As soon as the Warriors signed Kevin Durant, the 2016-2017 NBA Season was over. Of course, it was not nearly that easy. Nevertheless, the only questions were how quickly they were going to figure out how to play with each other and whether they would stay healthy. In basketball, there is such a thing as too much talent. Chemistry could be an issue. In addition, too much unselfishness could be a problem too with overpassing that leads to indecisiveness and turnovers. However, no one really believed that the Warriors would not gel. They were a 73 regular season win team that nearly missed winning a title last year, a great passing team, and adding arguably the second best player in the NBA. In terms of injury, Durant missed over a month but returned in time for a tune up at the end of the regular season to prepare for the playoffs. The Warriors are so overwhelming that they even sat Durant a couple of games in the first round before they unleashed him in the remainder of the playoffs. The Warriors steamrolled the Western Conference playoffs and did not lose a game. The 8th seeded Portland Trailblazers were obviously outclassed. The Utah Jazz were an excellent defensive team but the Warriors were impossible to stop and the Jazz did not have the firepower to stick with the Warriors. The San Antonio Spurs were up 25 points in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. However, Kawhi Leonard got hurt and it was lights out for the Spurs from there. Zaza Pachulia slid under Kawhi but he was hurt from the previous round anyway. His ankle was a pre-existing condition. In the NBA Finals, the Warriors faced Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the third time in a row. With the Cavaliers coming back 3-1 in the Finals last year to deny the Warriors a Championship with their 73 wins and having the best player in the NBA Lebron James, it was always clear the Cavs were the biggest threat to the Warriors winning a title.
Before the series, I predicted the Warriors would win in 5. Even though Lebron James was historically great in the Finals last year, the Cavaliers barely squeaked through the series in 7 games. With the Warriors adding Kevin Durant in the offseason, it completely tipped the scales. In last year’s Finals, the Cavs helped off Harrison Barnes the entire series. He could not hit enough shots. Obviously, they cannot leave Durant open. In addition, the Warriors were already a top defensive team. Durant is a seven foot player with a long wingspan. It gave them another defensive weapon to challenge Lebron and Kyrie Irving when they drove to the rim. The Cavaliers were also not as good of a team as last year. Lebron is still ridiculous but he is a year older. Moreover, the Cavaliers were just not that good on defense throughout the season. They ranked at the bottom of the league. They were never going to hold down the juggernaut offense of the Warriors long enough to win the series. The series basically played out as expected. I would say the Cavaliers actually played better than I thought they would. They were in great position to win Game 3 before they made a couple of critical mistakes (e.g. Kyrie not going for a 2 for 1 in the last minute), they missed wide open key shots, and Durant took over. The Cavs blew the Warriors away in Game 4. They lost in Game 5 but competed and stayed with the Warriors for most of the game. If the Cavs held on to Game 3, they might have made it a series but I still believe the Warriors would have won.
In addition to the advantage of the Warriors fielding 4 of the top 15 players in the NBA compared to the Cavs top 3 in the starting lineups, the Warriors bench was again a decisive advantage. The Warriors were bringing Shaun LIvingston, Andre Iguodala, and Ian Clark in the game to make key contributions. The Cavs made some acquisitions this year but they did not pan out in this series. Kyle Korver is historically one of the most accurate sharpshooters of all-time. He missed a wide open 3 that would have sealed Game 3. In general, he did not hit shots. Not surprisingly, he was also exposed on defense by the Warriors. Deron Williams is at the end of his career and no longer a factor as a player. Channing Frye did nothing. An ancient Richard Jefferson was probably their best bench player. When you add up everything, the Cavs never had a chance to win the series. For the NBA, it was a terribly boring NBA playoffs. Both the Warriors and Cavs ran through their conferences. The Finals was supposed to be epic and save this year’s playoffs. It was a bust.
For the Warriors, they were a 67 win regular season win team. However, they did not have Durant for the full season and did not push to win as many games as possible. Their postseason, 16-1, is one of the most dominant of all-time. They rightfully take their place as one of the greatest teams of all-time. The Warriors are definitely a top 10 team in NBA history. I will use Bill Simmon’s The Book of Basketball as a reference point to try to put the 2017 Warriors in perspective. In terms of the great teams before the NBA had a three point line, the 1967 76ers that was Wilt Chamberlain’s best 76ers team, the 1972 69 win Los Angeles Lakers with Chamberlain and Jerry West, or the best team of Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics dynasty all deserve to be on the list. However, the game has changed so much since then. If you played the game with their old rules which did not include the three point line, their size and depth would give the Warriors serious issues. With modern rules and the three point line, it would be difficult for those teams to guard the Warriors on the perimeter. Even if the Warriors were dominated down low (e.g. Wilt Chamberlain), their advantage with the three point line would probably prevail.
Again, the sport has changed and evolved so much that I will not dive into comparing the Warriors to those teams any further. As such, we will move to the modern teams. Bill Simmons gives more weight to the modern teams because athletes get better over time and the game improves. As such, his top 5 teams of all-time are the 2001 Lakers with Shaq and Kobe, the 1989 Detroit Pistons, the 1987 Lakers, the 1996 Bulls, and the 1986 Celtics. In terms of the 2001 Lakers, Shaq would have overpowered the Warriors like he would with most teams. Kobe would obviously be a difficult cover too. Their role players complemented Shaq and Kobe very well. On the flip side, the Lakers would not have been able to cover all the perimeter players in the Warriors. It would be a great matchup and I do not really know who would win. In terms of the 1989 Detroit Pistons, they were one of the greatest defensive teams of all-time. Isiah Thomas was a killer point guard and Joe Dumars was an excellent complement in the backcourt. Of course, the Pistons were the Bad Boys. Their front line was vicious. Dennis Rodman was a freak rebounder and defender. They completely beat up Michael Jordan in the late 1980s. If they played the Warriors with the rules from the past, I would put my money on the Pistons because of their physicality and Isaiah Thomas’s clutch playmaking and scoring down the stretch of games. With the current rules, they would not be able to touch the Warriors and would not be able to defend them.
The 1987 Lakers were led by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, and James Worthy. They also had a great bench. The Showtime Lakers were great in transition and Kareem was unstoppable in the post with his skyhook. They would definitely put up points against the Warriors. On the other hand, they would have had significant issues defending the three point shooters of the Warriors. The Warriors would get too many wide open threes. I think that would be the decisive factor but it would be interesting to see what style wins out in a series. The 1986 Celtics had an overpowering front line with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. In addition, Bill Walton was one of the most talented big men to ever play and would have been an all-time great if he did not get injured. In 1986, he was able to stay healthy and came off the bench to further bolster the greatest front line. Dennis Johnson was great in the backcourt. Danny Ainge was a good complement to Johnson. They also had a deep bench. Of course, the Warriors perimeter game would give them trouble too. Nevertheless, I agree with Simmons that the 1986 Celitcs are the greatest team ever and their frontline would just overwhelm the Warriors.
The most interesting matchup would be the 1996 Chicago Bulls. They were a great defensive team with the greatest player of all-time and unstoppable scorer, Michael Jordan. It would be very interesting to see how they would try to matchup with the Warriors. In my opinion, Scottie Pippen is the greatest perimeter defender of all-time. He had ridiculously long arms and was very strong. For example, he completely changed the 1991 NBA Finals when the Bulls switched him onto Magic Johnson after the Lakers won Game 1. He locked down Magic and the Bulls won the next four games. In regards to the Warriors, would the Bulls have decided to put him on Durant or Curry? Michael Jordan was also an all-time great perimeter defender. He would likely get the other and they would rotate. The Bulls would probably have to leave a lesser defender on Klay Thompson and just try to slow him down. Dennis Rodman would have gone against Draymond Green. Rodman was a master of psychological warfare. There is no way he would not have gotten Green to implode and lash out. As we have seen, it does not take much and Rodman was a handful. Pippen, Jordan, and Rodman were also ridiculously versatile defenders. All three could guard multiple positions. With the amount of switches needed against the Warriors, that defense trio would be the most equipped defenders to challenge the perimeter game of the Warriors. In terms of slowing down MJ, the Warriors could throw Durant, Thompson, and Green at him. They would not have stopped him but they might have slowed him down a little. It would be an amazing matchup between the two teams. I was a Michael Jordan fan. Naturally, I am going to take him and the Bulls. I would never bet against Michael Jordan. However, I would not be totally confident they would win the series.
In terms of Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Golden State Warriors, I still believe it was gutless. He was already on a team that was capable of beating the Warriors. If he played better in the Western Conference Finals last year, the Thunder would have went to the Finals. Joining the Warriors to create an overwhelming team instead of embracing competition and a challenge irks me. Of course, Lebron did the same thing when he signed with the Miami Heat to create a super team with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. However, I hated that decision too and rooted against the Heat every year Lebron was on the team. Accordingly, I will root against Durant and the Warriors every year. In terms of history, the disdain for his decision will dissipate and probably just be a footnote. As long as he wins titles and is the best player on the team like he was in this Finals, his personal achievements and Warriors championships will be all that matters for his legacy. For this reason, he took some initial heat but he probably made the correct decision. As for the Warriors, it was a no brainer move. No one can blame them. In their defense, they built their team the correct way through the draft. They built a big three without using a top 5 pick in the draft or signing them through free agency. Curry was the 7th pick. Thompson was the 11th pick. Green was a second round pick. Due to their wise personnel decisions, they had the cap room to add Durant and took advantage of it.
They made great moves and should reap the rewards. Consequently, the Warriors are primed to be a dynasty. In addition, the change in the salary structure will make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for another team to assemble a team to challenge them. For top players in the league (Designated Player Veteran), their incumbent team will be able to offer them a supermax contract for 5 years and more than $200 million. If a player is entering the 8th or 9th year in the league and meets certain performance criteria (e.g. making one of three All-NBA team, winning Defensive Player of the Year, MVP, etc.), they can be a Designated Player Veteran (DPV). For the Thunder, the change came one offseason too late. If Durant could have made an extra $50 million with them, he would have thought twice about joining the Warriors. He still could have done it but it would be extremely difficult for him to turn down that kind of difference in money. Most players will not give it up. For that reason, it will be near impossible for another team to assemble another super team by signing a top player off their incumbent team. Since the Warriors are already assembled, they keep their advantage and the rest of the league will play by the new rules. Nevertheless, it will not be a foregone conclusion that the Warriors will win a lot more titles. Their core players will be in their primes for the next 3-5 seasons. However, how many championships are enough before individuals start to push their own agendas? For example, Klay Thompson is a free agent in two years. Will the Warriors give all four players max money? Even if they are willing, will Thompson eventually want to prove he can lead his own team anyway? If he has 4 titles in 2 years, he may embrace a new challenge. Moreover, paying all four guys max money will limit their ability to maintain a great bench. If everyone chooses to accept their roles, take less money to sustain the depth of the team, and stay healthy; they may be unstoppable for the next 3-4 years. However, it is a lot of “ifs” and sports are always unpredictable.
Of course, the team Lebron James is on will provide the greatest competition. If Lebron joined the Spurs with Chris Paul, it could be incredible. However, it will never happen because it is financially implausible. I doubt Paul will turn down significantly DPV money from the Clippers. Lebron certainly will not and should not. As such, Lebron will be back on the Cavs for at least another year. For the Cavs, they have big decisions to make. They may try to trade Kevin Love. They are underutilizing him and his lack of athleticism is an issue on defense. There are rumors that they will try to trade him for Paul George. He would be the perfect fit for the Cavaliers. He is athletic, an elite perimeter defender, and a playmaker who can take some strain off Lebron. On the other hand, I am skeptical the Pacers would take Love. He is an All-Star caliber player but I think they are better off completely blowing up their team and building through the draft if they cannot convince George to sign long term. Then again, they might be willing to play a season with Love to see if they can build around him. They can always flip him for young players or picks the following offseason. The Cavs may also look into a trade for Carmelo Anthony. The ideal situation would be if the Knicks cut him and he signs for the minimum or mid-level exception. Phil Jackson has fumbled the situation enough where it is possible although I still think he can pull a trade for something even if it is a marginal return. Melo could be an unstoppable scorer off the bench and allow Lebron to play less minutes. Even if they bring back the same Big Three, the Cavs need to build a bench. It will be difficult because they are cash strapped and they have already traded their upcoming picks. They will need to be creative and clever to build a team that gives Lebron a legitimate chance to win another title.
In terms of Lebron, it is irritating listening to the constant challenges to his legacy. He has nothing else to prove. He has dominated the sport as much as any player before him. He has 3 titles, which includes ending Cleveland’s long championship drought by overcoming a 3-1 deficit against a 73 win team. He has 4 regular season MVPs and achieved individual statistics that few have reached. He has done certain things with his overall game that no one else has. Moreover, he has won been to 8 NBA Finals and 7 in a row. He may be 3-5 in the Finals but it is not his fault. In the losses, he mostly carried teams to the Finals that were overmatched by their opponents. In my opinion, the only Finals he lost that he maybe should have won is the one against the Dallas Mavericks in his first year in Miami. In the other 4 losses (2007 and 2014 San Antonio Spurs and 2015 and 2017 Golden State Warriors), his teams just faced vastly superior teams. In the loss in this year’s Finals, he still dominated by averaging a triple double. I am a Michael Jordan fan. I definitely rooted against Lebron in the past because I did not want him to surpass MJ. I will still take Jordan as the best of all-time. Nevertheless, I am not blind to the greatness of Lebron that I am witnessing. He is definitely a top 5 player of all-time and I do not think it is crazy if someone wants to make the case that he might be the greatest. He has done some things that I did not even see MJ do. Of course, the vice versa is true too.
In addition to the Cavs, there are a couple of interesting young teams that could challenge the Warriors for supremacy in a few years. The first is the Milwaukee Bucks. Led by the Greak Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, they are a ridiculously long team and give a lot of teams problems with their defense. Their defense can already challenge the Warriors offense. If they develop their players and their offense dramatically improves, they can definitely be title contenders soon. Another interesting team is the New Orleans Pelicans. The experiment to pair DeMarcus Cousins with Anthony Davis has not panned out yet but it is still early. They are incredibly gifted big men who can play on the perimeter. They definitely need a point guard and good perimeter players to complement them. If the Pelicans are able to build a team around them, they could exploit the Warriors down low. However, I am highly skeptical they will.
For now, the NBA is the Warriors world and everyone is just living in it and playing for second.