Through two games of the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors look every bit like the juggernaut the sports world was imagining when they added Kevin Durant last summer.
Up 2-0 in the Finals, the Warriors have now gone an unfathomable 14-0 in the postseason. They have outscored the Cavs – the team that similarly ran through the Eastern Conference – by 41 points in the Finals.
These Warriors are deeper, more explosive, and scarier than last year’s 73-win team, and much of it has to do with Durant, who has been the best player in the Finals thus far.
Every great team benefits from some luck and good timing, but the Warriors, in particular, have been a perfect storm of shred drafting, lucky timing, and interestingly, a fateful decision by the NBA Players Association.
The Warriors, of course, nailed some key draft picks in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green over the years. Drafting three stars is difficult, but retaining them and maintaining flexibility is even more difficult. This is where the Warriors have benefitted.
Curry, in 2012, signed a four-year, $44 million extension that some people considered a gamble because of his oft-injured ankles. Curry was a talented guard, but investing long-term in an injury-prone player was risky. Curry later overcame those physical woes to become a two-time MVP and game-changing offensive force on a bargain contract.
The Warriors also had some help in securing Thompson and Green. In 2014, Zach Lowe, then of Grantland, reported that the Warriors basically gave Thompson a fixed max salary that protected them from the impending salary-cap spike that would be coming from the new TV deal. Max salaries are tied to a percentage of the salary cap. Knowing the cap would be jumping, the Warriors signed Thompson to a fixed max salary under a $66 million cap, protecting them from Thompson’s salary jumping with the cap. Another All-Star was locked into a reasonable long-term deal.
They ran into similar luck during Green’s free agency in 2015. After a breakout season, Green hit free agency, and the Warriors wisely signed him to a five-year, $85 million contract – a hefty deal, but far less than what a true max looks like now under a higher salary cap.
The aforementioned salary-cap spike was not wanted by everyone in the NBA, however. In fact, in 2015, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that the league proposed “smoothing” the cap spike to the players association to prevent the cap jumping from $66 million to $90 million in one year. Under their proposal, the cap would increase incrementally over several years instead of all at once. The players’ union rejected it.
As a result, the Warriors – a 73-win team with one title under its belt and three All-Stars signed to long-term contracts – suddenly had cap space to go after Durant. And Durant, tired of falling short with the Oklahoma City Thunder, had interest in Golden State. The NBA’s most devastating union was formed.
As Lowe mentioned on his podcast, “The Lowe Post,” in May, the league must have some regret for not imposing the cap smoothing, particularly with the way the Warriors have run through the playoffs.
“That foundation, combined with several other lucky variables, like the cap spike – which the league absolutely has to regret at this point, not smoothing it out, and the [players] union maybe, too, though I don’t think so – and Steph Curry’s ankles, which made his extension ridiculously cheap – that foundation gave them the ability to sign Kevin Durant. And here we are, they haven’t lost a game. They’ve lost one game in 70-something days.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver recently shot down the idea that the Warriors’ dominance is bad for the NBA, noting there have always been teams that dominate the league – the Celtics and Lakers in the 1980s, the Bulls in the ’90s, the Lakers and Spurs in the ’00s.
But this Warriors team seems different. They appear unguardable. Their games haven’t even been competitive. The offensive talent is so great that even against good defense (which the Cavs haven’t played), they can reliably turn broken plays into efficient offense.
Furthermore, they have a plan to keep the team together. Curry, Durant, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston are all free agents this summer. The Warriors can retain all four players, so long as Durant takes slightly less than a max salary, which he is reportedly willing to do.
If all goes according to plan for the Warriors, the reigning champions will lock up a core of four All-Stars in their primes, with nearly a pitch-perfect supporting cast, long term. As Deadspin’s Tom Ley argued, the NBA might be broken.