After marching through the Western Conference playoffs with a 12-0 record and beating the Cleveland Cavaliers at home by a combined 41 points in the first two games of these NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors appear well on their way to a second championship in three seasons, an undefeated record in the postseason and erasing the bitter memories of last year's Finals defeat. The questions have turned from whether LeBron James can stop these Warriors to whether Golden State will have any competition over the next few years or if they will simply run through the rest of the league for the foreseeable future.
Whether or not the Warriors are able to finish off the Cavs this week, it's worth discussing the future a bit, considering that Golden State boasts two former Most Valuable Players in Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, who are 29 and 28 years old, respectively. Draymond Green is 27 and the heart and soul of this team. Klay Thompson is also 27 and one of the best shooters in the league, and the best third option maybe in the history of the NBA.
But we've asked this question before. The Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers were supposed to dominate the league for a decade. Instead, they won three championships, made another Finals, and then disbanded. The San Antonio Spurs won five titles during Tim Duncan's career, but even they never repeated as champions. Durant's partnership with Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City yielded zero championships. LeBron's tenure in Miami was supposed to usher in a decade of dominance, but that too resulted in just two rings. So, what can possibly stop these Warriors from winning the next five championships?
Here's what we've learned from past potential NBA dynasties, and how they might inform Golden State's future.
The Shaq-Kobe Lakers present the best example of how chemistry can derail a dynasty. As the Lakers were three-peating from 2000 to 2002, the big brother-little brother dynamic of the two star players started to shift. Shaq and Kobe learned to coexist as long as they were winning championships, but after a Finals loss in 2004, the pair split up. Shaq was traded to Miami, while Kobe remained in L.A. and was allowed to take on the alpha dog role.
If there's one player who may appear to be a threat to mess up the chemistry of the Warriors, many would point to Green, who earned himself a one-game suspension during last year's Finals that shifted the momentum in Cleveland's favor. He has often been described as a player who toes the line, but crosses it at times. Green -- who has been remarkable in these playoffs -- was asked about that after Game 2's win over Cleveland on Sunday. "I've just been playing basketball, brother," Green told a reporter. "At the end of the day, I think everyone talks to officials. I talk to them. But going over the edge isn't going to win me a championship. I think I'm pretty smart guy and I learned my lesson, so I went over the edge before, fool me once, you can't fool me twice."
With Curry, Durant and Thompson as low-maintenance stars, and with the way the Warriors share the ball, if Green has learned his lesson from last season, chemistry doesn't appear to be a problem for the Warriors moving forward.
Durant ended the Thunder's championship window by choosing the Warriors last summer. Similarly, LeBron ended the Heat's chances of winning more titles when he returned to the Cavs in 2014. Curry -- who is on a below-market deal -- is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Durant, who can opt out of a player option worth $27.7 million for 2017-18, can also be a free agent, although there are no indications that either player will consider going anywhere else. Green is signed through 2019-20, while Thompson won't hit free agency until after the 2018-19 season. So, this core group will be together for at least two more seasons after this.
Even if all the players want to stay, there's this to consider:
$1.3 billion- Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) June 5, 2017
The projected amount in salary and tax to keep this Golden State team together in the next 4 yrs.
If Joe Lacob is willing to keep the price tag, this super team will be together for the foreseeable future. Having Durant and Curry locked up to long-term deals this summer means the league will be chasing the Warriors for a little while longer.
The Thunder would probably have at least one title if it were not for untimely injuries to Russell Westbrook, Durant and Serge Ibaka across three different seasons. Karl Malone's injury in the 2004 Finals against Detroit was a significant factor for the Lakers that year, and if we are playing the what if game, perhaps Shaq and Kobe survive a few more seasons if they don't lose to the Pistons. Injuries are impossible to predict, and we saw last season how a less-than-100 percent Curry affected the Warriors in the Finals. But Golden State had no problems rolling to 67 wins during the regular season even with Durant missing 20 games. In the postseason, an extended absence from Curry or Durant could swing a series, but otherwise, having four stars and two MVPs in their prime means it would take a catastrophic series of events on the injury front for the Warriors to be even considered an upset candidate in the playoffs.
The Shaq-Kobe Lakers had to contend with the Sacramento Kings and the San Antonio Spurs in the West. The Spurs dealt with several iterations of the Lakers, and also contended with several teams in the West -- the Suns, Grizzlies and Mavericks, to name three -- who gave them trouble in the postseason. LeBron's Heat teams ran into the Mavericks and the Spurs in the Finals and lost to both. Right now, no one in the West appears to be close to competing with the Warriors, while the Cavs look like they're not in the same tier as Golden State either.
But the Rockets have James Harden and an offense that would theoretically run with the Warriors over a seven-game series. The Spurs, who might be strengthening their roster in free agency this offseason (Chris Paul, anyone?), have Kawhi Leonard and will be back again. The Cavs will surely make a few moves if they are swept in the Finals, and will still have LeBron next season. Then there are younger teams in the next tier like Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Minnesota and even the Lakers who could become challengers in two or three seasons.
All of that to say: The league is always shifting and as the Warriors' core ages into its 30s, and the core groups of other teams enter their primes, Golden State will still be favored, but might not sweep its way through the postseason with ease. Given the core four of the Warriors though, this is not happening for another few seasons.
The Lakers were exhausted after three consecutive Finals appearances and ran out of gas going for a fourth title. The Heat went to four consecutive Finals, and admitted after losing to the Spurs in the last one that they were simply mentally fatigued. The Warriors will be attempting to make their fourth consecutive Finals appearance next season, and while the number of additional games in the playoffs add up, they've had to exert very little stress both in the regular season and in these playoffs, where they've regularly beaten teams by double digits. Durant and Curry aren't playing heavy minutes while they grind through the regular season, and are fresh for the postseason, a concept much different than the Lakers and Heat teams referenced above that had plenty of grueling playoff matchups to get through during their championship runs.
We've jumped to conclusions about potential dynasties before, but the factors that derailed those previous teams are likely not going to threaten this Warriors team. The gap between Golden State and the rest of the league will close eventually, and we still have to reserve the "Well, Cleveland has LeBron" card before handing this year's title to the Warriors (although asking the best player in the world to beat this Warriors team four times out of five when they're on a 14-game playoff win streak seems like too tall of a task). Add it all together, and we might just be at the very start of Golden State's dominance for the next few seasons.