SAN FRANCISCO — Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr says he has never seen anything quite like the injury situation his team is dealing with, while noting that he has been calling the healthy remaining players on the roster the “Elite Eight” as they continue to play under adverse circumstances.
“We could have used Draymond Green and D’Angelo Russell for sure,” Kerr said with a bit of a chuckle after Tuesday’s film session, in the wake of a 100-97 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night. “And Kevon Looney would have been very helpful. Jacob Evans would have helped. You need bodies in the NBA, especially to get through the long haul. And playing eight guys, as long as I’ve been doing this, 30, 31 years in the league, it seems like maybe once or twice a year you have eight guys. Maybe, because of crazy circumstances.
“So for us to be doing this almost routinely now is — I’ve never seen it. So it’s a testament to the group, the ‘Elite Eight,’ that I like to call them. The Elite Eight’s doing a hell of a job hanging in there.”
The Warriors, who come into Wednesday’s game against the Chicago Bulls with a league-worst 3-15 record, continue to deal with a litany of injuries.
Star guard Stephen Curry broke his hand Oct. 30 and is out for at least three months. All-Star swingman Klay Thompson continues to rehab a left ACL injury and his status for the season remains unclear. Looney has been out since playing 10 minutes in a season-opening loss to the LA Clippers because of a nerve condition. Veteran leader Green has missed nine games already because of a finger injury and then a heel injury.
Rookie Alen Smailagic has not played all season because of an ankle injury. Evans has been out since Oct. 28 because of an adductor injury. Russell has been out since Nov. 15 after spraining his thumb and will be sidelined at least another week.
Despite the setbacks, Kerr has tried to remain positive with his young team. While it has been tough to watch the injuries and losses pile up, Kerr remains outwardly optimistic, even after the group blew a 10-point lead in the final three minutes of regulation in Monday’s loss to the Thunder.
“I think it’s important to keep accentuating the positives,” Kerr said. “We’ve gotten a lot better the last few weeks. And [it’s] not easy playing with eight guys. The effort was there and the defensive consistency has improved dramatically. The offensive execution for the most part during the game was purposeful. We took care of the ball, we moved the ball. Fourth quarter when the pressure came we didn’t execute, but that’s kind of the next step for this young group. So that’s what we’re aiming to improve upon as a group. The players, but also the coaches. We have to do our part to put them in the best position to succeed.
“So it’s kind of one step at a time, and having said all that, I’ve been doing this for a long time in one capacity or another, and I see a lot of really positive things from this team. We’re going to get some people back, we’ve been hampered by a lot of injuries, but we get [Russell] back, we get [Looney] back, we get [Green] back, what the young guys have done, what they’ve helped to build in the early part of the season foundationally — we’re going to start winning some games. We just got to keep doing what we’re doing.”
What makes things even more difficult for the Warriors is that they don’t have a lot of roster flexibility because of moves that were made over the summer after star forward Kevin Durant decided to sign with the Brooklyn Nets in free agency.
“We’re literally unable to add an extra guy because we’re hard-capped by the [Russell] sign-and-trade,” Kerr explained. “So right now there’s actually nothing we can do about it. … We want to maintain our flexibility because remember, one of our eight guys, our starting point guard, is on a two-way and he’s quickly using up his days, and one of our injured players is another, and so it doesn’t make sense to burn through the final few hundred thousand dollars we can spend with that.”
The good news for the Warriors is that Green took some shots after Tuesday’s film session and is questionable for Wednesday’s game, while Looney is expected to return at some point on the Warriors’ upcoming five-game road trip after returning to practice Sunday. It has been a rough start to the season for an organization that has gone to five consecutive NBA Finals, but Kerr remains steadfast in his belief that better days are ahead.
“We didn’t eliminate Steph from the picture until his injury, so we spent all of training camp doing a lot of the things that we did last year,” Kerr said. “And then once Steph got hurt we had to revamp everything. So we’ve been doing a lot of stuff on the fly, but over the last couple weeks it feels like the group has jelled. Hopefully that will start showing up more in terms of wins instead of losses.”