With the NBA Finals now having passed, I found myself reflecting on the successes of the Golden State Warriors these past five years, and how the team became the greatest NBA dynasty of its time. As a Rockets fan, it sometimes pains me to discuss the Warriors, a team that has been responsible for Houston’s four out of its last five exits from the NBA playoffs. However, the Rockets can learn a great deal not only from the organization’s careful roster construction but also its business operations.
Much has been discussed how the Golden State Warriors successfully managed to build arguably the greatest roster of NBA talent ever assembled. First, the team drafted extremely well, choosing Stephen Curry in 2009, Klay Thompson in 2011 and Draymond Green in 2012, setting up its core championship foundation. Next, the team pivoted away from head coach Mark Jackson in 2014, hiring Steve Kerr as his replacement. In Kerr, the franchise developed a stronger identity and its now famous “assist-first” culture – the team went from being sixth in assists during 2013-2014 to leading the league in all seasons subsequently thereafter. Finally, as a result of a collective bargaining agreement between the league and players’ association, the salary cap jumped from $70 million in 2014-2015 to $94 million in 2015-2016, allowing the team to add arguably the greatest player of this era’s current NBA generation in Kevin Durant to an already 73-win championship team. These were perhaps the three most important developments on the basketball side that allowed the Warriors to dominate the league over the last five years. Credit to General Manager Bob Myers is well-deserved.
ESPN published a really eye opening piece today on the turmoil within the Western Conference’s second best team over the last few years. There were several nuggets uncharacteristic of the typical news story which may have fueled the existing flames in the rumor mill.
“Chris wants to coach James,” says a source familiar with the stars’ dynamic. “James looks at him like, ‘You can’t even beat your man. Just shut up and watch me.'”
I said a few weeks back that I sided with Chris Paul in this conflict because what he’s saying is completely right. James Harden, for all his brilliance, does have certain tendencies which detract from winning. One of those tendencies is his disinterested loafing around away from the play when he is not the primary ballhandler during a certain possession. He could be getting himself in position to score off the ball. In fact, as Jalen Rose noted when he first opined on this feud, when Harden does this, it undermines Chris Paul because Paul needs off-ball movement from the other four players on his team for his possessions to be successful. Paul is first and foremost a creator in this stage of his career.
But its awkward because, as the anonymous quote suggests, what credibility does Paul have at this point? You can’t bark at a guy to do a certain thing when you’re not contributing yourself. And Paul was dreadful at points against the Warriors. Why would Harden listen to him when he’s been carrying the Rockets, basically all season, and in that series?
The response to that question though is that Harden needs to understand that it can only help his chances at winning if he does the things that will make his team better when he doesn’t have the ball. Paul is still a brilliant passer and playmaker, even if he can no longer beat his man off the dribble. Wouldn’t it make things easier for James if he got a few easy buckets off the ball? Can anyone get that through to him?
I need to start by saying that the Raptors’ title was one of the greatest sports stories of the last decade. They traded their beloved franchise player for a rental, after years of frustration, and won a championship. That can only be described as amazing. But we need to scale it back right now with some of the narratives.
They didn’t “end a dynasty” as its being put. That Warriors team they took down was a shell of the actual team, minus Durant, minus Looney at full health, and minus Klay for five quarters. We don’t even know what would have happened had Klay not gotten hurt in Game 6. So this victory wasn’t exactly paradigm-shifting the way its being proclaimed right now. The only thing it proved was that the Warriors are easier to beat when they don’t have Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson.
You could also posit a strong argument that the reason Durant and Thompson went down was because the Warriors extended themselves to such a degree against the Rockets, playing only six guys at times.
Right now, the narrative on Kawhi is that he’s the best player in the league who ended two dynasties. That’s fair. He just came off a historic playoff run, with the most impressive part being, in my opinion, his defense against Giannis in the conference finals. That’s something no one in the league, especially James Harden, is capable of doing. That’s why with Durant out, I have him as the best player in the league. But conversely, the narrative on Harden going into next year is as a complete choker – you’re probably going to see him on preview lists as considered the 6th best player in the league (behind Kawhi, Davis (lol), Steph, Lebron, and Durant.) And that’s really interesting to me considering the numbers Harden put up vs. the Warriors, compared to Kawhi’s production. (Narrator: Harden averaged 34.8 points on 44% shooting, 7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 2.2 steals against the Warriors. Kawhi averaged 28.5 points on 43% shooting, 9.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 2.0 blocks in the Finals against a Warriors team without Durant and a hobbled Klay Thompson).
What’s the story right now if Austin Rivers went God-mode at the end of Game 6 the way Fred VanVleet did, or if P.J. Tucker could hit scoop runners like the one Siakam did to close out the title?
Now that we’ve had sufficient time to decompress, its actually even more amazing to me to consider what James Harden was able to do against that Warriors team in dragging them to 6 games. The Rockets got next to nothing from their second best player and their third best player was a total liability. Key members of their bench in Danuel House, Kenneth Faried, and Gerald Green became completely unplayable. It can be argued that Harden in that series essentially only had help from Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, and P.J Tucker, and the last of those three needed all of his offense created for him. Just incredible, and amidst all of the slander, something that completely will go unappreciated in the postseason analysis in this world of ours where nuance doesn’t mean a damn thing.
With Klay out next season, and it looking unlikely that the Lakers will be able to add a third max player to their roster, I still have Houston as my favorites out West next season. Now Milwaukee concerns me. But if they make the right tweaks, Houston is right there to contend again.