The Golden State Warriors just wrapped up the greatest five-year run in regular season NBA history, going 322-88, good enough for a .785 winning percentage. For context, the 90s Bulls topped out at .744 and the Larry Bird Era Celtics at .759 over a five-year stretch. In that time they’ve managed to win the title in three of the last four seasons, and quite possibly would have made it four for four were it not for perhaps the greatest defensive play in NBA history. Even now, following a season in which they won “only” 57 games, Fivethirtyeight.com gives them a 45 percent chance of winning it all. This is all to say the Warriors are very, very good — but the clock is ticking.
Like so many before, the Warriors are doomed to be victims of their own success, to say nothing of Father Time. Regardless of who does eventually win this year’s title, after all the confetti has been swept away, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant have some soul searching to do, as the former heads into free agency and the latter must decide whether to exercise his one-year option with the Warriors worth $31.5 million or follow Thompson into free agency.
Thompson’s people (i.e. his dad) have made it clear that he wants a max deal — five years, $190 million — and ownership has made it clear they’re ready to pay it. A contract of that size would likely mean a pay cut for Durant, who doesn’t seem to be in the mood for such a thing. Durant has been more than a little salty for some time now, his clashes with teammate Draymond Green were televised around the world, and winning back-to-back Finals MVP awards doesn’t seem to have brought the happiness he left Oklahoma City to find. Vegas has the Lakers as the most likely landing spot, and what a tandem he and LeBron would make, two of the most vilified mercenaries in the game’s history joining forces to conquer the basketball world. Then there are the Knicks, who have been openly lusting after Durant for months. In New York, Durant could again be The Man and try to win a title on his own, thereby shutting up the doubters.
But even if, by some miracle, the whole team comes back for another go-round, they’re getting old, at least by the standards of the NBA: next year Durant will be 31, Thompson 29, Steph Curry 31 and unlikely to hit 45 percent of his 3’s ever again, and Draymond Green 29 with his blocks, rebounds, assists and points all at their lowest levels since this run began. Thanks to all these title runs, each of these guys has played an extra season’s worth of minutes in the playoffs as they’ve watched their win total go down each year since their record-breaking 73-win season.
Amid all this is the fact that Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, and Kyrie Irving could be on the move this off-season. Anyone of these guys could make a number of teams formidable. Then you’ve got the maturation of the Nuggets, who were the youngest team to make the playoffs, the seemingly endless rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who just posted career highs for points, rebounds and assists, and is only 24 — who knows where his ceiling is?
All of this is to say that the Warriors are making history right before our eyes and it would be a shame to miss the last go-round.