Even before the Los Angeles Lakers were crowned champions in last year's playoffs, it was known that the Western Conference was going to be as competitive as ever this season.
The Denver Nuggets stunned the world inside the bubble last year by beating the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers after falling behind three-games-to-one.
Despite these playoff losses, the Jazz and Clippers' talent wasn't going anywhere. The Lakers were, well, the Lakers. The Phoenix Suns went 8-0 in the bubble and then added Chris Paul. The Portland Trail Blazers had a strong bubble performance as well. And the Warriors were supposed to get Klay Thompson back and return to the top of the standings.
The latter didn't happen, but I digress.
When the Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round, it solidified one thing: the Western Conference is up for grabs.
This is good news for the Warriors heading into next season, as there is no one team that owns the conference. But it also makes things a bit trickier, as they will have to pass a lot of opponents in their way who are also looking to get over the hump.
So how do the Warriors stack up to the playoff teams in the West?
Golden State has a lot of pieces that will make them formidable competitors with this year's playoff teams.
But let's make one thing clear first: while adding Thompson back into the lineup will help the Warriors, it will not solve all of their problems and put them right back to the top of the West. We don't even know when Thompson is supposed to make his return. So, let's just not forget that.
With Draymond Green anchoring their defense, they have the ability to lock down opponents and win games through suffocating other teams' offenses.
The Warriors also have Steph Curry -- a point that doesn't need much more explanation.
A four-man lineup of Curry, Green, Thompson and Andrew Wiggins is strong. But this is where the Warriors start to face problems against the field in the West.
Who is that fifth guy?
Kevon Looney -- who just picked up his $5.2 million player option and will most likely have the starting center spot next season -- is an OK option. If James Wiseman can get healthy and improve his play, that's fine too. But, neither center gives the Warriors a clear advantage over the other typical centers in the West such as Deandre Ayton or Anthony Davis.
Even outside of the center spot, depth isn't on the Warriors' side. Yes, Jordan Poole and Juan Toscano-Anderson emerged as tremendous contributors. If Kelly Oubre Jr., Eric Paschall and Damion Lee stayed healthy, they could have done more.
But, there is no way Golden State's bench would have competed to the depth that's on the Suns, Lakers, Jazz, or even Nuggets.
The other clear thing the Warriors are lacking is a wing player who can create his own shot, and then just rise and shoot over his defender.
Devin Booker, who has proven that the mid-range shot is not dead and is actually a lethal weapon, is that for the Suns. The Clippers have Paul Goerge. Michael Porter Jr. emerged as that for the Nuggets. Donovan Mitchell has done that for Utah.
Wiggins can be that for the Warriors at times, but hasn't done it consistently enough to rely on him for that. Curry is terrific in the mid-range, but he rarely puts his back to the basket to shoot over defenders because of his height. And Thompson, as amazing of a shooter as he is, is better in a catch-and-shoot scenario, rather than off the dribble.
The year's draft is stacked with wing players who can score off the dribble. But, will they be able to contribute in the NBA right away? The only way to find out is by trying it out.
So what will success look like for Golden State next year? It's a vision that changed several times throughout the course of this past season.
As I said above, at first it was to get back on top with Thompson back. Then, after he got injured again, it was to make the playoffs. Then, to make the play-in. Then, back to making the playoffs.
Next season, the Warriors need to make the playoffs -- and make some noise -- to avoid having some tough conversations.
Seeing teams such as the Suns make it as far as they have and the Jazz be the top team in the NBA throughout the regular season is a good sign for the Warriors. It proves that making the correct roster adjustments -- even if it's just one player -- can completely change the outcome of your season.
At the same time, it has opened up the Western Conference like never before, and the Warriors need to be prepared to compete with everyone.