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GSW is the first team with real dynasty problems

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Are the Warriors a real dynasty? Yes, not despite the addition of Durant, but BECAUSE of it. The defining challenge of a real-life dynasty is to maintain dominance across changes in power, and Golden State are the first to try it.

2018 NBA Finals - Game Four Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Dynasty Season

A year ago, after the Warriors won 2017 Finals Game 5, I was elated, but also at peace. All of 2016 had been a weight. We had the marvelous 2015 Innocent Season which surprised everyone. Then we had the 2016 Arrogant Season, which ended in the perfect storm upset.

Up until June 2016, I had been pretty low-expectations. I would have accepted if 2015 was the only Warriors trophy. And right after the 2016 Finals, I was happy for the Cleveland fans. But then the mob abuse of that summer began and I was angry. It was the victory of Flog-the-Loser fandom, the most shameful part of American sports culture.

So after that summer I really really wanted revenge. But when the final buzzer went off in 2017, I didn’t feel vengeful. I felt at peace. I could finally enjoy 2015 / 2016 again. So 2017 was the Redemption Season.

2018 was the Dynasty Season. This year was all bonus for me. Of course I wanted GSW to win, but I knew that going to four straight finals was really tough.

And as we all know, the challenge of this year was for the Warriors to cope with burnout, exhaustion, lack of hunger, injuries and other ills from the four long years of Finals runs. GSoM’s own Nate Parham just wrote on the difficulty of repeating (as did I at season start) and of how dominant this back-to-back sweep is. The Warriors, despite the scoffers, overcame a lot to repeat.

What is a dynasty?

Now some people like Scottie Pippen and Nick Wright have objected to calling the Warriors a dynasty.

Folks, we’re at the “making up new definitions” stage of hatred. The titles aren’t “real” or “earned” because mumble mumble 73 win mumble snake. They’re not a “dynasty” because well actually technically new player cupcake.

But, the dynasty issue has always been of interest to me. Because I’ve always thought it a bit pathetic that Americans rush to call any team that succeeds more than once a “dynasty.” I explored this issue in depth in the piece The Warriors Are The First True NBA Dynasty In brief, the real-world sense of dynasty requires not just dominance over time but a successful transfer of power. Otherwise, it’s just ruling for a long time. It’s much more interesting and challenging for a team to maintain dominance across changes in power. And the Warriors are arguably the first team to dominate while transferring power, as all previous dominant teams did it with the same leadership and power structure.

These Warriors transitioned from the rule of Stephen Curry to shared rule by Curry and Kevin Durant, and that was only possible due to their grace and humility. I described three major reasons the Warriors have negotiated this transfer:

First, Curry was humble enough to give up some power and status. Second, Kevin Durant does not want to be the alpha. Finally, they haven’t really had to confront the transfer of power until very recently. Major injuries to each leader helped Golden State defer making hard choices about priorities and co-existence.

As Houston took a 3-2 lead in the series, the Warriors were confronted with having to actively choose how to balance Durant’s post isolation game, Curry’s high pick and roll game, and the motion offense that unlocks Klay Thompson and other scorers. In Game 6, the Warriors spent the first half with an uneasy blend of the three approaches, mixed with appalling defense and rebounding. Houston’s late help continued to throw off Durant’s isolations, so in the second half, they went all-in with Curry leading the attack, and he came through, with the help of some strategic adjustments against Houston’s switching defense.

People act like oh anyone could assemble and maintain a successful super team, but we have too much pride, we’d never stoop so low. Nope. It takes a ton of sacrifice and character and compatibility. Let’s take a quick look at previous dominant or star-studded teams. They almost all end in feuding and ruin.

  • 1985-1988 Los Angeles Lakers (3 rings in 4 years). Ends with team dissonance and Pat Riley’s “Disease of More.”
  • 1991-1993 Chicago Bulls (3 in 3). Ends with Jordan so burned out that he retires.
  • 1996-1998 Chicago Bulls (3 in 3). Ends with Jordan so burned out he retires again, Coach Phil Jackson fired, Pippen at war with ownership and complete team collapse.
  • 2000-2002 Los Angeles Lakers (3 in 3). Ends with Kobe Bryant forcing out Shaquille O’Neal and Phil Jackson in a power struggle. Then team collapse.
  • 2003-2007 San Antonio Spurs (3 in 5). Successful and graceful navigation of power transfers.
  • 2008-2012 Boston Celtics. Ray Allen ends up angry at front office disrespect and leaves Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to join their rivals, the LeBron James’ Miami Heat. Ray Allen is still not invited to Celtics reunions to this day.
  • 2013 Lakers. The “Now This is Going To Be Fun” team explodes on assembly. Kobe Bryant feuds with and offends Dwight Howard, who leaves as a free agent. Steve Nash tries and fails to mediate.
  • 2011-2014 Miami Heat. LeBron James is so burned out he leaves the team as a free agent, team collapses.
  • 2015-2018 Cleveland Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving forces a trade out of town, Isaiah Thomas feuds with Kevin Love and is ejected, Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade feud with others and are ejected. LeBron James likely to leave as well.
  • 2015-2018 Golden State Warriors (3 in 4). So far so good. Fans are grouchy that Curry hasn’t won Finals MVP yet.

So all the technicalities about how the post-Durant titles should count separately, these merely emphasize what an amazing accomplishment it was in the deeper meaning of dynasty, and an even greater accomplishment to hold the group together in harmony going forward.

Final thoughts

From the longer Dynasty piece:

I expect 2018-2019 to be struggle for the Warriors against burnout, but also a time to explore better integration between the Curry pick and roll / Durant post-ups / motion offense modes as opposed to being distinct modes. I suspect that was the project of 2017-2018 as well, but injuries and burnout made that impossible. I also expect the NBA to shift more towards switching defenses, and the Warriors will have to work to keep their heads tart on the league in countering switching. Only time will tell if the Warriors can pull off a fifth straight trip to the Finals, which hasn’t been done in five decades. Regardless, the 2018 Playoffs were an important milestone in the Warriors’ negotiation of the dynastic succession from Curry’s team to shared governance with Durant.