The Warriors still have a star-studded roster, of course. But the team is far removed from their most recent championship success. Kevin Durant is no longer on the team. Klay Thompson missed two full seasons with serious injuries. Steph Curry and Draymond Green have also dealt with injuries and are both nearing the end of their prime years.
The Warriors also hadn’t even made the playoffs, let alone had a deep postseason run, over the past two seasons as they dealt with those injuries and retooled their roster. They entered the season with a talented roster, as evidence by the fact that they had the fourth best preseason odds to win the championship. But they also needed a lot of things to go right, most importantly the health of their stars. Thompson didn’t return until near the midpoint of the season, and Curry and Green both had extended injury absences as well.
The Warriors also needed to cobble together a bench that was a mix of veteran castoffs and unproven young players on the fly throughout the season.
Things came together for them by playoff time, though, and Golden State didn’t go more than six games in a series and didn’t trail in a series until they lost game one of the Finals. The Warriors had a three-game winning streak in three of their four series.
In other words, as Green described it more succinctly on the podium during the team’s championship celebration, “Welcome back to the Warriors Invitational!”
The biggest question moving ahead for the Warriors is a simple one – is Green right, and is their dynasty restarted? Or will an aging core and a more competitive league landscape close their title window right as it reopened? Here are three key questions for the Warriors as they try to defend their championship.
Will a new core emerge?: At times this season, the Warriors had another star on the court – guard Jordan Poole. Poole began the season as a starter in place of Thompson and made the most of his opportunity. He was one of the most improved players in the league and had star-making moments in the playoffs, including scoring 27 or more points in five of the team’s first eight playoff games this season.
Poole isn’t the only promising young player, though. Rookies Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody both showed flashes of potential this season. Second-year center James Wiseman, who missed the entire season with an injury, should also return healthy next season.
The Warriors also have the 28th pick in the NBA Draft later this month, so they could add another young piece to that mix assuming they don’t trade that pick.
It is reasonable to expect all four players to move into more prominent roles next season, and the Warriors will need them to because …
What will they do about their bench?: A unit with significant questions heading into the season due to its thrown together nature actually became pretty reliable, thanks to players like Otto Porter Jr., Gary Payton II, Nemanja Bjelica and Kevon Looney.
The problem? All four are free agents, and could have interest from other teams. Payton and Looney, in particular, likely played themselves into bigger roles and raises whether that is with the Warriors or elsewhere.
Golden State has seemingly endless financial resources, but significant money is invested in Curry, Thompson, Green, and Andrew Wiggins, and Poole will be in line for a big raise soon with his rookie contract nearing its end. Golden State may not have the luxury of rewarding some of its bench veterans, which makes the development of Kuminga, Moody, and Wiseman even more vital.
The good news is that all three of those players have significant upside, and if they make big leaps next season, that takes even more pressure of the team’s stars as they get older.
How will they round out the coaching staff?: It’s a byproduct of success that assistant coaches of championship level teams often get head coaching jobs. This season, Steve Kerr’s two top assistants will depart. Mike Brown will take over as coach of the Sacramento Kings while Kenny Atkinson was hired by the Charlotte Hornets.
Brown’s role is a particularly important one, as he has long been in charge of the team’s defense, which was a major strength during the championship run.
Adding the right coaches to the staff to continue putting their veterans in the right places to succeed while also focusing on the development of the team’s young talent will be vital to their ability to regroup and repeat next season.