The Warriors have grown accustomed to being the hunted over the last half-decade.
Over that span, the rest of the NBA has been in an arms race to catch them, to no avail. With Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant, Golden State achieved the greatest five-year run in NBA history.
Now, after the Warriors’ 2019 NBA Finals loss to the Toronto Raptors and injuries to Durant and Thompson, the rest of the league is primed to permanently end the dynasty.
The latest example comes out of Los Angeles, where the Lakers — who will open their preseason against the Warriors on Oct. 5 in the first game in San Francisco's Chase Center — reportedly have traded for superstar Pelicans big man Anthony Davis, shipping out Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and three first-round picks, including the No. 4 overall pick in Thursday's draft.
More intriguing, the team could have between $27 million and $32 million in salary-cap space to potentially use on a free agency pool that includes Durant, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Kemba Walker.
The Warriors aren’t strangers to arms races against them, most notably from the Houston Rockets, who admittedly obsessed with the Warriors, traded for Chris Paul in 2017 to achieve common footing. More recently, with James out of the Eastern Conference, Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri traded for Kawhi Leonard, a move that ultimately dethroned the Warriors two days ago.
However, the Lakers' move comes at a unique time of peril for the Warriors. Entering free agency, their two top targets — Durant and Thompson — will be expected to sit out most, if not all, of the 2019-20 season with major rehabilitation timetables. Both players are expected to command maximum salary slots, so if both re-sign, the Warriors will enter next season with two top players on the bench and little cap space to use on improvements.
It's appropriate that the Lakers are the first team this summer to make a move toward championship consideration. For the last half-century, the franchise was everything the Warriors dynasty currently is. A healthy, star-driven franchise had the likes of George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant donning its colors, helping the franchise win 15 titles.
However, since 2013, the Lakers haven’t reached the playoffs, building a reputation for more off-court drama than on-court wins. Two months ago, Johnson — the team's vice president of basketball operations — abruptly stepped down before the team's season finale, citing trust issues with general manager Rob Pelinka.
Now, with the addition of Davis, the Lakers could be back to contending for titles. With their cap space, they can bring at least one more near-max player on the roster.
As for the Warriors, more questions linger. DeMarcus Cousins and Kevon Looney will be free agents, and the team must decide whether to extend a qualifying offer to second-year big man Jordan Bell. Worse, of the players with All-Star experience, only Curry and Green will be expected full participants when training camp opens in September.
Following Thursday's season-ending loss, Green said it wouldn't be smart to count out the Warriors, citing their championship pedigree. Time will tell whether his words will ring true, but as the Lakers proved Saturday, the rest of the league is coming for their crown.