The Whiteboard: How much trouble are the Warriors in right now?

Golden State Warriors, The Whiteboard

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The Warriors are without Steph Curry and coming off a historically lopsided loss. How worried should they be about the rest of their season?

The Golden State Warriors are in a bad way right now.

Steph Curry is out with a shoulder injury, likely until at least mid-Janaury. They’re 1-3 since he was injured but that can be folded into a larger 4-8 stretch going back to Nov. 29. Jordan Poole has carried an increased offensive load in Curry’s absence, scoring 27.9 points per game over their last four, but he’s shooting just 30.8 percent from beyond the arc during that run and has piled up 19 turnovers to 13 assists.

James Wiseman is back in the lineup after an extended G League stint but setting up the same paradox as before he went down, putting up strong box score numbers (22.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.7 blocks per 36 minutes on 69.6 percent shooting) while the Warriors get absolutely obliterated (outscored by 49 points in the 63 minutes he’s played).

And then, there is the defense, now 25th in efficiency on the season and fresh off giving up 143 points in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets, which included 91 first-half points and nine different players scoring in double-digits.

Steve Kerr, speaking with the media after the game, made clear that the loss was not some kind of mirage or accident: “You are what your record says you are. It was a bad road trip. We are 15-18, so we’re a below-.500 team, and we’ve got to find a way to reverse that.”

They’ll be heavy underdogs against the Memphis Grizzlies on Christmas Day and, as of this morning, FiveThirtyEight projects the Warriors to finish with a 42-40 record, giving them just a 61 percent chance of making the playoffs.

So, yeah, they’re in some trouble. The question is whether they try to just play their way out of it and hope Curry returns soon and close to 100 percent, or swing for the fences with an early trade.

The case for and against the Warriors making a trade

Assuming Steph Curry was able to return around Jan. 13 for the beginning of their next road trip, the Warriors are staring at an eight-game homestand without him. That stretch includes games against the Hornets, Hawks, Pistons and Magic, all of whom Golden State will be favored against. Phoenix and Memphis should be tough games but the other two, against Utah and Portland, aren’t nearly as intimidating.

So there’s a good chance the Warriors could come through this road trip at 0.500 or above, and either case could move them up the standings. It’s also unlikely that there is any trade they could swing that would significantly improve their outlook over this stretch before Curry hypothetically returns. Even if a trade was agreed upon today, it takes time to complete the paperwork and physicals, and then time to integrate the new players.

All that is to say, if the Warriors do make a trade it’s not really going to pay dividends until Curry is back in the lineup and at that point, things might not look as dire as they do right now.

In the meantime, their young players are getting additional opportunities for developmental minutes, especially with Donte DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green out as well. Moses Moody and Anthony Lamb are a combined 15-of-30 from beyond the arc without Curry. Rookie Patrick Baldwin Jr. has gotten some run and put up 21 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists, shooting 6-of-13 from beyond the arc, in about 35 total minutes. Even if that was mostly garbage time, seeing him confidently knock down jumpers is a good thing.

So there is a very plausible scenario where the Warriors come out of this next eight-game stretch with their record better than it is right now and the confidence and experience levels of their young players slightly elevated. Put Curry back into that environment, get some bounce-back shooting from Klay Thompson and they could be right back in the think of the playoff race.

But that may not be enough. Even with a lot of variables shifting back in Golden State’s favor they still look like they’re a tier below teams like Denver, Memphis, Phoenix and New Orleans. Something like Wiseman, Moody and a first-rounder for OG Anunoby, or Wiseman and Moody without a pick for Kelly Oubre Jr. or Myles Turner might be the difference between actually opening their championship window this season, or standing on the outside looking in.

Of course, that’s drawing a big mortgage on their future (even if that future is looking less bright than it was a few months ago with the relative struggles of Wiseman and Moody). Taking back long-term money or someone who needs to be re-signed, like Oubre or Turner, also makes re-signing Draymond Green more complicated and could risk alienating him for the rest of this season.

There are no easy decisions and it’s very possible that there are no right answers either. The Warriors could make a trade or not and still come up way short in the playoffs or battle injuries and miss the postseason entirely. The good news is, this upcoming homestand should by them some more time to consider their options.

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