Kurtenbach: Whatever you do, don’t take the Warriors’ incredible run for granted
PORTLAND, Ore. — Do not take this for granted, Warriors fans.
Yes, heading into the 2018-19 campaign, it was easily presumed that Golden State Warriors would to win the Western Conference for a fifth straight season, but don’t let that expectation overshadow this accomplishment.
Five straight trips to the Finals is monumental. It’s historic (and not in the forget-it-in-six-months usage of the word). In this day and age, it’s simply not supposed to happen.
And yet they did it anyway.
I don’t know if the Warriors will win the NBA Finals and claim their fourth championship in five years this June. Hell, we don’t even know who they will play in the Finals. And given all that’s in flux after those Finals, no one can say if this dynastic run will continue into next year. This might be the final trip to the big show, the last hurrah for a truly great team.
What I can say though is that Monday’s accomplishment, as ho-hum as it might have seemed in the moment, deserves a full-throated celebration and a few additional moments of reflection.
This Warriors’ run required a cosmic occurrence — divine intervention from the basketball gods. It also required insane amounts of skill, a vastly underrated amount of both mental and physical toughness, and luck.
Never underestimate the role of luck in all of this.
That’s not a knock — that’s the biggest reason to celebrate Monday’s triumph over the Blazers and another date with June basketball.
There are a million data points over the course of the last five years that, if changed, could have prevented this team from reaching this lofty status.
Perhaps Stephen Curry was always going to turn into a one-man revolution, but what if Curry’s ankles stay intact and he doesn’t sign a four-year, $44-million contract that helped the Dubs create this next-level roster?
And what if the Timberwolves didn’t decide to draft not one, but two point guards ahead of him?
Surely even the most ardent Draymond Green supporters couldn’t have foreseen that the pudgy, tweener would to turn into one of the greatest defenders of all time — an unparalleled leader and winner. Where would the Warriors be if they chose someone else with that second round pick or decided to keep playing the highly-paid David Lee?
What if Jerry West doesn’t step in and stop the Warriors from trading away Klay Thompson for Kevin Love?
Where would these Warriors be if the greed of LeBron James and Chris Paul — the leaders of the player’s union — didn’t act in their own self-interests and pushed for the adoption of the league’s proposal to smooth over a salary cap spike in the summer of 2016? Without that spike, the Warriors couldn’t have signed Kevin Durant, who took the Warriors from being a great team to being a league-wide existential crisis.
What happens if the Clippers didn’t match DeAndre Jordan’s offer sheet in 2011, or Festus Ezeli signs his contract extension in 2015, or if the Warriors decided to use that salary cap spike to run back the 73-win roster?
What if Steve Kerr chose the Knicks?
What if Larry Ellison — the highest bidder for the team when it went up for sale — wasn’t out-maneuvered by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber?
What if Lacob let the fans talk him out of the Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut trade?
What if Kevon Looney never injured his hip at UCLA, allowing the five-star talent to drop to the Dubs in the NBA Draft?
What if, after one of Green and Kerr’s countless fights, they didn’t find a way to work it out?
What if the Green-Durant spat this past November was, indeed, a situation so toxic that it would infect the entire team?
What if Andre Iguodala didn’t play the Warriors in the 2013 Playoffs, allowing him to see the potential of Curry up close and understand that things were changing in the Bay as he headed into free agency?
What if the then 67-year-old Ron Adams didn’t propose that the Warriors put Bogut on Tony Allen after falling behind the tough-as-nails Grizzlies 2-1 in the second round of the 2015 NBA Playoffs?
What if then 28-year-old Nick U’Ren — an assistant who wasn’t technically a coach — didn’t feel empowered to speak up and suggest that the Warriors start Iguodala in the 2015 NBA Finals after they fell behind 2-1?
What happens if Thompson doesn’t go off in Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals?
What if J.R. Smith didn’t forget the score in Game 1 of last year’s NBA Finals?
Yes, what if Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving and Love don’t get injured along the way?
I can go on for days. I’ve probably gone on too long already.
All this to say that if even one of those things doesn’t break the Warriors’ way, this dynasty probably doesn’t exist. Greatness is achieved on the margins.
Perhaps this is all a karmic rebalancing. In the not-too-distant past, the Warriors were the laughingstock of the NBA. You can argue the team’s biggest moment — before this run started — was a first-round series win. (No one knew if the 1975 title-winning team would even stay in the Bay Area the next year.)
For decades, everything that could go wrong for the Warriors did. Every big decision they made seemed to be wrong, every 50-50 play went against them.
While the rest of North America rolls their eyes and clamors for a parity that’s never existed in the NBA with claims that the Warriors have ruined the league with this run, it’s important to remember that longtime Golden State fans – and there were frankly too many, given this team’s cursed history — deserve every bit of this good fortune and perhaps a bit more.
Because eventually, the luck will run out. Players will age out. The rest of the league will make up the “light years” gap this team created.
It’s only in the not-so-good times that we reminisce over the good-old-days. But we have an incredible opportunity right now to recognize the unprecedented greatness this Warriors team has put forward the past five years. No team has gone to five-straight NBA Finals since the 1960’s Boston Celtics, who played in an era of indentured players and seven other teams. The last North American professional sports team to go to five straight championship rounds was the New York Islanders, who went to five-straight Stanley Cup Finals from 1980 to 1984.
Leagues are build so this kind of success should be impossible. And yet the Warriors — of all teams, the Warriors… — have done it. And they might not be done yet.
Golden State general manager Bob Myers grew up in the East Bay and went to games at Oracle Arena as a kid. The Warriors gave him every reason to not care or to pick another team, but he remained true to his hometown five. He was a big-time NBA agent, but he left that behind to go work for that team, eventually ascending to GM in 2011.
He remembers celebrating clinching a playoff berth in 2013 like it was a championship and being truly gobsmacked when the team actually won the title two years later.
He’s the man in charge of the roster of his hometown team and that team is has a great chance to become the NBA’s greatest modern-day dynasty in a matter of weeks.
I found him in the celebration after the game.
“Five. Could you have imagined this in your wildest dreams?” I asked him.
All Myers could do was laugh. It was a giddy chuckle — the laugh of a kid.