owner Joe Lacob has already stated in an interview with Sean Deveney of Sporting News that the luxury tax will not get in the way of building a championship roster:
It is not going to be a monetary issue because this ownership is willing to spend whatever it takes to build a championship here and be extremely competitive every year. That isn’t something I even think about, we will spend the money.
I don’t want to pay the luxury tax, nobody wants to. That’s why it is a luxury tax, it is very punitive. But if it means winning vs. not winning, I choose winning. So that’s not an issue. At the end of the day, all the things we are talking about are important, but the fans care about one thing: Are you winning? Not the luxury tax. If I am not here to win, then I shouldn’t be here. We need to win.
With money not being an issue, the biggest factor to keeping the Warriors’ contender status alive is health. While that is unfortunately the one thing they cannot control, it’s an issue that all teams face. If their top stars can manage to stay healthy, Curry in particular, their window will stay open for as long as Lacob keeps his core together.