Lets sum up the NBA.
The Cleveland Cavaliers possess a series of aging stars. The Houston Rockets lack a strong frontcourt. The biggest addition for the Oklahoma City Thunder looks to join the Lakers during his free agency next year. The Spurs possess just one All-Star caliber player. The Celtics are lacking a league-wide top 10 player.
What’s is left is the West Coast and the Golden State Warriors. When the 2017-18 NBA season starts tonight, a large majority of NBA fans will have placed their money on the Warriors to win their third title in four years. However, its not just this season the Warriors look ready to dominate. Their control could realistically be sustained for the next half-decade.
We have witnessed the Warriors toy with teams from both the Eastern and Western Conference. The only team that could put up a meaningful threat to them, the Spurs, were whitewashed 4-0 in the playoffs following an injury to Kawhi Leonard, demonstrating the Spurs lack of depth. On the other hand, when the Warriors lost their Finals MVP Kevin Durant, they displayed the very opposite of a breakdown by going on a 14 game winning streak.
The durability of the Warriors game is grounded in their ability to function seamlessly with whatever pieces they have. An injury to Stephen Curry causes him to miss the next game? No problem. Durant or Klay Thompson will light up for 30 points. Their starting center Zaza Pachulia gets ejected during key minutes of a playoff game? Draymond Green is more than capable of filling in. The depth on both the starting rotation and the bench has made the Warriors seemingly unstoppable.
However, their flawlessness has created disparities around the league. Michael Jordan recently stated that besides the two heavyweights, the other “28 teams are going to be garbage”.
The question arises: how durable is the current Warriors roster, and how long will it take to finally witness a season in which they aren’t the favorites. Given that the Big 4 (KD, Steph, Klay and Draymond) are under contract until the 2019 season, unless KD opts out of his contract next summer, there are only a handful of ways this powerhouse could lose its foothold as the best team in the league.
The first is a clash of personalities, which has happened on multiple occasions to superteams. When players begin to collect titles, they tend to garner a sense of pride. As seen with Shaq and Kobe Bryant following their three-peat with the Lakers, placing too many stars in one locker room could have serious repercussions.
This scenario, however, looks increasingly unlikely with the current Warriors group. Unlike other superstars who feel robbed when their side-kicks steal the spotlight, there is an aura of communal happiness in the Warriors’ core. Their GM Bob Myers has mentioned that Steph is their team’s “best person”. Never was Jordan praised for his personality, or Kobe adored by his teammates. A bust-up which untangles their joyous bundle of happiness looks to be a very thin prospect.
Another possible driver of the Warriors downfall could be similar to the one which drove Lebron James away from the Miami Heat: the need of a player to achieve a higher goal. This, however, is unlikely to apply to Steph, Klay or Draymond, given that they have each outshone the expectation demanded from their draft position.
Considering the hatred piled upon KD following his move to the West Coast, he seems the most likely candidate to follow in LeBron’s footsteps and challenge for championships elsewhere in order to cement his place as one of the all-time greats. During this offseason, however, he demonstrated a reluctance towards doing so by taking a pay-cut to stay with the Warriors, despite being able to make far more money elsewhere. He thus looks set for the foreseeable future, a Warriors lifer.
As player liberty has gradually increased in the NBA, players have begun to join forces with other superstars in an attempt to challenge for titles. In the modern era, this title quest is based upon toppling the Warriors.
The Lakers, Sixers and Celtics are currently the most realistic hot bases for new contenders. Should Lebron and Paul George choose to join the Lakers next summer, while Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram display promise, they could have the necessary power to battle the Warriors. The Sixers and Celtics, however, look to do so towards the end of the Warriors’ prime.
The stars in Philadelphia are all under the age of 24, while the Celtics are awaiting development from the fruits of their high draft picks. The likeliness of one of these teams attaining anything close to the Warriors level is still very slim.
LeBron will be 34 by the time he faces the Warriors in the playoffs with the Lakers (if he chooses to leave). The core of the Sixers has been plagued by injuries. And the Celtics look unlikely to steal a top-5 talent soon.
That leaves us with the most realistic scenario, albeit possibly the most disheartening, that the decline of the Warriors simply is attributed to aging and exiting their prime. Considering the fact that the members of their Big 4 are all under the age of 30, it would take at least four years for this to happen. Many of their playing styles are further modeled around sustainable assets, namely shooting. Unlike strength-centered attributes, sharp shooting tends to remain intact for a longer period of time.
While the NBA is enjoying historically high television revenues, should the playoffs continue to remain so predictable for the next half-decade, we could witness the fall of the league at the hands of a franchise with simply too much talent like the Warriors. What is good for the league now may be horrible for the league in the near future.