SAN FRANCISCO — This is no Hollywood movie where tragedy inspires greatness.
As the Warriors dip their toes back into basketball and prepare for Wednesday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, Dejan Milojevic’s absence is omnipresent and difficult to grasp.
“We’re coming in and practicing, but it doesn’t feel normal at all,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Practice is competitive and upbeat, but the awareness is constant.”
The stakes at hand for the Warriors’ season pale in comparison to the unimaginable loss of life most of this team witnessed firsthand. But now this team will have to make the uncomfortable transition from vulnerable grief to the unsympathetic demands of the NBA season.
Before Milojevic’s death, the Warriors’ concerns revolved around the future of a dynasty in tailspin. Now the question is how the team will step back into this other reality with the Feb. 8 trade deadline looming, one that feels relatively insignificant now. But a reality nonetheless.
“It’d have been really hard to play those first few days, to be completely honest,” Steph Curry said.
The Warriors last played on Jan. 15 and had one of their ugliest losses of the year against the Memphis Grizzlies’ B-Squad. Draymond Green made his anticipated return from indefinite suspension and, after the game, implored his teammates to play with some pride on defense.
Through 40 games, currently out of the play-in picture, it’s clear the Warriors’ on-court chemistry is in dire need of a shakeup if they want to make a late playoff push or reposition themselves to contend next season and beyond. Those around the team are aware there needs to be a change if they want to maximize Curry’s championship window. But the possibilities are limited, time is running out and the Warriors can only take baby steps.
“We’re worried about tomorrow,” Curry said. “I know that’s not the answer you’re looking for but it’s more of a reminder of what’s not promised in the future for us to be able to play a basketball game tomorrow. Try to compete, try to win, try to execute what we need to do to win. … We have to remind ourselves of that mission as we go forward, but it’s really just about tomorrow and if we can get a win and enjoy ourselves.”
While the Warriors were in mourning, the league shifted into transaction mode.
Pascal Siakam was seen as a good Warriors fit available on an expiring contract for his size and versatility on defense that could be a viable second scorer next to Curry. But the Toronto Raptors traded him to the Indiana Pacers, likely on the premise that the 29-year-old Siakam would sign a hefty contract extension there.
Rumors swirled around the Los Angeles Lakers — also looking to maximize LeBron James’ contention window — putting a package together for Atlanta guard Dejounte Murray. On Tuesday, the Miami Heat traded veteran guard Kyle Lowry, who had been benched, to the Charlotte Hornets for guard Terry Rozier.
Golden State came into the season touting some “optionality” on their roster — expiring and team-friendly contracts that could be moved in a pinch for the right player. But the team’s objectives heading into Feb. 8 are murky in the wake of tragedy and during a season defined by suspension what-ifs. The team’s identity crisis is borne of Green’s many suspensions, Andrew Wiggins’ decline and a gray area in which younger players are called on to step up more than expected.
The team’s brass are in mourning while having to sort these priorities out.