NBA's Warriors dynasty

A Requiem for the NBA Dynasty

As the Golden State Warriors crumble, fans may regret complaining about the era of the super team

Larry W Smith/EPA/Shutterstock

It wasn’t supposed to end this way. The Golden State Warriors, the most talented NBA team ever assembled, is a dynasty no more. The team—boasting maybe two top-five players with three MVPs between them (Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, of course), the second-greatest shooter of all time who also happens to be a member of the NBA’s all-defense team (Klay Thompson), another former defensive player of the year (Draymond Green) and, oh yeah, an All-Star center who joined the team in the offseason for a fraction of what he’s worth mostly just to troll the other teams (DeMarcus Cousins)—was supposed to ruin the league. They were supposed to destroy competitiveness and ho-hum through a boring NBA season, culminating in its fourth title in five years.

Then everything fell apart. Cousins tore his quad in the first round of the playoffs and was never the same. Kevin Durant strained his calf and missed nine games. While he was away, Klay Thompson strained his hamstring. Then things got bad. Fourteen minutes into Durant’s return for Game 5 of the NBA Finals, he tore his achilles, putting him out for a year. But, good news! Klay Thompson was back … just in time to tear his ACL in Game 6. He is also out for the better part of a year.

The 2019 NBA Finals was Golden State’s Red Wedding—the now-iconic Game of Thrones scene where many of its main characters faced their shockingly brutal demises. To carry the metaphor further, Stephen Curry was Lady Stark, the last one standing while trying to cut his way through the Toronto Raptors before finally succumbing to the overwhelming opposition. The Warriors’ dynasty ended with the most devastating injury-riddled postseason any team has seen in sports history.
The Golden State Warriors and the NBA as a whole are now left to contemplate a new league that, at least in the short term, doesn’t have Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. One in which the Warriors juggernaut doesn’t lord over the other 29 teams in the league.

An NBA that may have seen its rigor, competitiveness and player motivations changed to the point that the era of NBA dynasties may be over. The NBA and sports in general is fascinated by dynastic teams: the Yankees, the '80s Lakers, the Dallas Cowboys. We romanticize them. We create urban legends. We often hate them as much as their fan bases (and bandwagon fans) love them. However, as much as we love NBA dynasties, they have become increasingly unsustainable. Dynasties just take too much out of the players tasked with maintaining them. And as the 82-game season becomes increasingly trying on minds and bodies, the chances of seeing teams sustain greatness is ever-so-unlikely.

The Warriors’ 2019 demise is as much a cautionary tale as it is a chance for the rest of the league to seize the opportunity to win a title in a wide-open NBA. Whereas 30 years ago, Magic Johnson's Lakers could go to the Finals nine out of his 12 seasons in the league and the '90s Bulls can go to the Finals six times in eight years, the modern-day super teams can’t sustain their runs beyond four years, and the results are more devastating with every ending.
Michael Jordan’s beloved Bulls of the '90s is maybe the most revered dynasty of the modern era, but the toll it took on its supreme star was undeniable. No. 23 had to retire from basketball for 18 months after his first three-peat (he was contemplating such a move even before his father’s murder in 1993). Then he retired again when the team accomplished its second three-peat, culminating in a title campaign in which Scottie Pippen limped to the finish line with chronic back pain.

The Shaq-and-Kobe Lakers fell apart due to infighting and general fatigue after its third straight title, falling to the Detroit Pistons in five games in 2004. Shaq’s points per game dipped from 27.5 to 21.5 between 2003 and 2004, and he was never as dominant as he was during the championship run. Kobe’s Lakers wallowed in mediocrity for four years until another Lakers dynasty won two titles before again falling apart in a second-round sweep in 2011. Two years later, Kobe tore his achilles and was never the same. In between all of these runs in the 2000s was the Spurs, who won five titles over a 15-year span but never back-to-back, and thanks to a retooling of rosters that kept the team young and fresh.

LeBron James had a one-man eight-year run of NBA Finals from 2011 to 2018 that netted him three championships, but once his Miami Heat succumbed to the grind and got destroyed in the 2014, the King was able to partner with two other All-Stars in Cleveland. And now the most stacked team in NBA history, the Golden State Warriors, can’t even accomplish a three-peat before the wear and tear of consecutive 100-game seasons, demands for max contracts and general unrest tear them apart. Yes, they were the most talented squad ever assembled, but sadly not being able to secure the three-peat puts them behind that '90s Bulls team or the '80s Lakers.

Fans are left in a situation where we get just what we claim we’ve wanted every time we complain about teams stacking the deck against the rest of the league.

Another obstacle for the possible future of the NBA dynasty is the shift in player motivations. Kawhi Leonard may forego the chance at multiple titles in Toronto to live close to home and play for the Clippers. Kevin Durant might do the same by leaving a Warriors team—where future titles are certainly a possibility—for a tougher road to the title because he wants to prove that he can win on his own. Even if he stays, recovering from an achilles tear will in no way guarantee that the dominance continues. Marquee players are forging their own destinies that are not necessarily tied to singular franchises long enough to build dynasties. The Lakers now have a potential super team building with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but who knows how long that will last as the former MVP ages. There’s just no road for a franchise to run off multiple titles in a row in the near future, barring a Golden State-like 2015 emergence that comes out of nowhere.

That leaves the fans in a situation where we get just what we claim we’ve wanted every time we complain about teams stacking the deck against the rest of the league. We complained about LeBron joining the Heat in 2010 and Durant joining the Warriors in 2016, but it’d be disingenuous to suggest the last 10 years of the NBA haven’t been its most compelling—and best—on the court. The Heat gave us prime LeBron years with high drama and a dominant one-two punch with partner-in-hoop Dwyane Wade. The Warriors were simply poetry on the court, smothering teams on defense and scoring like a modern-day All-Star team—their apex coming in 2017 when they won 30 of their last 32 games, including going 15-1 in the playoffs on the way to a championship. This was a beautiful game of teamwork, efficiency and all-world scoring.

But before you know it, the dynasties have ended. It’d be a shame if you didn’t spend any time cherishing them while they were here.

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