By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
The Golden State Warriors are back in the Western Conference Finals.
It’s a storyline that’s been repeated for half a decade now. Some critics claim it’s a sign of greatness. Some will argue it’s boring and artificial, namely citing the acquisition of All-Star forward Kevin Durant following Golden State’s game seven loss to Cleveland in the 2016 NBA Finals.
After the Warriors fought off the Houston Rockets in the Conference Semifinals by clinching the series in six games despite Durant being absent for the final 14 minutes of game five and all of game six, the 2014 MVP’s value was brought into question. Stephen Curry overcame a scoreless first half to put up 33 points over the final two quarters to end Houston’s season for the fourth time in the last five years.
It’s time to stop looking at the Golden State Warriors as a saturated purchase and start realizing them as an all-time great dynasty.
The optics of Durant’s move from Oklahoma City to Oakland is understandably frustrating. The Thunder upset the Spurs in the Conference Semifinals in 2016, then blew a 3-1 series lead to the Warriors in the Conference Finals. The following offseason Durant left the franchise that made him the second overall pick in 2007, which was still based in Seattle, and joined a team coming off a record 73-win regular season.
At the end of the day, who isn’t taking that gig? Durant hasn’t merely disappeared into a rotation of All-Stars. He’s been the guy in Golden State. He’s continued to perform at an All-NBA level and has been the Finals MVP in Golden State’s last two titles.
Remember the Boston Celtics title run in 2008. The Celtics built a super team around their own All-Star in Paul Pierce by acquiring nine-time All-Star and seven-time All-NBA selection Kevin Garnett along with sharpshooter and six-time All-Star Ray Allen. Both players were 5th overall picks in back-to-back drafts in the mid 90s.
The Miami Heat’s highly publicized announcement of acquiring LeBron James and Chris Bosh brought two more NBA Championships to South Beach. Miami already had a Finals MVP in Dwayne Wade on its roster from the Heat’s 2006 title.
If anything the Warriors is less of a modern day NBA super team with more success. Boston and Miami each had one homegrown superstar on their respective rosters while adding multiple in order to combine for three titles.
Save for winning the Kevin Durant sweepstakes, the Warriors drafted the other three All-Stars on their roster. Curry was the seventh player (and third point guard) selected in 2009. Before Durant came to California Curry was already a two-time MVP and a member of the 50-40-90 Club. Klay Thompson was the 11th overall pick in 2011 (after Jimmer Fredette) and was already a two-time All-Star before teaming up with Durant. Draymond Green was a second round selection in 2012 and was the eighth player drafted at his own position.
Some shrugged off the Warriors second title and first with Durant in 2017. Many felt last year’s repeat was aided by Chris Paul’s injury in the Western Conference Finals. Paul was unavailable for the final two games of the series and Houston lost the series after holding a 3-2 lead after five games.
A year later the roles were reversed. The Warriors had the 3-2 series lead, but lost Durant in game five. Unlike the Rockets the year before the Warriors went into Houston and closed out the series without their best player.
So where are the excuses from Houston now?
Golden State drafted and developed a team of All-Stars, then added another one in Durant, but Friday’s series-clinching win in Houston showed the past five years is much more than just one free agent signing. But that doesn’t mean Durant holds no value within the franchise. Sure, the Warriors beat a tough opponent in a big game without him, but that more speaks to the dynasty that’s been built in the league.
As Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich said during Durant’s first season with the Warriors:
“That’s your job. What team wouldn’t try to put together as good a group as they can? They did a good job, they figured it out, they get credit for it. It’s got nothing to do with oh, that’s unfair. Life’s unfair. Get over it. Go play ’em. If you want to beat ’em, do your best to beat ’em. You do or you don’t. No reason to denigrate them in any way, shape or form. They’re beautiful.”
Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder, but at the very least it’s time to start thinking like Pop. This Warriors team is all-time great. If free agency pulls apart the dynasty in the upcoming offseason then the past five years should be looked back on as one of the best in sports.