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Is it time for the Warriors to let go?

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If it didn't happen in Tuesday night's No. 9-vs.-No. 10 play-in game, it would've happened soon thereafter; in the subsequent play-in game, or in the first round of the playoffs. This season's Golden State Warriors, for all their hard-earned pedigree, weren't built to make a deep run.

They were too old, too small, too light on top-end talent behind Steph Curry, and faced too steep a climb to ever inspire real hope. The dynasty was already over.

Pull any inflection point or any conceivable root cause out of a hat, and you'll probably find a kernel of truth. Start with Draymond Green punching Jordan Poole in the face, which led to the Warriors slogging through a joyless season and losing to the Lakers in last year's second round.

There was Green earning multiple extended suspensions for on-court incidents this season, Andrew Wiggins' game falling off a cliff, and Klay Thompson struggling so badly he got relegated to the bench. Add in Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody blaming Steve Kerr for their stunted progress, and Kerr's constant lineup tinkering while trying desperately to find sustained success. There are several moments when it would've been reasonable to say, "Yeah, this looks like it's run its course."

It's impressive that the Warriors even managed to scrape out 46 wins (which would've been enough to secure home-court advantage in last year's West) despite the on-court instability, interpersonal friction, and genuine tragedy afflicting the organization. That they did so is a credit to Curry's enduring (if waning) brilliance, the defensive backbone Green still provides, and the growth shown by the team's young prospect brigade.

But the way the season ended - short of the playoffs proper, with a 24-point loss to a reeling Sacramento Kings team missing two key rotation players - gave things a distinct air of finality. Even though it was only one game, which featured outlier bad shooting from Thompson (who otherwise turned his season around post-All-Star break), it's hard to see how the Warriors in their current form can bounce back from this.

They were lucky to escape the Kings last spring when De'Aaron Fox broke a finger on his shooting hand and Curry went for 50 points to win Game 7 of a series rife with poetic symmetry. In this year's win-or-go-home showcase, a 36-year-old Curry struggled to break free of Keon Ellis and the Kings' relentless ball pressure, while his teammates failed to pick up the slack.

Thompson clanked all 10 of his field goals, and non-Curry Warriors shot 28% from 3-point range. Golden State was smoked on the glass and, in one of the few carryover trends from the team's bygone golden age, committed heaps of careless turnovers that Sacramento turned into points. Under head coach and former Kerr disciple Mike Brown, the Kings imported many of the Warriors' principles, including perpetual off-ball motion and unyielding pace. They used those principles to bury the old lions, who looked sluggish in comparison.

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There's been a sense of nostalgia and resignation hovering over this whole Warriors season, even as their core players continued to insist the contention window was still open. "That's what we used to do to teams," Curry yearningly told reporters after a blowout loss to Boston in which Golden State trailed by 44 points at halftime. "It's kind of demoralizing."

An offseason of difficult decisions looms. Thompson is set to become a free agent after he and the franchise failed to come to an extension agreement this season. Even if a few of his bricked threes had found mesh Tuesday night, his defensive decline and increasing lack of off-the-bounce utility would've been reasons to balk at meeting his asking price.

Chris Paul was a quality backup who fit well into the team's read-and-react system, and the front office probably has no regrets about trading Poole for him. But he's about to turn 39, and he blocked some of the young guys while exacerbating the team's structural issues. It might be hard to justify bringing him back even after his non-guaranteed $30-million salary for next season inevitably gets waived.

The Warriors aren't the Warriors without Green, but how much of an appetite do they have left for his knife-edge antics? Curry remains a top-15 player, but this season revealed the limits of how far he can carry a flawed roster at this stage of his career, even while playing 74 games. The starting lineup featuring their dynastic trio, plus Wiggins and Kevon Looney, was statistically the best big-minute group in the NBA last season. This campaign, it was outscored by 9.1 points per 100 possessions.

And for all the strides made by the team's younger contingent - from Kuminga's breakout to Moody's solid two-way contributions to the encouraging rookie seasons put forth by Brandon Podziemski and Trayce Jackson-Davis - the bridge to the future doesn't yet appear to be leading anywhere especially inspiring. The team's hopes of seamlessly transitioning from one era of contention to another are basically kaput.

Barring major changes to its aging nucleus, it'll be tough for Golden State to keep pace in a brutal conference that doesn't figure to get any more forgiving next season, with the Grizzlies set to rejoin the fray and young teams like the Spurs, Rockets, and Jazz poised to make big jumps. But it's still hard to imagine the Warriors considering the nuclear option and leaning into a rebuild as long as Curry is performing at an All-NBA level.

This decade of Warriors basketball has been one of the most successful for any team in NBA history, and continuity has been a big part of that. Whether or not you'd agree with it, you could at least understand the desire to keep the band together to see if some internal development from the next generation and more discipline from Green can get them back to where they were a couple of years ago.

That feels like a fool's hope, but sometimes human beings decide that things are worth holding onto even when common sense dictates that it's time to let go. We'll soon find out how much longer the Warriors intend to huddle around the embers of this dying fire.

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