OAKLAND, Calif. — The Golden State Warriors have had a remarkable run over the past four years. Three championships — and, in the year they didn’t win the title, a league-record 73 regular season victories — and four NBA Finals appearances is a record of success few teams in NBA history can match.
No team since Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics in the 1960s has made it to five NBA Finals in a row; ditto for winning four titles in five years. The Warriors are a team full of stars in their primes, with the potential for this run to last several more years.
Yet, as one member of the organization after another took the dais here at the team’s practice facility Monday, a consistent theme emerged: This season will be one to be savored — because it may be the last time this group is together.
“We know how lucky we are to be together in this time and place,” Coach Steve Kerr said. “We’re well aware it’s not going to last forever.
“Obviously we want to keep this thing going, but at some point you just have to enjoy the moment, enjoy the now because there’s going to be so much speculation as to what’s ahead. Nobody knows what’s ahead.”
Despite the winning, last season often looked like a slog for Golden State. From this time last year until the Warriors finally won the title by sweeping the Cleveland Cavaliers in June, it felt as if the team was dragging an anchor.
Kerr, and the rest of the Warriors, constantly talked about how hard it would be for them to repeat. They dealt with injuries throughout the season, including Stephen Curry being limited to just 51 regular season games and missing the first round of the playoffs and Andre Iguodala missing the majority of the Western Conference finals. In that series, the Warriors trailed the Houston Rockets in both Game 6 and Game 7 after falling behind three games to two, and if it wasn’t for Houston missing 27 straight threes in Game 7, the Warriors may not have won the title at all.
Kerr and General Manager Bob Myers were open about the fact the Warriors were going to have a more positive message this year, to stave off some of the same issues this time around. What was noteworthy, however, was how frank everyone was about the uncertain future surrounding the franchise.
“I do think there should be a slightly different theme this year,” Kerr said. “We are playing with some house money. We won three of the last four championships. Our place in the history of the league is pretty secure.
“I don't think our guys should feel a ton of pressure. I think they should feel the importance of trying to do it again, because this may be the last time we have this current iteration of the Warriors, just given all the free agents and the money crunch and everything else.
“We don't know what's going to happen. So why not just go all out and enjoy every step of the way?”
Kerr has plenty of reasons to be uncertain about Golden State’s future — beginning with Kevin Durant. After winning two titles and a pair of Finals MVP awards in his two years with the Warriors, there are already plenty of rumblings around the NBA that, following signing a third straight one-year deal with Golden State, he could leave as a free agent next summer.
The question was posed directly to Durant on Monday, and he made sure to go nowhere near it.
“It was one of those things were you’re confident in your skills and you want to take it year by year,” Durant said of signing a one-year deal rather than a multiyear pact. “To keep my options open was the best thing for me. I could’ve easily signed a long-term deal, but I wanted to take it season by season and see where it takes me.
“I think this year is going to be a fun, exciting season … and we’ll see what happens after that."
Durant isn’t alone. DeMarcus Cousins, who the team said Monday would be reevaluated in four weeks as he continues to recover from a torn Achilles' tendon, is on a one-year deal and isn’t expected to be back next season. Klay Thompson, one of the original pillars of this Warriors dynasty, will be a free agent and largely connected to the Lakers — with his father doing radio broadcasts for the team, his close friend Luke Walton coaching and noted admirer LeBron James now playing for them.
Those are three of the seven Warriors that are scheduled to be free agents next summer — a number that could grow to eight if Pat McCaw, a restricted free agent who skipped the start of training camp, accepts his qualifying offer sometime this week.
Even if all of them do return, the Warriors will be on pace to be the most expensive team in NBA history if they re-sign Durant and Thompson to max contracts even before filling out the rest of their roster — another obvious impediment to keeping this team together.
“Those guys, you do what you can to retain them,” Myers said. “But you also want to treat them fairly. And they want to get what they're worth.
“That's what you have to work toward. And I think we've got great dialogue. Where it will end up I don't wholly know right now. But if it works for them, works for us, we'll be happy to go that direction.”
That direction has led the Warriors to heights this sport has rarely, if ever, seen. This season offers them the chance of more of the same.
Beyond that, though? No one is certain. It could be the midpoint of a run that keeps Golden State on top for a decade, or the final dash for glory before this team begins to morph into whatever its next iteration will be.
That the Warriors are making such a point of starting this journey out by focusing on enjoying it for what it is could be an indication they all know where this is headed — and why Monday felt like the beginning of a long goodbye.
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