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Something’s Off In Golden State

Steph Curry
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

As defending champions go, the Golden State Warriors have been a bit of a letdown. Well, a lot of a letdown, actually. And after only 15 games, the news is beginning to hit them that they might become the first title holder in league history to miss the postseason without losing its best player to retirement.

Don't bother looking it up. We got you here. The '70 Celtics and Bill Russell and the '98 Bulls and Michael Jordan. And as day dawned, Stephen Curry was still playing for Golden State.

Fifteen games isn't much of a stick with which to measure their seeming futility, as explained more fully by Comrade Thompson's testimonial to this conga line of disheartened permissiveness. But Wednesday's 130-119 eye poke at the hands of the Phoenix Suns seemed finally to snap both their will to go on and to hide behind their magnificent culture and environment, the one that handled any and all crises along the way to three championships in four years and four in eight.

Ten days ago, they needed 47 points from Curry to beat Sacramento at home by three. Six days ago, they needed Curry to go for 40 to beat Cleveland at home by five. Last night, Curry gave them an even half-hundo as a continued acknowledgement that he is the only way they can save themselves from themselves, but even that was insufficient. The Suns, down two starters including Chris Paul, won with almost contemptible ease (they led for the final three and a half quarters without interruption), the Warriors essentially gave up the ghost midway through the second half and afterward, head coach Steve Kerr looked and sounded like he was about to channel Derek Carr.

He all but said that Curry will somehow have to become not only the leading scorer, best player, franchise face and inspirational leader, but also the chief arse-kicker without portfolio. He also all but said the Warriors and their long-vaunted culture is not just fraying at the edges but starting to smell funny, too. “We lack collective grit," Kerr said at one point, approaching a full-on airing out of grievances perpetrated by the team that made him famous. "And when you don’t have grit, the game is easy for the other team ... It’s a Drew League game. We’re playing a Drew League game.”

For its part, the Drew League is thinking of suing for slander. The Warriors, already being sued for their alleged roles in the collapse of the crypto market, don't need any more lawyers in their lives.

But it's open season on insulting the Warriors now, the first time they have earned such scorn without being able to lean on massive injuries as an alibi.

As many people have advocated them getting rid of their currently-a-failure two-track dynasty extender in pursuit of a good-old-days deal for Kevin Durant as have suggested they play their second unit for the rest of the year as a means to tanking for Victor Wembanyama.

And that's after you excise those who think Jordan Poole should replace Klay Thompson in the starting lineup, as though starting is more important than finishing, which Poole has not yet shown he can do. Kerr has said he has failed, inspiring some to suggest he should have somehow prevented former assistant Mike Brown from taking the Sacramento Kings job because nobody else could teach the Warriors to defend even though Ron Adams and Mark Jackson before him did that very thing.

But whatever theory you choose to embrace (and they all have merit to some extent), this much is indisputably true. Their newfound sense of shame won't allow them to speak convincingly about their magnificent culture for a good while. Teams credited with good culture usually win, and winners always get credited with having good culture whether they have it or not because culture is an entirely subjective judgment based on no data save the standings. It is in fact an ouroboros of mythological bullshit, because nobody from the outside ever gets to see how the culture is prepared so nobody has any idea what the culture is except by taking the word of those charged with talking up the culture. Nobody says anything about the culture of a 6-9 team unless it is compared to a past-its-sale-date yogurt that fell behind the fridge in August. And none of that is as explanatory a metric as being 25th in defense.

The Warriors are almost three separate teams now—the veterans who distrust the young'uns for good reason, the young'uns who want the veterans to piss off to Springfield or some other ancestral home, and Curry, who used to be able to transcend it all but must now put his hands into the muck of disparate personalities and demand what he used to be able to cajole through mere excellence.

This is taking on all the preliminary trappings of a broken dynasty in the making, not quite too old yet but definitely too young and in either event lacking alternatives to bridge the two extremes, finally acknowledging through their coach's words and their own troublesome body language that Curry might not be able to save them after all. He sees it all too, and may be heading toward his own conclusion—that he could go for 75 one night and watch the team he helped build still lose, 147-82.

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