- The Golden State Warriors dynasty may have ended on Thursday with a loss to the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals.
- Injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson overshadowed the loss and leave the Warriors with an uncertain future.
- Durant and Thompson could miss the entire 2019-20 season with their injuries. Both are also marquee free agents.
- Even if the Warriors keep their core together, it’s difficult to imagine them contending next season without Durant and Thompson, and there would be major questions about the group’s age and viability in the 2020-21 season.
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There is a common saying in sports that dynasties end before anyone truly realizes it. In the case of the Golden State Warriors, it may have happened in a painfully obvious fashion.
The Warriors lost the NBA Finals to the Toronto Raptors on Thursday, falling short of their goal of winning three straight championships. In the process, they suffered greater losses to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, two key pillars to their dynasty.
Durant, of course, made an ill-fated return from a calf injury in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Just 12 minutes into his first game, he tore his Achilles, one of the most notoriously difficult injuries to come back from in basketball.
On Thursday, in the third quarter of Game 6, Klay Thompson landed awkwardly on a dunk attempt and would later be ruled out after leaving the game. ESPN reported after the game that Thompson tore his ACL in his left knee.
The NBA world has watched the Warriors with a keen eye this season, wondering if this would be the end of this current iteration’s journey. Durant and Thompson will both hit free agency this offseason, with rumors suggesting Durant is a true flight risk. Thompson has been pegged as likely to return to the Warriors, though a league source told Business Insider in April that Thompson wanted the full max contract from the Warriors.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reported that Durant is still likely to opt out of his contract at the end of the season. Whether his injury affects his free agency decision is unclear.
Even if the Warriors retain both Durant and Thompson, there are major questions about their core going forward. Durant, according to Wojnarowski, is expected to miss the 2019-20 season. There isn’t yet a timetable for Thompson’s recovery. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton wrote that most players typically don’t return from an ACL tear within 11 months.
According to Pelton, if the Warriors re-sign Thompson, they will most likely have the taxpayer mid-level exception (worth $5.7 million) to sign free agents this summer. That type of deal may lure a rotation-worthy player, but most likely not a massive difference-maker.
If Durant and Thompson both re-sign with the Warriors and miss most, if not all of the seasons, as expected, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where the Warriors are contenders in the 2019-20 season. Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, as great as they are, would be over-burdened as the top two players on a shallow team. Andre Iguodala is 35 and has reserved his energy in recent regular seasons. Shaun Livingston is pondering retirement. The Warriors don’t have any young players who appear ready to take a leap.
As Pelton wrote, it’s possible that the Warriors could use the 2019-20 season as a year to refresh (if they keep their free agents) and build toward the 2020-21 season. There are few guarantees with such a path.
Curry will be 32 going on 33 in the ’20-21 season. Green is a free agent in 2020 and will be going on 31 in the ’20-21 season. Durant will be 32 coming off a major injury, and Thompson will be 30 coming off a major injury. There would be real reasons to doubt if that core – if it’s even still together – could make another run two years from now.
Long-running dynasties have relied on finding key contributors late or out of the draft. The Warriors have found solid players in the draft during this run, but no one who appears poised for stardom. Without some asset making a leap, the Warriors may have to get creative in either signing-and-trading one of their key free agents (as Pelton suggests) or swinging a trade for another star. That, too, would be difficult without any major assets.
The conclusion of the Warriors run is inevitable, whether it’s now or in the near future. If Game 6 on Thursday marked its conclusion, few would have imagined it would end on such somber terms.
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