It’s almost impossible to put into words just how precipitous the Golden State Warriors‘ fall from grace has been. Over the course of their last six non-preseason games, they have lost Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and now Stephen Curry — who broke his left hand on Wednesday night — to serious injuries.
Durant, of course, is gone for good, having signed with the Brooklyn Nets. Thompson will most likely miss the entire season as he rehabs his surgically repaired ACL. Curry awaits word on whether he’ll need surgery, but he’s surely out for an extended period — which feels like the final nail in the coffin of a team that was on life support as it was.
Add it all up, and seemingly in the snap of a finger, the Warriors have gone from one of the greatest teams in history to one of the worst teams in the league. Through four games they’re 1-3 with the NBA‘s third-worst point differential — and even that doesn’t do justice how bad the Warriors have been. Even if Curry were to come back in a month, which feels like a bare minimum absence for a broken hand, the idea of the Warriors making the playoffs already feels like a fantasy.
Which begs the question: If losing is inevitable, why not, you know, lose BIG and at least secure a higher draft pick? In other words, why not tank? It’s a dirty word, but in situations like this one, it’s practical. The Warriors haven’t had a lottery pick since they landed Harrison Barnes with the No. 7 overall pick in 2012.
They tanked for Barnes that year, by the way. Their pick was top-seven protected, meaning if had landed at No. 8 or below, it would have gone to the Utah Jazz. The Warriors benched their best players and went 5-22 over their last 27 games to finish with exactly the seventh-worst record in the league. It got them Barnes, who became a core part of their 2015 championship and their 73-win season in 2015-16.
But Warriors owner Joe Lacob says the organization will not take that path again, saying late Wednesday night, per ESPN’s Ramona Shelbourne, that tanking “is against everything I and we stand for.” From ESPN:
“We will fight like hell. Develop our young guys. Learn to win,” Lacob continued. “You don’t get better by trying to lose. Our entire organization is about winning. And we will win. Some bumps in the road, perhaps. But we will never accept losing.”
This is the right thing to say, and indeed the Warriors have put themselves in a different place than they were in back in 2012 when they were merely trying to be relevant. The Warriors won championships now, and they have the pride that comes with that level of success. But what’s the old saying about pride coming before the fall? Golden State might want to think twice about fighting the good fight.
Again, let’s say Curry comes back in a month. There’s a good chance the Warriors’ hole, in the Western Conference, will already be too deep to get back into the playoff race. So they can play Curry 33 minutes when he gets back and push Draymond Green and in all likelihood still miss the postseason. What would be the point of missing the playoffs by a few games and getting, say, the No. 12 pick when you could just drop a few more games and gives your stars some more rest and get perhaps a top-five pick?
I hate saying this. Tanking is one of the really terrible things about the way sports are set up. But until the draft’s incentive structure changes even more than it already has — it now gives the same odds of getting the No. 1 pick to the worst three teams rather than the worst team getting the best odds — there will remain obvious benefits to tanking.
My guess is the Warriors would never overtly tank. They’re not going to just blatantly start making up injuries for their best players game after game. But they will play them fewer minutes, perhaps strategically pull them from a certain amount of games they may otherwise battle to the end to win. They may not try to lose, but they might not try all that hard to win, either. We shall see.