There’s a 12-minute span in each game that Golden State became known for last season. Entering the half, a game against the Warriors might’ve been close. Maybe Golden State was even losing. But when the third quarter came, annihilation came with it. And although opponents knew what was coming—a blitz of 3s and circus shots and shooting records just inches from being broken—in the third, the Warriors’ jig was inevitable.
Just as inevitable as those third-quarter barrages is the fact that one day, those shots will stop falling and this Golden State dynasty will break up. You know it. I know it. The franchise knows it, and other franchises do too. It’s why a team like Portland is holding onto its core despite never making it past the second round of the playoffs. It’s why Boston has stayed so young, building for the 2020s. It’s why Houston goes all in every season, hoping each time that this year will be the one.
How it will all eventually fall apart, though, is the great unknown. It’s a small taste of Golden State’s own medicine: The other team never knows whether it’s Klay Thompson or Steph Curry or Kevin Durant who will go off in the third; they just know it’s imminent. Golden State doesn’t know who will make the first crack in the dynasty, whether it’s Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant not re-signing, or Draymond Green demanding a maximum contract.
Before this week, that fracture seemed like it might be months away. Durant, who can enter free agency this summer, has not committed to returning to Golden State—though he’s also not openly expressed interest anywhere else. It was something to worry about, but not an immediately pressing issue. Green sped up that tension Monday during the Warriors’ overtime loss to the Clippers; after he didn’t pass the ball to Durant in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter, the two exchanged heated words in the huddle and had to be separated. It was later reported that after KD yelled at Green to “pass the damn ball,” Green responded by reminding Durant that the team was winning before he arrived, calling him a “bitch” multiple times, and accusing him of selfishness in how he had addressed his free agency. The confrontation continued to the locker room, a scene that was reportedly one of the most intense this group has ever had. As Green saw it, Durant isn’t committed to the Warriors. The Warriors are, however, committed to Durant: Green was suspended for Tuesday’s game against the Hawks without pay.
There are questions that existed before Monday’s argument that the front office would’ve had to answer soon enough. How will it afford to pay Durant and Thompson, who is also entering free agency this summer and has “no plans to take a discount,” according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, on top of Curry’s maximum contract? How would Green, who will hit the market in 2020 and, like Thompson, will not accept a pay cut, fit in? “I took less so we could go after KD,” Green said of his last contract this June. There’s virtually no chance he could be convinced to do that again now.
If this is the beginning of the end, the entire league will respond to the aftermath. Here are the ripple effects from a crack in Golden State’s stronghold:
The Warriors Are a Must-Watch Team Again
Some teams are on the treadmill of mediocrity; Golden State is on a stair-stepper of excellence. Neither is a very entertaining 48 minutes. It’s much more captivating to tune into a game with no predetermined outcome. It’s partially what decides a League Pass team. Like anything else worthwhile on TV, the draw might be the actors or the creators, but tension is the reason you can’t turn it off.
This conflict enhances Golden State’s watchability—even if Warriors fans may not agree. Only Northern Californians and kids in Curry jerseys cheer for the Warriors; everyone else unites in cheering against them. The starting five might still be able to run other teams out of the arena for now, even if Green and Durant’s chemistry is shattering, but not for an entire season. Watching for body language, sideline interactions, and yes, passing, is now evidence to be gathered for the demise of best team in decades. It’s a (nearly) leaguewide schadenfreude fix.
Who’s Laughing at the Waiting Game Now?
The aforementioned Blazers have been hounded the last two offseasons for not making a blockbuster trade to swap out Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum for new parts. They’ve been stuck in the middle for some time now, but instead of blowing it up, they have hung onto their roster through the Warriors’ reign. Portland isn’t the only team that accepted growing slowly; Pat Riley has said multiple times that he wishes for Miami to grow “organically” (though the Heat don’t have the Blazers’ starpower).
Golden State could lose Durant or Green and still be a dominant team. The franchise can’t afford to alienate both. Lillard is one of those players who somehow, even in his seventh season, seems to improve certain aspects of his game each year, and Portland’s role players are finally ridding the team of its bad reputation for overhyping decent pieces. Their time could finally be in sight.
The Western Conference Might Snort a Red Bull
Nothing screams “take action!” like the most untouchable team in the league having problems. Certain teams in the West don’t seem likely to make any dramatic trades—the re-signed Nuggets are already set on an uphill trajectory, the Blazers have held firm for years, and the Wolves’ front office might be too jumbled at the moment to make any big moves. For those loaded with talent but still falling short, though, becoming aggressive now makes sense. The window is ever so slightly open. The Rockets are the most aggressive roster-building experiment in the NBA, the Pelicans were sniffing around Jimmy Butler in the offseason, and the Thunder are the conference’s wild card. Any one of them might look at this situation and see it as the catalyst they need to become true contenders this season. Watch for one of them to get bold.
Klay Thompson Running a Team Might Not Be Aa Hypothetical Anymore
One of the best NBA what-ifs is wondering what type of player Thompson would be if he were the first option in an offense. That will never happen in Golden State so long as Curry is around, but without Durant, Thompson would be the one with the reins if Curry ever missed significant time. (Speaking of which, Curry is now expected to miss at least five more games with a strained left groin.) Other teams in the Western Conference are better now than they were when Durant was still in OKC. If KD leaves, Thompson will have to take on a larger load even when Curry is healthy.
There’s also the chance that Thompson won’t stay with the squad. The season’s halfway point is still a long ways away. The chemistry could get worse, and the locker room could remain tense. Maybe there’s a situation in which Thompson, if not offered what he’s expecting, will leave for a team with the cap space to pay him—the Nets or Clippers, for example, who can both (in theory) make room for two max slots this offseason.