The Golden State Warriors are the defending champions. The cliché suggests it’s always harder repeating as champions in the NBA (and any other sport) than winning it for the first time. The San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder would like to argue in favor of that statement.
The Warriors seem like the kind of team built to last. Their core is young or very close to their prime, and their contract situation is a very good one, with some time before key players start demanding new deals. Stephen Curry isn’t a free agent until 2017. Both Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are locked up for the next four years. Obviously, keeping a championship group together is impossible without making small tweaks here and there, but the Warriors have been making all the right moves and decisions, during the season and the offseason, for the last few years.
But are they the best team in the NBA? One might argue that without injuries to All-Star caliber players like Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the NBA finals would have been very different. Even without those players, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers dragged the Warriors to a six-game series. And yet it’s hard to ignore what an impressive championship route it was for the Warriors, with 67 wins in the regular season and only five losses through four playoff series.
The San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers were marked as the teams that would stand in the way of the Warriors to the title. The Spurs got knocked out by the Clippers in the first round in an epic series, while the Clippers provided an epic collapse in the conference semifinals, the invisible ceiling for this franchise, against the Houston Rockets, who were poorly matched against the Warriors, managing to win just once in an anti-climatic five game series.
The Spurs didn’t let old age creep and take over the roster that had an equally impressive playoff run a year earlier. LaMarcus Aldridge was the signing of the offseason, and adding David West to the bench seems like a great move, even if he isn’t the perfect fit for the Spurs’ system. Keeping Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green doesn’t hurt as well, while Tony Parker will hopefully looked better than he did last season.
The Oklahoma City Thunder missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and that got Scott Brooks fired. It’s hard when Russell Westbrook remains alone in the fray while players around him are dropping like flies. Kevin Durant hardly played last season. Serge Ibaka wasn’t available for the big games late in the season as well. Luck, as in no injuries, is always an important piece of a team’s success.
Durant coming back healthy is a game changer. LeBron James is the best player in the NBA, but Durant is right behind him, and maybe going past him before are very eyes. There are still questions about the Thunder’s defense and how Billy Donovan will adjust to coaching in the NBA after so many years of college basketball, but the Thunder, at full health, are built very well to handle the Warriors and their small ball lineups.
Next season will be about the Western gauntlet while in the East, it should be another stroll for the Cavaliers, even if the regular season doesn’t end with the number one seed. The Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat and others will try to get in the way, but besides the Cavs, the biggest threats to the Warriors potential dynasty in the making are closer to home, and especially the Spurs and Thunder.