clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Warriors Dynasty Isn’t Ending Because of Draymond Green

NBA dynasties do not die due to suspensions or the sins of a wayward soul. Like every other legendary NBA team, Golden State will ultimately succumb to something else.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

As we rush once more to eulogize the Golden State Warriors—to offer our hot-take last rites and fake-trade sacraments—it’s tempting to dwell on the chaos, to get lost in a haze of punches and chokeholds, to make one man’s meltdown the symbol of a dynasty’s demise. It’s tempting to blame Draymond Green.

It’s easy to get caught up in what-ifs. What if Green hadn’t punched Jordan Poole last year? What if Green hadn’t throttled Rudy Gobert last month? Or smacked Jusuf Nurkic last week? What if he’d exercised more self-control? What if he were on the court now, making basketball magic with Steph Curry, instead of serving an indefinite suspension?

With just days to go until Christmas, the Warriors are a distant 11th place in the West, at 12-14. Six of those losses have come on nights when Green was either ejected or suspended—and there are surely many more to come before the league reinstates him.

By the time the Dubs’ defensive anchor returns, their season—and any realistic hopes of title contention—might already be lost. Given age and mileage and contracts, they might never get another shot. Cue the eulogies. But if the Warriors’ long reign is indeed over (and here, I’ll still give them the grace of that “if”), it won’t be because of Draymond Green.

NBA dynasties do not die by fisticuffs or suspensions, or by the sins of a single wayward soul. They die of old age, of brittle ligaments and cranky backs. They die of hubris and ego. They die of nostalgia and benign neglect. They die because it’s the nature of things—and not even team owner Joe Lacob’s billions or his “light-years ahead” proclamations or his two-timeline fantasies can change that.

The truth is, the Warriors of Steph and Klay and Draymond are, by historical standards, already stretching the limits for longevity. If we measure a dynasty’s term from its first championship to its last, with the same core stars, then Golden State has already matched or surpassed four of the NBA’s seven historic dynasties (defined here as winning at least three titles in a decade).

Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics set a nearly impossible standard, winning 11 titles in 13 seasons across the 1950s and ’60s, albeit in a much different NBA. The San Antonio Spurs, with Tim Duncan as their centerpiece, set the modern-day longevity record, raising five banners across 16 seasons. But most dynasties fade much more quickly.

George Mikan’s Minneapolis Lakers, the NBA’s first dynasty, won five titles over six seasons, bridging the 1940s and ’50s. The Showtime Lakers of the ’80s collected five championships in a nine-season span. The ’80s Celtics won three titles in six seasons. Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls claimed six titles in eight seasons. And the Shaquille O’Neal–Kobe Bryant Lakers won three titles in three seasons.

When the Warriors claimed the 2022 championship, it gave them four in eight seasons—equal to the length of the Bulls’ run, and one season shorter than Showtime’s. That’s pretty much the outer limit for a modern-day dynasty

The Spurs’ reign was a massive outlier, not only in its length but in its construction. Their true run of dominance lasted nine seasons—from their first title in 1999 through their fourth in 2007, with David Robinson and Duncan anchoring the first two and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker on board for the second, third, and fourth titles. The fifth title—which came a staggering seven years after the fourth—was almost a separate accomplishment, with a young, blossoming Kawhi Leonard winning Finals MVP and propping up their aging core.

The end of that Spurs run is instructive. One savvy and fortuitous move—the draft-night trade of George Hill for Leonard in 2011—rejuvenated them at a time when Duncan and Ginobili were in their mid-30s. Great teams generally draft low and, if they’re lucky, find a decent role player or two. And Leonard was the 15th pick—not exactly tabbed for stardom. It’s extremely rare to acquire an MVP-caliber talent while still dominating with your older stars.


And, as we would see a few years later, it can be hard to keep them, too. Any hope the Spurs had of extending their dynasty died in 2018, when Leonard demanded a trade after clashing with team officials over medical issues. A year later, he was parading the Larry O’Brien Trophy through downtown Toronto.

Hard feelings and a dramatic trade also derailed the Lakers of the early 2000s, with Bryant and O’Neal wrestling for control of the franchise, even as they made a fourth Finals run in 2004. O’Neal was shipped to Miami that summer. Bryant would eventually win two more titles alongside Pau Gasol—a run that qualifies as its own era.

Erosion and attrition brought down the Showtime Lakers, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retiring in 1989, one year after their final championship. Magic Johnson and James Worthy made one more Finals, in 1991, but Johnson retired later that year after contracting HIV.

The rival Celtics traveled a similar path—winning their last title of the era in 1986, making one more Finals in 1987, then sliding toward mediocrity as age and injuries caught up to Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. There was tragedy, too, in the untimely deaths of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis, two bright young talents who might have extended the Celtics’ reign.

Bird was 35 when he retired in 1992—the same age Jordan would be in 1998, when he claimed his last championship. But Jordan spoiled us all: He went out with glory, with a game-winning (and title-clinching) shot for the ages. He went out on top. Good luck trying to replicate that.

Months later, Jordan would announce his retirement, and the Bulls would begin a wholesale teardown—the rare instance of a dynasty ending while still at its peak, rather than slowly, painfully fading away.

More often, these endings are grisly, gradual, and sad, with fans and players clinging to a flimsy facade of exceptionalism—the memory of what a team once was, as opposed to its present reality.

Is that where the Warriors are now, eight and a half years after their first title? Were we guilty of overestimating their 2023 potential, based on their 2022 title run, on the enduring greatness of Curry, on the résumés of Green and Thompson? Are we now dismissing them too soon, based on Thompson’s struggles and Green’s volatility? Is the dynasty truly dead—or perhaps, to quote Miracle Max, “only mostly dead?” (“Mostly dead is slightly alive.”)

We’ve buried them prematurely before. It absolutely looked like the run was over in June 2019, when Kevin Durant’s Achilles snapped and Thompson’s knee buckled in the Finals. Many obituaries were written. But Thompson eventually healed, Durant was parlayed into Andrew Wiggins (via D’Angelo Russell), and Steph kept Steph-ing, sparking a second-wind title run that absolutely no one saw coming.

The lesson? A dynasty’s demise is inevitable, but not always predictable. The Warriors are battling the same specters of physics and age that doomed their predecessors. Thompson isn’t the defender he was before knee and Achilles surgeries—and his shooting touch comes and goes now. Curry and Green remain elite, if slightly less so than they were in their primes. Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston are retired, and Durant is now a Phoenix Sun.

Warriors officials hoped to refresh the rotation along the way. But they drafted James Wiseman instead of LaMelo Ball (or Tyrese Haliburton), and took Jonathan Kuminga instead of Franz Wagner (or Alperen Sengun). Their attempts to defy the basketball gods with a “two-timeline” strategy largely failed. Now they’ve doubled down on vets, praying for one more title run.

But the end is near, or nearing. Bob Myers, this dynasty’s chief architect, departed last spring. Extension talks for Thompson are stalled; he could leave next summer. Coach Steve Kerr is also in the last year of his deal—and there’s reason to believe he might be ready to walk away, too.

So aside from Curry, that leaves just one key figure with a long-term commitment: Draymond Green. There’s no telling how long his suspension will last, or how his counseling will go, or whether he’ll return with better self-control. But we do know this: There is no Warriors dynasty without Green. He’s their fire, their ferocity, their defensive conscience. He’s the one with the almost-psychic connection with Curry, allowing them to play an improvisational two-man game that still delights fans and flusters defenders and keeps the Warriors offense humming.

No one can say exactly when a dynasty will end, or how. Sometimes we don’t know until long after the fact. Is this Warriors reign over? Perhaps. But they’ve defied the odds before. Curry, at 35 years old, is still playing like an MVP. And Green, for all his warts, is still an undeniable force. When the Warriors are whole, they’re still devastating.

So bury them if you must. Crank up the rumor mill and the trade machine. But if there is indeed some life left in this dynasty, if there’s somehow a final chapter to be written, it almost certainly will be Draymond Green coauthoring the script.