The Warriors were built to survive a crisis. There has not been an NBA team with a comparable depth in recent years, perhaps, which allows them to lose the services of a superstar without the whole operation falling apart.
Stephen Curry is the most indispensable of all, and his absence will be the most difficult to overcome.
When Curry suffered a severe sprain to his right ankle in New Orleans on Monday night, he recalled his nightmarish episodes of past years. He needed surgery on that ankle in May of 2011, and again in April of 2012. A YouTube video hit "The numerous ankle injuries of Stephen Curry" shows 11 episodes of his limp outside the court, and that's just a sample partial of those dark days. There were times when Curry, tired of constant rehabilitation, wondered if he would ever play again.
All that seemed to be hidden in the distant past until this last incident, projecting at least a temporary shadow over the organization. The good news is that Tuesday's MRI scan revealed a "stable" ankle without structural damage, but it will be out for at least two weeks.
It has become fashionable among Golden State fans to discuss the most valuable player on the team. It could be Kevin Durant, whose arrival last season made the Warriors virtually unbeatable. There is a case for Draymond Green, which ignites the spark of motivation every time he discovers laziness or an unreflective tactic. Some would even cast votes for Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala, two pillars of diligence and class, only to throw a bizarre opinion on the mix.
However, it is Curry who has the whole package as a whole. When Durant missed 19 games due to a knee injury last season, Curry stepped up and made sure the team was as formidable as ever. Green's suspension of Game 5 of the 2016 finals, whether justified or unreasonable, exposed his vulnerability to turmoil. Curry is a beacon of measured perspective, and as we have discovered lately, that does not apply to some of your teammates.
Suddenly, the Warriors are the most angry team in the league. Shaun Livingston, who was normally carefree, was sent off for his confrontation with referee Courtney Kirkland on Sunday in Miami (although Kirkland pressed unnecessarily on the issue when facing Livingston). Durant was ejected twice in the last three games, and committed the inexcusable offense of letting DeMarcus Cousins get into New Orleans. Green is a threat to steal at least one technician on any given night.
Curry, most of the time, is one of those who tell a crazy teammate to cool down, leave him behind, and the Warriors will miss that leadership mark while he's gone. For so long, it seemed absurd (at least for Bay Area fans) that the Warriors were portrayed as despicable and evil characters. Right now, the label seems worthy of consideration. They had represented the antithesis of the LA Clippers, known for their incessant complaints about officers, but the separation does not seem so flagrant at this time.
"We have to show some poise when things are not going to be ours," head coach Steve Kerr said after the New Orleans game. "We're not made up there, we're getting too emotional, including myself."
Certainly, the Warriors will be fine. Curry could be out for two months and return to discover that his team still owns the Western Conference. The system is too good, fundamentally solid, to be hit by a major blow, and that becomes evident every time Omri Casspi, Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell, Patrick McCaw and, yes, even Nick Young take the floor.
Still, every time the Warriors launch one of those memorable races, quickly converting a 12-point deficit into a 16-point lead, Curry tends to be the centerpiece. Opponents have enough problems with Green's multilevel brilliance, Durant's unique versatility or Thompson's streak, but when Curry starts hitting those 28 feet and over, falling to the ground or doing a crazy pose while the ball slides softly by the network, when it really gets ridiculous, it's just too much for for any team . It invariably seems to be open, either through a well-timed screen or its amazing ability to handle the ball, and the opposition gets a clear and terrifying look at the best outside shooter in NBA history.
Beyond that, Curry has established the NBA standard for humility, community service and outreach for young children in each city. He is revered, as a kind of deity, in other countries. He does not want other places, he becomes jealous of his contemporaries or gets nervous if the ball does not cross his path. If the league office invented an imaginary player to represent the NBA in every way possible, it would be a direct portrait of Curry.
The Warriors risked a lot when they re-signed in the fall of 2012. The consensus around the league was that their injury history created too great a risk. "We decided to bet on a couple of things," said general manager Bob Myers. "We bet on who he is as a human being, we bet on his ability, we bet on the fact that he was the kind of player who would do everything possible to come back, be smart and be diligent."
Curry proved to be all those things, not to mention an excellent athlete around acknowledged for his conditioning and work ethic. "This ankle thing will not be my life," he promised, with a special ability to forecast. The Warriors hope that this last sprain is nothing more than a temporary setback, and they sincerely hope to be right. In the long run, Curry is the only player they can not afford to lose.
Bruce Jenkins is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @ Bruce_Jenkins1