OAKLAND — With bags under their eyes and their shoulders slouched, Bob Meyers and Steve Kerr sat down to address the media after a devastating NBA Finals loss, which for the moment, looks to have derailed the dynasty they’ve worked to build over the last five years.
“I haven’t had a ton of time to process a lot of different things but I’ll answer everything the best I can,” Meyers said, prefacing his press conference with a dose of uncertainty.
In the aftermath of an NBA Finals run that featured a pair of potential career-altering injuries to two key components of the Warriors roster, Golden State now faces an offseason full of question marks. Including free agency and the upcoming NBA Draft, these are questions that even the Warriors are not equipped to answer right now.
“Who would have thought we’d be walking into free agency like this?” Meyers said. “Nobody would have. No fan. No media member. Nobody in our organization … But that’s what’s here and that’s what’s in front of us.”
Heading into the 2018-19 NBA season, Kerr gave the world a warning: Cherish the run that his Warriors were on because things like this don’t last forever.
While the 114-110 loss in the final game at Oracle Arena stung, the ramifications of a series full of an unprecedented number of catastrophic injuries are at the front of his mind, particularly the Achilles tear suffered by Kevin Durant in Game 5, and the ACL tear suffered by Klay Thompsin in Game 6.
“More than anything, I just keep thinking about Kevin and Klay,” Kerr said. “Often times, injuries play a role when you lose but very rarely, if ever in the Finals — has there ever been an Achilles tear from a star player in the Finals?
“I don’t remember anything like this. I remember Kareem [Abdual-Jabar] spraining his ankle or Magic Johnson and Byron Scott pulling hamstrings. I remember stuff like that but for Kevin to rupture his Achilles and then Klay to tear his ACL in back-to-back Finals games, how do you process that?”
The images of Durant clutching the back of his ankle after snapping his Achilles tendon and Thompson digging deep to limp back onto the court and shoot two free throws with a torn ACL will forever be remembered by Warriors fans, and, according to ESPN, both will be offered five-year max contracts by Golden State, but it’s still unclear how those two injuries will impact the trajectory of the Warriors franchise and the landscape of the NBA as a whole for years to come.
The 2019 offseason: Even before Durant went down, free agency loomed over Golden State, given that, including Durant, nine players were set to go on the open market.
Along with DeMarcus Cousins (who has said he is open to returning, but who may be able to draw a higher salary than Golden State’s cap situation allows), Kevon Looney, Quinn Cook, Jordan Bell, Damion Lee and Jonas Jerebko, who all began the year on the Warriors roster without a contract for the 2019-20 season, the Warriors also recognized the possibility of Durant and Thompson walking at the end of the year.
This tension, specifically in Durant’s case, boiled over into a January night at Staples Center against the Los Angeles Clippers as the Durant and Draymond Green got into a shouting match on the sideline, which spilled over into the locker r0om. The basis of the spat revolved around the belief that Durant had already made his decision to move on from Golden State. Green’s opinion on the matter: “We don’t need you.”
But as the Warriors would find out just five months later, they did, in fact, need Durant. Maybe even more than they thought. And looking at a 3-1 deficit against the Raptors, the same hole they had put many teams in along this five-year run, their longing for Durant’s presence was intensified.
In fact, according to some reports, that longing turned into frustration within the locker room, leading to Durant coming back from a strained calf perhaps too early, though the Warriors have refuted that claim.
“I don’t think there’s anyone to blame,” Meyers, clearly overcome with emotion, said after Game 5 with a crackling voice. “But if want, you can blame me. I run our basketball operations.”
It’s been widely rumored that Durant has had his eyes set on the New York Knicks. After New York traded Kristaps Porzingus, thus clearing room for two max contracts, ostensibly making room for Durant, that speculation intensified, but in the time it took Raptors fans to first cheer Durant’s departure from Game 5 only to be silenced by their own players, Durant’s landing location this summer became a crapshoot.
The first option Durant has is to come back to Golden State by opting into the second of a two-year, $61.5 million contract he signed last summer. With an expected recovery time of a calendar year, he’d rehab on the Warriors’ dime, and make $31.5 million next season.
With at least three teams still willing to offer Durant a five-year max contract, according to ESPN, leaving the Bay Area is still something that’s on the table.
Durant will already be receiving advice to leave, too, as his agent Rich Kleinman has gone on record saying that opting in will be Durant’s “last resort.” Kleinman also reportedly has the Celtics at the top of his list for destinations. Where Durant will end up is anybody’s guess
“The injury kind of throws everything for a loop,” Kerr said. “I have no idea what Kevin is going to do. I know that we all want him back and we think that this is a great situation for him and vice versa.”
Thompson’s free agency comes as a mere formality following his exit in Game 6. Before exiting the arena on crutches, he gave Oracle one last thing to cheer about as he limped back onto the court following a knee-shredding landing on a slam dunk, and hit two free throws.
“He’s one of the great competitors that I’ve ever been around,” Kerr said. “Not just from a willingness to compete and fight but a level of play that he’s reached this postseason.”
Just two games into the Finals, Thompson strained his left hamstring, forcing him to miss a playoff game for the first time in his career. But coming off of the injury, Thompson found new life, helping the Warriors force a Game 6 with seven 3-pointers and 26 points.
Thompson, like Durant, had been the center of speculation over the course of the regular season. Linked to the Lakers, Thompson stayed away from the presumption that he’d be taking his talents to Southern California to team up with LeBron James. Instead, he stated all year that he wanted to remain a Warrior for the duration of his career.
After fighting to come return to Game 6, the Warriors team doctors finally convinced Thompson that his knee was simply too compromised to play. And as it was later revealed, Thompson had torn the ACL, putting his 2019-20 season in question.
But one thing about Thompson that was not lost amid the reality of having to undergo surgery to repair the ruptured ligament was his concern regarding the team.
“The beauty about Klay was I said ‘How are you feeling?’ and he said ‘I can’t believe we lost that game,’” Meyers said. “That tells you everything you need to know.”
For Thompson, who will likely be seeking a max contract this summer, this serves as an example as to why it probable that he’ll be returning next season. According to his father Mychal, per ESPN, there is “no question” that his son will be re-signing with Golden State, the team that drafted him with the 11th overall pick in 2011.
But even if the Warriors do retain Thompson and Durant, the team will not resemble any of the previous five rosters that made five consecutive Finals appearances. They will look different and short-handed, especially considering that two max deals for a pair of players who may not even play next season will cost them upwards of $350 million when luxury taxes are considered.
“It’s hard to even picture what next year’s team will look like at this point,” Kerr said. “We’ll see how it all shakes out.”
A chance for the Warriors to reload, in a way, comes via the NBA Draft, which is set to begin on June 20. But just 24 hours removed from Game 6 and only six days out from the draft, the Warriors will have to get their bearings before the real show begins.
“I think [Toronto’s] GM said, ‘You guys have done this five years in a row?’’ Meyers said. “It’s great but you’d like a little more prep time.”
Over the last few seasons, the Warriors have done a decent job, especially considering the placement of their draft picks, of landing several players who have played significant roles. Players like Looney, Bell and Jones come to mind as each played decent minutes over the last two seasons for the Warriors, but only Looney has truly broken out.
Already deep in the luxury tax, thanks to super-max contract given to Stephen Curry, a $17 million salary owed to Andre Iguodala, another $18 million allotted for Draymond Green and the expected retention of Thompson, Durant or both, hitting in the draft becomes that much more important for a Golden State franchise that could have two max-contract players on the shelf.
“People say we’re done and I never think of us as anything,” Meyers said. “We try our best. In my job, my job is to help pick a team … It’s a longer game than people think. I don’t do this job for one year. I hope our players don’t come here thinking it’s just for one year.”
And while they may not have all of the answers right now, the Warriors’ head coach certainly believes in Myers, a man who took the responsibility of Durant’s injury as to heart and literally shed tears in the process.
“Yes, I have unbelievable confidence in Bob,” Kerr said. “He’s incredible at his job. One of the best in the business. I think on the outside looking in, everyone looks at a GM and says, ‘Well how is this guy as a GM? Here’s who he picked.’ The term is general manager, not general picker. Bob manages our people. He manages our coaching staff, he manages our players.”
Before Myers sets himself to the task of getting the dynasty back on the rails. But first, they’ll all need some time to digest new landscape before him.
“I don’t think anyone should be making any decisions right now, even me,” he said. “Just taking to Klay this morning. He said, ‘I haven’t picked up the phone and talked to anybody because I just have to wrap my head around everything.’”