Defending the Warriors’ Dynasty

At this point in my life as a sports fan, the two sports leagues I follow the most are the NBA (no surprise there) and Formula 1 racing. I started watching each at pretty young age, and unlike MLB and the NFL, my passion hasn't waned into adulthood.

Of course, there aren't too many similarities between shooting a three-pointer and finding the proper way around a hairpin turn on a racetrack, but from a structural and institutional standpoint, Formula 1 and the NBA have more in common than you think. Most striking is that the most dominant teams win, and win big.

In F1, the three teams that rule the sport currently, Mercedes, Red Bull, and Ferrari, have won every single race since March 2013. That encompasses 106 race weekends and counting where only about 30 percent of the competing cars had a halfway decent chance of winning the race.

Furthermore, barring some nutty events happening one race meeting, that fact is unlikely to change until the series changes its engine formula for the 2021 season.

You might say it's kind of like a sport where the same two teams have met in the last four championship series.

Now, I don't watch either of these sports solely because of the domination factor — I watch them mostly because the NBA and Formula 1 are the world's pinnacle of basketball and auto racing, respectively. But I'd be lying to you if I said that the traditional dominance aspect isn't at least a part of my passion for each.

Some sports fans don't like that, and that's okay. To me, sports dominance isn't like a monarchy, and it's more special when someone finally does knock off a dominant team versus a sport where there's a new winner every year. After all, no diehard fan is ever going to forget where they were when the Cavs beat the 73-win Warriors in 2016.

The downside of dominance is that in some years in the NBA and Formula 1, you basically know who's going to win the title before or shortly after the season starts.

We're entering one of those years in the NBA, without a doubt. We can say with 99 percent certainty that the Warriors are winning the title in June 2019.

We could probably have made that assertion before free agency even began, but when Golden State signed Boogie Cousins to the mid-level exception, key Rockets defender Trevor Ariza left for Phoenix, and LeBron James ended his second stint in Cleveland by going to the Lakers without Paul George in tow, it feels like that much more of a sure thing.

Yes, nothing is ever a sure thing in sports.

Maybe Boston stays healthy and their top eight or nine players all deliver excellent seasons and they give the Warriors a shot. Maybe Ben Simmons can shoot now, and Philly moves into to the true elite. Maybe Houston won't take a step back without Ariza, and maybe the collection of curious pieces teaming up with LeBron in L.A. shows that you don't need to take 30 threes a game to win if the playmaking, passing, and defense are all excellent.

Those all feel like fantasies now, because if the Warriors play merely B-minus or C basketball in the playoffs next spring with a full roster, the trophy is staying in the Bay Area.

And really, DeMarcus Cousins doesn't even need to seriously contribute for that to come to fruition. Coming off an Achilles tear, he might not even be allowed to play before mid-January, and you'd imagine he won't play back-to-backs after. But his shotmaking ability and skills will no doubt come in handy sometime after the regular season ends, and that will just make it that much tougher for a team playing at its peak to beat Golden State.

This coming season won't make any new fans among those who would like to see 8-10 teams competing for the title each year like the NFL. But clear-minded NBA fans should approach the coming season with this in mind: these type of runs do not and cannot last forever.

Go back to the early 2000s. The Shaq and Kobe Lakers were going to rule until the late 2000s. Even after losing to San Antonio in 2003, the late-career additions of Karl Malone and Gary Payton made them a superteam that couldn't be stopped. Or so we thought. It blew up quickly.

After 2013, we thought LeBron, Wade and Bosh were going to stay in Miami until James proved prophetic. LeBron wasn't even on the team in mid-July the next year.

There are whispers Kevin Durant might move on from the Warriors after next season. Eventually, someone in the Warriors' top four players will want a new challenge, or team chemistry will wane. Or injuries might cause an untenable situation where a player won't get paid his desired salary. Or maybe management will decide it doesn't want to pay tens of millions in additional luxury tax.

For one, if Cousins performs above his $5 million salary, as is expected, he won't be coming back unless he wants to only make $6 million in 2019-20, since Golden State won't have Bird rights on him.

Talking about Bird rights leads me to another fundamental point about NBA fandom: the deck is stacked for teams to re-sign players and for it to be very difficult for teams to poach top players.

Now, perhaps the system wasn't built with the intention that the Golden States would pay mountains of luxury tax every year. However, with the NBA's soft cap, it's always been a possibility to keep your own players, go over the cap, and even into the luxury. It's never been a possibility for teams to sign elite or even second-tier players without cap space.

In other words, the system is built for dynasties and keeping players in place for at least a contract or two, and I don't think the NBA, the owners and the players are going to agree to a massive overhaul. After all, even as much as fans want to complain about seeing the same teams every year, TV ratings continue to shine even as other sports properties stagnate.

If you contrast this to the NHL, the Chicago Blackhawks were essentially forced to trade or let key championship players walk due to that league's hard cap system. If the NHL had the NBA's system, Chicago could have kept its players for longer. And in a funny coincidence, all of NBC's best Stanley Cup Finals ratings since taking over the TV rights involved the Blackhawks.

The Warriors are almost certainly winning the title next year. However, the NBA will still remain extremely popular, and it won't be in spite of all their winning. And if history is any indication, the dynasty will break up sooner than later.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site