For those of us who revel in kneejerk stupid on a daily basis, so, for everyone, the NBA is the perfect training ground for any anti-PhD candidates. Every game is a daily rectal thermometer to be wielded as a way to measure teams’ futures, with the benefit of that being that each subject is an endless supply of stories, videos, analyses and new thoughts that are actually the same old thoughts only repackaged with a new cartoony multi-colored head at the top and a snappy “How The [Team Name Here] Face Their Doom” headline.
Which is why I come to you this day bearing the metaphoric head of the Golden State Warriors, who have been always painted successfully as Zen’s Champion. At least until lately.
Now that Adam Silver has relabeled the players as the updated and zombified cast of Les Miserables, we are now viewing all 450 players as individual cries for help, and this psychoanalytic march toward the event horizon is the new way to parse your favorite team. As fandom and analysis merge into Rorschach fast-break videos by people who are barely qualified for the first of those, and by editors and program directors who think Americans are clawing their pets’ fur off by the fistful in a frantic scramble for the next “In What Regular Season Game Will Kyrie Irving Be More Chipper?” stemwinder, the NBA is now being viewed by people who know better as Arkham Asylum with courtside seating.
All but the Warriors. All until this year.
The putative re-re-repeaters got tagged and bagged at home Tuesday by the Moody Leprechauns, 618-49 or some equally hideous set of numbers. They were dreadful from the moment the anthem ended to the moment the horn sounded and the local talking heads started revving up their next explanation for why they’re all still fine and things like this happen sometimes and they’re still the best team and STEPHEN CURRY! (the default tic for brightening any dinner party). Then Sour Playtime Kevin decided to refute Steve Kerr’s thought that maybe the fellows need to play with a bit more anger by reminding everyone that Kerr began the season by emphasizing that they play with a bit more joy, thus causing more walks through the Cave of Reflexive Despair.
Now I’m not here to tell you the Warriors are doomed, too. I mean, someone has to win the damned championship, and Burneko has given up on the Wizards, the craven spine-deficient weakling, so I guess it’s still Oakland’s to lose. In other words, how the hell do I know?
But for the first time since Leandro Barbosa turned around this franchise in 2015, the Warriors are very clearly vulnerable, don’t have ready fixes for everything they lack, don’t find every game to be a new and exciting expression of glee, defend with less devotion than the Cleveland Cavaliers, and have decided to back-into-the-future with Andrew Bogut because the hot new metric shows that they have the worst defensive numbers in basketball when DeMarcus Cousins is on the floor. Oh, and their three-year search for a credible shooting threat when either Curry or Klay Thompson are not playing continues without noticeable improvement.
In short, the Barbosa Warriors are now the stuff of myth, the First-Year Durants are a dream sequence, and the hot new topic as regards the gentlemen is not, “Who Could Last Six Games With Them?” but “Who Could Actually Rearrange Their Buttocks Pedally (because ESPN can’t say ‘kick their asses’)?”
And while this is what NBA TV and internet brainboxes have been braying for since Durant signed on in 2016, they could not have this coming in an atmosphere in which the commissioner is being noted for all but saying players need meds just to ride the team bus. The joy of the sport that Barbosa brought is now being subsumed by a new angst in which players strive to be general managers, rainmakers, future owners and all-around bosses while their teammates consider them with growing suspicion that their futures are hinged to the potential whims of the guy who dries himself in the next locker space. Players who strive to have everything may get it from time to time, but the law of unintended consequences always makes sure they don’t enjoy it.
Worse for Dr. Silver, whose ostensibly well-meant diagnosis won’t be met with such frank and relieved expressions from the players when it comes to re-do that CBA and he has to go back to being the owners’ priggish mall cop, it comes at a time when the leading challengers to the crown are in relative market/attention–size/approval-rating backwaters like Milwaukee, Toronto, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Denver, Oklahoma City and Houston. For the record, we approve of all these places in their entirety and mean no disrespect (in other words, shove your angry comments), but in a league fixated on the Lakers, Knicks and Celtics even when none of those teams are particularly good, this isn’t going to fix that ratings decline.
So here we are, in a place nobody could have imagined when all there was to do in the down times was yell “Shame!” at Kevin Durant for exercising his contractual right to choose his employer (funny how people love free agency in the inbox and hate it in the outbox; consequently, funny how people suck that way). Now he’s supposed to be miserable, Irving is supposed to be miserable, LeBron James is supposed to radiate misery like solar flares, and all the happy players are on teams we don’t want to bother caring about. Yay sports!
As for the Warriors, they’re probably fine, but they’re definitely not nearly as fun. They don’t beat everyone by double digits, their home court now features less awe and more occasional booing, their defensive numbers have gone from inspirational to Sacramento Kingsy, and they have to scramble to fill in roster holes where they could once sit back and go, “Relax, everyone. We have Barbosa.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This turgid analyplop has a shelf life of 72 hours or until the Warriors defy the logic of recency bias and dopeslap Denver Friday night. We’re all just jerkin’ that knee until the real season starts in April.
Ray Ratto figured out misery a long time before Adam Silver did, and is available for primers on how you can be more like your favorite NBA player at a nominal fee, plus products for purchase.