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What if the Warriors lose?

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The Warriors are the favorites to win the championship. But what if the league isn’t ruined after all?

NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors are the favorites to win the championship: they are tied 1-1 against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals, holding homecourt advantage. They have more high-end talent than the Rockets, and are the more experienced and versatile team.

Many expected the Warriors to clean up once again in the 2017-2018 season. After losing only game in the 2017 playoffs, the Warriors seemed poised to destroy the league once more, with all of their players in their primes. But after a regular season filled with inconsistent effort and a whole lot of injuries, the Warriors dropped a game each in the first two rounds, and face a tougher opponent in the Houston Rockets than any they played last year. There are more questions this year.

Even though the Warriors are as much of a sure thing as any in professional sports, there still is no such thing as a guaranteed championship. The Warriors could lose, and it would change the landscape of the NBA.

Even if the Warriors lose, they’re in a great position to win future championships. But slowly, their stars are aging: Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant will be 30 next season, and Klay Thompson will be 28. Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston are likely nearing the end of their effective play. With each year, their odds at winning the title will likely decrease.

The Warriors have been linked to many superstars for future acquisitions, but it will be tough to manage the expensive contracts this team requires: Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are too important to the team’s offense and defense to trade, and Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant have already said they’ll take less money to play for the Warriors. None of the four stars are leaving anytime soon.

If the Warriors lose, the question is how much they retool their supporting cast. Do they stock up on wings instead of centers to fuel their small-ball lineups? Do they move Livingston and Iguodala, who are aging and have mediocre contracts? I wouldn’t expect the Warriors to be that aggressive, but they’d likely have to make some changes.

I think there’s a very little chance the Warriors or Rockets lose to the Cavaliers or Celtics, so if the Warriors don’t beat the Rockets, the Rockets should win the championship. If the Rockets do claim the title, their isolation offense—relying almost exclusively on threes, layups, and free throws—will get the most attention, while James Harden will probably be elevated into the highest level of elite basketball players. The narratives would be out of this world: it’s a terrifying future we’d all like to avoid.

The Warriors still have the upper hand this year, and they’ll be contenders for the next few years. But losing this year would force the Warriors to make tough decisions about the future of their supporting cast, and would change the way everybody talks about the league. The supposedly ironclad Warriors dynasty still has a ways to go for it to become reality.