For almost a year now, the Warriors have heard talk of their demise. With Kevin Durant gone and the core aging, many have surmised that the once-proud dynasty now lies in ruin as nothing more than a relic of past NBA greatness.
Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have taken it all in. Cataloged the disrespect. Noted the doubters. Read the hastily written obituaries.
The Warriors took the last season, one that saw them bottom out to an NBA-worst 15-50, to rest, recharge and recalibrate after five grueling years playing under the NBA's brightest lights. When they return next season, Green is confident they'll be right back in the thick of things for one obvious reason in particular.
“I see a league,” Green said told the New York Times' Marc Stein, “that’s wide open.”
Green has a point.
No team has filled the vacancy the Warriors left as the NBA's superpower.
LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers will meet the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals starting Wednesday night. The Lakers have been impressive during the bubble playoffs, but they are flawed and beatable despite having the best 1-2 punch in the NBA.
The Heat are tough, scrappy and almost certainly a year or two ahead of schedule.
The Los Angeles Clippers, who were expected to take up the mantle as the next overlords of the NBA, flamed out while blowing a three-games-to-one series lead against the Denver Nuggets. Coach Doc Rivers was fired, the latest casualty in a quest to replicate the greatness the Warriors exuded over the past five seasons.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks also punched out early, and enter an uncertain offseason that will see them tinker with their roster to remain atop the East.
There are a host of good teams. No great ones.
And so, the Warriors will return to a league that is ripe for the picking. Curry, Thompson and Green have had ample time to rest legs weary after title pursuits. Andrew Wiggins has been brought on board to play a complementary role initially before becoming a building block for the Warriors' next dynastic run.
The Warriors own the rights to the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, a $17.2 million trade exception and the rights to the Minnesota Timberwolves' 2021 first-round pick. All of that will help them solidify the team around the championship triumvirate.
Curry and Thompson will have to stay healthy, and their minutes will be closely monitored the further they get past 30. Green will have to rediscover his championship form of old if the Warriors are to reach their ceiling. Wiggins must discard the bad habits built up in Minnesota and become a sponge, soaking up the Warriors' culture and the lessons from Curry, Thompson, Green and Steve Kerr.
There is no giant obstacle standing in the Warriors' way. Their path back to the title is one paved with challenging, but flawed opponents.
They'll return to an NBA that looks vastly different than when they left it. But one that can be their's to own all the same.