At first glance, it seems like something you’d frame the other way around. What could the Warriors, in their current mid-season skid, learn from the Niners, who did get it together in time to make a playoff run? Could the Warriors figure out the basketball equivalent of “give Deebo the ball” and “move Arik Armstead inside” in order to save their season?
Maybe they could, but as a Niner fan, I’m more interested in how the Warriors ended up in their current situation. The Warriors are executing a plan they put together the last offseason, back when they faced a very similar crossroads to what the 49ers are currently navigating.
Fresh off a furious rampage to the postseason that ended in a whimper, the Warriors had to figure out how to balance their team. On one end of the roster, they had gifted yet inexperienced youngsters, but on the other, they had aged, impatient champions looking for more immediate support.
Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson all went to Marcus Thompson to tell the media that they wanted the front office to trade a package of young players/picks for an established star, like Bradley Beal.
In response, the team owner sat down for an interview where he let everybody know that the Warriors were committed to developing their youngsters and competing for a championship with their big three. The youth movement, Lacob said, wasn’t going anywhere.
In support of that, the Warriors would overhaul the coaching staff - “fresh eyes,” said head coach Steve Kerr - with development-minded coaches. They started with bringing in Kenny Atkinson, former head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, to serve as Assistant Head Coach and challenge Kerr on his ideas and assumptions.
Then, they hired Dejan Milosevic (who coached NBA superstar Nikola Jokic back in Serbia) and Jama Maleha (who ran the Toronto Raptors’ acclaimed player development program) to give special attention to the Warriors’ young players.
The 49ers are doing the exact same thing right now.
John Lynch went on his media tour in the NFL Combine, hyping up Trey Lance while practice footage of Lance’s best plays mysteriously started leaking on social media. The message was clear: the 49ers are committing to the youth in 2022, and they even brought along their version of Kenny Atkinson in Anthony Lynn and Dejan/Jama in Brian Griese.
This approach is not without its risks. Depending on a select few elite veterans means your season hinges on older, injury-prone bodies making it through 17 games. There isn't anybody with a clean medical history between Nick Bosa, Trent Williams, George Kittle, and Deebo Samuel – all top-tier players at critical positions.
If those guys are healthy and performing at a high level, you get the best of both worlds. The 49ers would be lucky to start their season the way the Warriors did: best record in the league, #1 ranked defense, and the young players getting better each night. Who needs another expensive star when the future is unfolding before your very eyes?
But then Draymond Green missed a game and another, and all of a sudden, he was out of the line-up with a mysterious lower-back injury. The Warriors are now careening down the standings, clearly missing another established veteran on defense who can fill those gaps.
The young players are still developing nicely: just the other night, several of those young players that would have been traded for Bradley Beal scored 32, 30, and 16 points apiece.
But the Warriors lost. And that’s where I think this dual-track approach can go off-the-rails for the 49ers. In the case of another really bad injury wave, Lance will need to develop ahead of schedule. Less pessimistically, Lance will at least need to develop in time for the playoffs.
Because, unlike the Warriors, the 49ers don’t have a champion-level, two-time MVP on the field that can impact the game like Stephen Curry. They’re hoping Trey Lance becomes that. There’s nobody on the “win” track that’s as singularly important to the 49ers as Draymond and Steph are to the Warriors, and there’s nobody on the “develop” track that’s as singularly important to the Warriors as Trey Lance is to the 49ers.
Maybe the comparisons end there. But as we watch the 49ers put together their plan while the Warriors execute on their plan, we’re seeing two different teams in two different sports play almost the same game.
Can both Bay Area sports teams have it both ways in 2022-23? We’re about to find out.