Warriors confident they’ll be back, but not with this group

LOS ANGELES – You knew this was coming. 

You heard it when Draymond Green said “I’m not being myself” on his podcast in January. 

You saw it whenever Steph Curry dejectedly walked down court this postseason, chewing his mouthpiece.

You truly believed it when Klay Thompson fell apart in Game 6, when he typically shines. 

This time, the Golden State Warriors couldn’t pull it off. This time, the three guys who always found a way to persist, couldn’t. This time, things were different. 

The Warriors were eliminated from the playoffs with a 122-101 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals on Friday at Crypto.com Arena. It was the first time that Curry, Green and Thompson lost a series to a Western Conference team since 2014. 

Now, many questions loom for the franchise that has dominated the NBA over the past decade, reaching the Finals in six of the last nine years, winning four championships. 

What will Green do with his player option? Will this be Bob Myers’ final season as general manager? Will Thompson get a contract extension? Did Jordan Poole’s struggles this postseason put him on the trading block?

Warriors coach Steve Kerr acknowledged that this iteration of the Warriors “maxed out” its potential. 

But when asked to consider what may happen in the future, he emphasized that he still firmly believes in the key pieces of its incredible past. 

“I think it’s probably too raw right now for me to think about that,” Kerr said of the team’s upcoming decisions. “The one thing I will say is that Draymond, Klay and Steph, our core guys, they’ve got plenty left to offer. There’s still plenty left in the tank. I thought they all had great seasons. 

“It may not have ended on a high note. But all three guys are still high-level players and I still feel like this team has championship potential. We didn’t get there this year. But it’s not like this is the end of the rope.”

Green has a player option for the 2023-24 season worth $27.5 million to remain with the Warriors. If he declines it, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. 

When asked about his future, Green didn’t mince words. 

“I want to be a Warrior for the rest of my life,” said Green, who had nine points, nine rebounds and three assists on Friday. “I want to ride out with the same dudes I rode in with.”

Green, however, told Andscape that he hasn’t made a decision yet, and will weigh his options with his agent, Rich Paul. 

If Green chooses to leave, it would mark the end of an era. Since the Warriors selected him as the 35th overall pick in the 2012 draft, he has been the heart and soul of the team, the guy who has willed the Warriors to championships with his words, gritty play and unbridled determination. 

What makes Green Green is his fire. 

But he put himself and the team in an impossibly tough position to navigate earlier this season. He punched Poole at a practice in October. The video was leaked to the world. Ever since, he has had to straddle the incredibly narrow line of being fiery, but not too fiery.

“I think a lot of our shortcomings this year is my fault,” Green said on his podcast in January. “Why is it my fault? Because I have not been the leader that I am and that I need to be for this team. And the reason I have not been that leader is also my fault.”

But Green turned things around, with nothing illustrating that more than his play in Game 5. As the Warriors faced elimination, he had 20 points and 10 rebounds, leading his team to a 121-106 win. 

Green said he has grown a lot this season. He has learned patience, how to pick his spots and how to operate when things aren’t going his way. 

“This year has helped me as a person, as much as it has as a basketball player,” Green said. 

In addition to the very public incident between Green and Poole, the Warriors had a lot of struggles this season. It’s actually impressive that they made the second round of the playoffs considering everything that went wrong. There were injuries. Andrew Wiggins missed more than two months because of family matters. They went 11-30 on the road. 

But they clawed their way into the playoffs. And then in the first round, they became the first defending champions to come back from a 2-0 deficit, beating Sacramento. 

As for the second round, the Lakers were simply the better team, Kerr and Green both said. And ultimately there were too many issues for them to overcome. 

Poole averaged just 10.3 points this postseason on 34.1 percent shooting from the field and 25.4 percent from beyond the arc, a precipitous decline from the 20.4 points on 43 percent shooting and 33.6 percent from deep he averaged this season. 

Not to mention, Wiggins suffered a rib cartilage fracture in Game 5 after colliding with LeBron James while going for a rebound. According to Kerr, he was playing through “a ton” of pain in Game 6 — not a recipe for success for a two-way player who has been tasked with guarding James this series. 

Then there was the fact that both Thompson and Curry struggled with their shooting in Game 6, with Thompson going 3 for 19 from the field and 2 for 12 from beyond the arc. And Curry finishing with 32 points, twice as many as any of his teammates, but needing 28 shots to get them. 

They were tired. They didn’t have enough depth. There were no last-second heroics to dig them out of the 3-1 series deficit in which they fell. The guys who seemingly always found a way to persevere when it counted most were finally running on empty. 

For a team that’s so used to winning, it was stunning to fall so short in the postseason. The players who make up the Big Three were all shell-shocked. There are clearly going to be some changes. 

But this much is for sure: Curry, Thompson and Green each said that they still deeply believe they could still be champions together. 

After all, Curry is still at his peak, scoring 50 points in Game 7 against the Kings. Thompson returned to being one of the top shooters in the game in his first full season since returning from back-to-back ACL and Achilles’ injuries. And Green remains one of the league’s top defenders, making the All-Defensive team for the eighth time. 

Curry said they trust each other to “compete until the wheels fall off.”  And when asked if they still have what it takes to go all the way, Thompson said, “I fully believe that.”

But ultimately the choice is now in Green’s hands. 

Together, those guys have created the NBA’s most recent dynasty. Together, they have been the perfect ingredients in a recipe that sings. Together, they have been unstoppable. 

And even though their run finally screeched to a halt, they have no doubt that together they could do it again. 

“They said we couldn’t do it again last year, we did it,” Green said. “They said we’d miss the playoffs this year, we made it. But guess what? We don’t do moral victories. So, we lost. This was not a championship group as it stands. But we have champions. We’re made up of champions.”

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.

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