SAN FRANCISCO -- For the last five years, the Golden State Warriors have made their presence bigger than any team in the league.
So far this season, their biggest presence has been the absence of their most important pieces.
Through four games, the team has been without four players, including expected contributors Willie Cauley-Stein, Kevon Looney and Alec Burks. Even as Cauley Stein and Burks returned Wednesday, the team announced potentially long term absences to Looney and guard Jacob Evans, giving the Warriors -- longtime kings of the league -- a dose of the real NBA.
Golden State's injury bug came to light on the eve of training camp, when general manager Bob Myers announced Cauley-Stein sprained his foot in a summer pickup game. Over the next three days, Looney, Burks and rookie big man Alec Smailigic went down with injuries, crippling the Warriors' depth.
The timing may be worse than the injuries themselves. In the last six months, the team has lost Kevin Durant to Brooklyn and Klay Thompson to injury, making way for eight new additions to the roster. A sign and trade for talented guard D'Angelo Russell put them in salary cap hell. Now, with little practice, Burks and Cauley-Stein are entering an unfamiliar environment.
"We have to see where they fit," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said prior to Wednesday night's matchup against the Phoenix Suns. "And it's tough because they've never - forget playing in a game for us - they haven't even scrimmaged. We barely know these players and they don't know their teammates very well."
It's hard not being able to practice and not really feel like the gel," Cauley-Stein added Wednesday afternoon. "This will be the first time I'll practice with these dudes in a game setting so it's going to be a lot of learning on the fly.
Burks are Cauley-Stein will make their debut under dire circumstances. Through three games, they've been outscored in the paint 166-146, while losing two games by an average of 18.5 points. Once a vaunted defense, the Warriors have toiled to the bottom of the league in defensive rating.
"These things take time and we have to put them out there and let them learn on the floor," Kerr said. "We'll learn about them as well, we'll get some games on film that we can really examine it and see what the best combinations are going forward."
Even Golden State's small victories come with a caveat. In Monday's 134-123 win over the Pelicans, Evans walked out of Smoothie King Center with a limp courtesy of a strained adductor. After struggling to find minutes last season, Evans - who will be re-evaluated in three weeks -- had finally shown promise.
"A young player who was finally getting some time," Kerr said Wednesday. "Finally getting some minutes to show what he could do so I feel bad for Jacob."
As Evans reconciled his latest injury, Looney was disappointed with his latest diagnosis. Though he's participated in pregame drills, Looney is out indefinitely as neurologic specialists try find the remedy to his hamstring troubles.
"He's frustrated," Kerr said. "We're frustrated for him."
Throughout Golden State's dynastic run, Kerr warned the Warriors could be back in the 'real NBA' soon. Now, with the latest injury bug, his words are coming true.