This year’s NBA Finals run for the Golden State Warriors had a much different tone than what I’ve grown accustomed to over the past years. For the first time during this dominant five-year streak of NBA Finals appearances, the Warriors became a true underdog. Their opponent, Toronto, was simply the more talented team with superior depth, athleticism, quickness, and size.
Going into the Finals with the absence of Kevin Durant, everyone knew it would be a tall, but feasible, task to accomplish a third consecutive championship, but further playoff-time injuries to Kevon Looney, Andre Iguodala, Demarcus Cousins, and Klay Thompson became unsurmountable. The depleted bench forced coach Steve Kerr to throw some lineups on the court that looked more like my high school JV team than NBA rosters.
As Draymond Green frankly put it, “clearly it just wasn’t our year.”
With the mind-boggling amount of injuries, the Warriors had every right to just throw in the towel. However, that was far from what they did. The Warriors’ depleted, injury-riddled lineup punched far above their weight and came within a surprisingly open Steph Curry three of forcing a seventh game. For that, I don’t feel the same sense of defeat that I felt after the Warriors’ 2016 Finals meltdown. I feel good about the grit and fight they showed. I am proud as ever to be a Dubs fan.
In the modern NBA, dynasties don’t really last much longer than what the Warriors have shown us over these past five years. With all of the great teams and players that you can think of off the top of your head, only one other team has accomplished the feat of five consecutive finals appearances and that was the legendary 1950/60’s Boston Celtics — who, by the way, played only against eight other teams in an era that was just beginning to accept African Americans. Even Michael Jordan’s Bulls, Kobe’s Lakers, any team ever with LeBron James, and the ‘Showtime’ Lakers did not achieve what the Warriors have.
In the modern-day NBA the system is designed to limit these dynastic runs and balance out the talent level. The best teams get the worst draft picks, keeping multiple star players becomes difficult with a salary cap, and tax penalties become more severe for each year the team salary exceeds that cap.
That process has been taking its toll on the Warriors and was as evident as ever this year. The talent on the Warriors is extremely top heavy and clearly not as balanced as it was in years past. The Warriors haven’t been able to produce an impact player through the draft really since Draymond Green in 2012. Kevon Looney, the Warriors’ 2015 first round pick, made huge strides this year, looking to have solidified his spot in the NBA as a tough rebounder and James Harden Kryptonite, but he’s not exactly a transcendent talent. With all the Warriors’ star players in their primes and lining up for pay days after Curry’s $200 million contract, the team’s ability to improve their roster looks to be rather restricted.
So, that said, is this the end of the dynasty? Many believe so, but I’m not so quick to overreact.
There are plenty of reasons to write this team off: long-term injuries to star players, limited spare salary available to go towards the pending free agencies of Durant, Thompson, Looney, Cousins, or Sweden’s finest JONAS JEREBKO, and the overall wear and tear on an aging core all in, or approaching, their 30’s, playing against teams with more spry, young stars.
I see the arguments for this train of thought, and maybe I’m a stubborn Dubs fan, but having closely followed this team’s rise from trash to glory, I’ve learned better than to doubt them.
Green again acknowledged that “everyone thinks it’s the end of us,” after the game 6 loss, following with, “but that’s just not smart.”
This organization managed to pull a team from the bottom of the NBA into possibly one of the greatest teams ever assembled in a decade. They’ve got savvy, aggressive management and ownership with deep pockets that always manages to pull a rabbit out of the hat (i.e. 2016 signing of Kevin Durant or 2018 signing of Demarcus Cousins). They’ve got a host of unselfish leaders that put winning above all ego such as Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala. These factors coupled with Mr. Curry’s god-damn wizardry will keep them plenty afloat in my opinion.
If I’ve learned anything over these years, it’s to not doubt these guys. I’ve seen them dethrone the ‘King’ multiple times, break the record for wins in a regular season, and play with a level of teamwork and cohesion that is envied by 29 other teams in the league. In an alternate universe maybe Klay doesn’t tear his ACL, Durant stays healthy, or the Dubs hit their free throws down the stretch in game 6. In these scenarios, the Warriors could very well have completed the three-peat and oh how the narratives would have changed.
They may be tired, both mentally and physically, but I think they still got gas left in the tank.
As I think back over all these years, I get nostalgic reminiscing about the great moments and become inclined to continue writing about some of this history that I’ve witnessed. Storylines such as how the Warriors managed to change the game of basketball with their small lineups and three point shooting, the 2013 signing of Andre Iguodala — the first time in ages that a top free agent actually wanted to come play in Oakland, or Klay Thompson’s out-of-this-world shooting hot streaks, highlighted by an NBA-record 37-points in one quarter.
I could look back on these moments as if they were just that, history. But I’m going to hold my horses. These stories will, and must, be told, but not quite yet. There are still chapters of this dynastic story yet to be told in my opinion.
Don’t expect the Warriors to break any records next year, but do expect them to be competitive. That Steph Curry guy is pretty good I hear, like two-time MVP, three point shooting record good, and Draymond Green reminded us this postseason why he has a Defensive Player of the Year honor to his name. Also, don’t expect the Warriors front office to be complacent and throw out the same old roster next year. They know where they need to improve and surely they will be aggressive to fill those voids. They’ve surprised me more than once to the point where it’s not really a surprise anymore. I look forward to seeing what they’re scheming in the offseason, even if it appears that their options are limited.
Finally, these Warriors have heart, which was well on display as they scratched and clawed their way through a series that they had no business winning. The Warriors are tough, battle tested. They know how to turn it on for sixteen games during the playoffs like few other teams can.
“A lot has been proven about who we are as a team,” explained a composed Steph Curry after the game 6 loss.
So, if you have dismissed the Dub’s dynasty as over, fair enough. You have every right to. But in my humble opinion, this story is not yet over. There are blank pages waiting to be written in the legacies of this all-time team and its future Hall of Fame players.
“With our DNA and the character that we have on this team, I wouldn’t bet against us,” added Curry. “This five year run as been awesome, but I definitely don’t think it’s over.”
Only time will tell and as Curry put it, “We’ll be alright.”
Image credit: Frank Gunn / AP