Kurtenbach: On the court and at the trade deadline, Jonathan Kuminga has become untouchable

Kurtenbach: On the court and at the trade deadline, Jonathan Kuminga has become untouchable

Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga was angry.

Referee Justin Van Duyne had just completed a rare task in the NBA — he called Kuminga for a travel.

The call was warranted — Kuminga’s violation was downright egregious — but the Congolese forward thought he was pushed in the back on the play. (He wasn’t.)

When the player and the official reached the other side of the court, they chatted. Kuminga didn’t like what he was hearing, so he waved off Van Duyne, the way you would after being cut off in traffic. That earned him a technical foul.

The Warriors were up by eight points with 6:44 to play in the fourth quarter. Anyone who has watched Golden State this season knew what was coming — Philadelphia would pull it to within five points in the final five minutes of the game, and the Warriors would have to scratch and claw their way to the finish line. History repeats itself.

But not Tuesday.

The Philadelphia 76ers were not the source of Kuminga’s rage, but they did receive the brunt of it for the next five minutes of game time.

After a Philadelphia miss on the subsequent possession, the 21-year-old sprinted — now that’s something you rarely see in the NBA — down the middle of the floor. Steph Curry, who rebounded the miss, was able to hit Kuminga in stride, and the 21-year-old threw down a thunderous reverse jam.

“Kuminga is playing mad. That might be bad news for the Sixers,” Warriors analyst Kelenna Azubuike said on the TV broadcast.

Good call.

Seconds later, Kuminga stole the ball from Joel Embiid in the high post and sprinted down the floor again. This play didn’t pan out, but the tone had been set.

Kuminga picked up the Sixers full court. Then he jumped in to double-team Embiid with Draymond Green in the halfcourt. Then he rotated to protect the rim, forcing a late outlet pass to the wing. Then Kuminga closed down that shooter, Tobias Harris, too. Another Sixers miss.

On the next defensive possession, Kuminga stole the ball again and added another 75-foot sprint to the basket, earning two free throws.

Less than a minute later, there was another Kuminga steal on Embiid (the center was injured in the fight for the ball), springing Steph Curry for a transition layup.

And when Philly made two deep, contested 3-pointers to pull within seven, it was Kuminga drove to the basket twice to ice the game.

It was a spellbinding stretch — elite-level play from an immensely talented young player who has elevated his game in the last few weeks.

There was a message in that stretch for the Warriors, too, so obvious it could have been written in 50-foot-tall letter across the Chase Center hardwood:

You cannot trade this guy.

Related Articles

Golden State Warriors |

Golden State WNBA team has named its president

Golden State Warriors |

Foul issues in spotlight for Golden State Warriors as free throw-happy 76ers await

Golden State Warriors |

Draymond Green returns to Warriors’ starting lineup, but this time it looks different

Golden State Warriors |

Kerr: NBA needs to consider rule changes amidst 54-year high in scoring

Golden State Warriors |

Kurtenbach: Amid tragedy, the Warriors can be thankful Steve Kerr is leading the way

The NBA’s trade deadline is a week from Thursday. The Warriors, even after the win over the Sixers, sit four games under .500, out of the playoff or play-in tournament spots in the Western Conference.

Golden State has two routes it can take over the next week, and they are exceptionally different.

The Dubs can buy into Andrew Wiggins’ solid play as of late, Green’s exceptional influence since his return from suspension, and the looming returns of Gary Payton II and Chris Paul and stand pat at the trade deadline. They can believe things are coming together for this team and ride this wave of macro positivity to the finish line.

Or they can blow it all up. Trade Wiggins, trade Klay Thompson, trade Paul, Moses Moody, Kevon Looney, and any other role player on the roster the league wants. Acknowledge that the salad days are long gone, get under the exceptionally punitive luxury tax thresholds, and stock the war chest for the future.

I think the Warriors will vote for Option A. I think Option B is justifiable, too.

But in either scenario, Kuminga cannot be traded.

Yes, the Warriors are looking for a No. 2 — a reliable sidekick — for Curry. And I won’t tell you Kuminga — who has scored 20 or more in seven straight games — is that guy today.

But it’s hard not to see him being that guy someday.

The Warriors were interested in trading for Pascal Siakam before he was moved to Indiana earlier this month. The allure of the move was undisputed: Siakam is a clear No. 2.

I was skeptical of such a move. What does Siakam do that Kuminga cannot? I wondered.

We have the answer now: nothing.

Siakam is a tenacious defender both inside and out and can score at three levels, though the closer to the hoop, the better.

Sounds like Kuminga, doesn’t it?

But Siakam is 29 years old and due to be a free agent at the end of the season. Kuminga is a pup. He has so many more levels for his game to reach.

For instance: what if he always played with that fire he exhibited in the fourth quarter Tuesday all the time?

That’s not just a No. 2. That’s a No. 1 — a wing with game-changing impact on both sides of the floor.

Those kinds of players win titles.

Perhaps that’s not in the cards, but Kuminga’s growth over the last month, season, and year tells us he’ll continue to improve.

Earlier this month, The Athletic reported that Kuminga told confidants he was “losing faith” in Steve Kerr. (Some confidants…) The thought was that Kerr wouldn’t be able to unlock his potential.

So much for that theory.

A sit-down with the coach later, and Kuminga’s been on a tear since.

Related Articles

Golden State Warriors |

Photos: Warriors host Super Bowl-bound 49ers during win over 76ers

Golden State Warriors |

Warriors: How Draymond Green is unlocking the best of Kuminga and Wiggins

Golden State Warriors |

Steph Curry drops 37 in Warriors’ win over 76ers with NFC Champions in the house

Golden State Warriors |

Steph Curry, Sabrina Ionescu to face off in All-Star 3-point contest

Golden State Warriors |

Golden State WNBA team has named its president

It won’t continue forever. Kuminga is still 21 — there will be plenty of rough, frustrating nights ahead. Progress isn’t linear, despite what the last seven games might indicate.

And it should also be noted that the Warriors’ situation still isn’t great.

It’s improving, though, in large part because Kuminga is improving. You can credit Kerr’s leadership, Green’s voice and play at center, or no one else but Kuminga for that.

And as the Warriors look at the trade market, there’s no obvious, game-changing move to be made. There’s no available superstar who will transform this team into a title contender in the final two months of the regular season.

No, any trade the Warriors could make ahead of the deadline is a play of faith — a marginal bet that whatever is coming in will prove better than what’s leaving.

And if the last few weeks didn’t prove it, those five fourth-quarter minutes last night did:

The Warriors can’t bet against Kuminga now.