CLEVELAND — Consider LeBron James impressed. He’s seen the Warriors now 16 times in the last three NBA Finals, and this version — with Kevin Durant on board — has him stumped. He has called these Warriors a “juggernaut,” said they “rank right up there” with the best teams he’s ever seen and added that any of the Warriors stars could “lead a franchise without anybody else.”
Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green give the Warriors four All-Star players who are still on the happy side of 30 years old. Curry is 29, and Durant turns 29 in September. Thompson and Green are 27. It’s a wrecking-ball foursome that stands on the brink of a championship and a possible perfect 16-0 playoff run, one that has the rest of the league — as well as fans, broadcasters and folks in the league office — worried about the impact of a collapse of competitive balance.
Just wait. Deep breaths here. Let’s not mythologize the Warriors ahead of their time.
With, potentially, two championships in three years, they’re looking at the makings of a dynasty without much resistance from the other 29 teams. The way they’ve handled the NBA this year has given rise to some pretty bleak outlooks from league observers. But let’s try to pull the plug on some of these myths before they take root too deeply.
Myth 1: This team will encourage even more superteams
Since the Warriors have four superstars on hand, it has been posited that the only way to compete with them will be by bringing together rival superteams. There are two problems with that, though. The first is that the desire to wrangle a superteam out of the pile of NBA stars has very little to do with the Warriors.
The superteam concept is not particularly new, from James’ Cavs to James’ Heat to the disastrous Dwight Howard-Kobe Bryant Lakers to the "Big Three" Celtics and on back through the Charles Barkley-Hakeem Olajuwon-Scottie Pippen Rockets all the way back to Wilt Chamberlain teaming with Jerry West and Elgin Baylor on the Lakers. Teams will look to bring together talent not because they want to keep up with the Warriors, but because that’s what teams have always done.
The second problem with the “more superteams” projection is that superteams won’t be easy pull off after this coming summer. The reason the Warriors were able to do it was because there was a spike in revenue from the league’s television deal that created an acre of cap space for most teams, and Golden State was able to squeeze Durant into their own space. There will be another cap bounce this summer, but after that, revenues will level off, and only with meticulous planning will a franchise be able to cobble together a superteam.
Myth 2: This team will encourage everyone else to give up
On the opposite end of the doom-and-gloom spectrum is the notion that the Warriors are so good they will force other teams into a kind of meek submission. Because there’s a dominant team, the rest of the league will consider transactions, remember that the Warriors exist and then shrug because nothing matters anymore. So there will be 29 versions of the Washington Generals, run by Eeyore front offices.
Come on. No one is in a front-office job with white flags in mind.
“I think that is a little offensive to everyone else in the league,” one general manager told Sporting News. “If there is a player we want or someone comes to us with a trade, do you think that we’re going to say, 'well, that sounds good, but the Warriors are too talented so we’re not going to make that trade or sign that guy.' That’s silly.”
Some teams will be inclined to consider the circumstances and operate more for the long term rather than immediate gain. Lakers coach Luke Walton, for example, recently told Bleacher Report's Howard Beck and Jordan Brenner that his team’s pursuit of a star could be hampered because, “let’s not forget that those Golden State Warriors are just a little bit north of us.”
But Walton’s Lakers are more than one star away from contention, as he went on to say. LA was the third-worst team in the league this year, and the team should let its youngsters develop before making a big move. Walton’s sentiment must be put into that context.
There will still be aggressive front offices, and there will be trades to be made and free agents to sign. The Warriors are not going to keep the rest of the league from trying to get better, and if that includes more long-term thinking on the part of some teams, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Myth 3: The Warriors’ dominance will go unchecked for the next four or five years
This could happen. The Warriors have the look of the postwar Yankees, and this budding dynasty could take in all the Larry O’Brien trophies from here through 2021 or so.
But in the last two decades, there have been two teams that stand out as potential dynasties when they were brought together. The first was the Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal Lakers of the early 2000s. They went to four NBA Finals, and won three, before they burst just like a supernova, unable to bear the weight of their star personalities (including that of their coach, Phil Jackson.)
There were also the "Talents in South Beach" Heat, who came together in 2010 and, before playing a single game, had awarded themselves eight championships. They stayed together for just four years, making the Finals each season but winning only twice.
These Warriors could be different. They could keep their egos in check for the next half-decade and not suffer the fate of the Lakers or Heat. They’d still have to work against the luxury tax. It’s possible that the team could re-sign all its free agents this summer — Curry, Durant, supersub Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston — but according to The Vertical’s Bobby Marks, a former front-office exec, the tax bill over the coming four years would be $1.3 billion.
Even for the Warriors’ deep-pocketed owners, that is an exorbitant payment. In addition to the money, being into the tax severely limits the team’s ability to sign new free agents. Essentially, the Warriors would lock into this roster and hope that some of its recent draftees — Kevon Looney, Patrick McCaw, Damian Jones — will continue to develop as rotation contributors.
Myth 4: The regular season has been rendered useless
Because the Warriors — as well as the Cavs and Spurs — rested players at various times during last season, and because the finals seemed like a foregone conclusion going back to early July when Durant signed with the Warriors, the lament has arisen that the regular season is little more than an extended Cavs-Warriors preseason.
But if you watched over the course of this season, there were some pretty compelling developments. There was the individual offensive greatness of Russell Westbrook and James Harden, and the two-way greatness of Kawhi Leonard. There was the elevation of guys like DeMar DeRozan and Isaiah Thomas, who were already great players, but then took their place as superstars in the league. There was a fascinating trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans where he could be teamed with Anthony Davis.
Young stars blossomed, like Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee, Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota, Nikola Jokic in Denver, Joel Embiid in Philadelphia, Rudy Gobert in Utah and Devin Booker in Phoenix. There were compelling storylines, from Westbrook’s triple-double chase to Mike Mike D'Antoni’s splashy return to coaching to the ongoing Phil Jackson-Carmelo Anthony turmoil in New York to the shaky future of the Clippers to the ascent (and possibly intertwined futures) of the Celtics and the Jazz.
The Warriors loomed over all stories, of course. They’ll continue to do so in the coming years. But that does not mean there isn’t a lot worth watching in this league, in the short and long terms.