In a season where Stephen Curry won the MVP and both Steve Kerr and Draymond Green easily could’ve taken home significant awards as well, the Warriors won their first championship since long before any of their current players were born. They dominated the league in the regular season and responded every time they faced adversity in the playoffs.
Congratulations to them, but seriously, who cares? I mean, it’s been a couple days now. Per the rules of sports journalism, the 2015 Warriors are officially old news. The draft is in a week, followed by every wannabe GM’s favorite time of the year: the hot stove league, where every cryptic “i just want respect. is that really 2 much 2 ask?” tweet gets over-analyzed, Adrian Wojnarowski goes full Varys (or Littlefinger, depending on one’s point of view) and everyone suddenly cares when a player puts his downtown condo up for sale.
Here are the tracks this summer could follow and how they affect Golden State’s chances of repeating.
Let’s Stay Together
The Warriors figure to bring back every major contributor from their title run. Curry has two more years on a deal that has turned out to be an absolute steal, and this isn’t the NFL, where a champion has to deal with its stars holding out to cash in on a postseason run. Klay Thompson and Andrew Bogut already agreed to long-term deals, while Finals MVP Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston are still under contracts they signed in free agency. Green is a restricted free agent, but it’s a lock that GM Bob Myers and company will match any offer sheet he signs, and that’s if they don’t reach a deal with him before he can test the market.
David Lee‘s camp and the team appear headed for an amicable split, as neither side wants to see Lee making $15 million to sit on the bench. Leandro Barbosa is a free agent after serving as a serviceable bench piece at the minimum, and perhaps he’s brought back on the cheap again. The only real wild card here is Marreese Speights, who’s at the mercy of a team option. Set to earn nearly $4 million, it’s cheap enough to bring back a respectable bench big man, though it could also serve as an enticing number to decline in order to chop away at a luxury tax bill should Lee prove untradeable, especially with Green about to get a massive raise.
The Warriors have their own first-rounder this year (the 30th selection) after owing last year’s pick to Utah (used on Rodney Hood) as part of the process it took to free up cap space and acquire Iguodala. They don’t own a second-rounder until 2019 and also have to send their 2017 first to Utah. That trade took a good chunk out of their draft capital, but it obviously proved to be well worth it.
With their roster set to return intact, it’s highly unlikely a non-lottery rookie will crack next year’s rotation. In the same way Golden State acquired the pick used on Festus Ezeli from San Antonio as payment for absorbing Richard Jefferson‘s contract, it’s fair to wonder whether Lee’s contract is large enough that Myers will be forced to part with their pick as a sweetener for another team to take him.
One Last Time
Signs point to Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili putting off retirement and returning for another year with the Spurs. Both are free agents, along with Danny Green, so it’s unknown how much flexibility they’ll have to add to the roster, but a healthy Spurs team is perhaps the biggest obstacle towards the Warriors getting back to the Finals. It’s hard to imagine a more entertaining event in the NBA than a full-strength series between the defending champion Warriors and the Spurs, champions once-removed, in their final run.
Is Kevin Durant going to get back to his MVP form? If so, can the infamously private Thunder withstand the pressure of Durant’s impending free agency? Those are a couple of the most pressing questions in regards to the NBA landscape, especially with a first-time NBA coach in Billy Donovan. Oklahoma City might have the most variance among any top contender, with its ceiling and floor being equally compelling. At their best, the Thunder are a massive threat to Golden State, and they even boast more star power.
They have to sort out new contracts for Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and possibly LeBron James, but the Cavs will enter next season as the prohibitive favorite to represent the East in the Finals. If they can get back and actually be healthy, NBA fans could very well get the coin-flip series that Cleveland’s injuries prevented everyone from watching this year.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours
Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge are the big dominoes to fall this summer (barring something crazy with LeBron), and with all three Texas teams possibly in the mix, either one of them leaving their current teams, both second tier contenders, for a new squad would be a huge shift in the Western Conference power structure. If the Rockets or Spurs supplement their loaded cores with another superstar, it would even be fair to question whether the Warriors would still be the West favorite.
Who Gon Stop Me
No team, not even a champion, returns entirely intact the next year. The Warriors understood this was a special year, and the first major departure is already known, as assistant coach Alvin Gentry is off to coach Anthony Davis and the Pelicans. Also, unlike past years, they didn’t have major injuries to deal with. Next year will undoubtedly feature more turbulence, if for no other reason than the rest of the West is unlikely to crumble around them like in this year’s playoffs.
With that said, now that the Warriors have established themselves as a top-flight franchise that treats its players well and features a devoted fan base in a desirable place to live, one would think they’ll become a magnet for veterans taking a discount near the end of their careers. Not only do they monitor their players to keep them fresh for the whole season, that long-term thinking sees Kerr go deeper into his bench than many other teams, which means that those veterans will be assured playing time. As the Spurs, Heat and the NFL’s Patriots have shown, establishing a winning culture is somewhat self-sustaining. They’re about to go from the hunter to the hunted, but considering they have the world’s best sharpshooter, they have a legitimate shot at repeating.