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Why the Golden State Warriors dynasty hinges on Game 4 of the NBA Finals

Vincent Frank

How do we define a dynasty in the sports world? The Golden State Warriors have been a topic of discussion in this regard for the better part of the past half-decade.

Currently playing in their sixth NBA Finals in eight years, these Warriors have joined other dynastic teams in that company. It’s a list that’s limited to Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics teams of the 1950s-60s, the Magic Johnson-led Showtime Lakers of the 1980s and Michael Jordan’s Bulls of the 1990s.

At issue here for those who believe that the Warriors have continued their dynastic run after a two-year injury-plagued hiatus is two-fold. Russell led the greatest dynasty in NBA history, helping his Celtics to 11 NBA titles in a 13-year run. Johnson’s Lakers won five titles in a nine-year span. As for Jordan’s Bulls, they hoisted the Larry O’Brien six times over an eight-year window.

What do the Warriors have in common with all of these teams? They’ve all won back-to-back championships. That’s a prerequisite for being considered a dynasty. Unfortunately, Golden State is just 3-2 in those five Finals appearances and find themselves in must-win mode heading into Game 4 against the Celtics Friday night. A loss here would lead to a 3-1 series hole and long odds for Golden State to win its fourth title in eight years. Hence, the other issue at play.

In short, Golden State’s ability to continue this dynastic run depends heavily on a win in Boston Friday night after the team was blown out in Game 3.

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Remember when Green was suspended for Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers? Golden State held a 3-1 series lead, only to lose that game by 15 points at home. It would go on to drop the final two outings, leading to one of the worst NBA Finals meltdowns in league history.

The narrative surrounding this previous iteration of the Warriors was that Dray was the most important part of the roster outside of then-reigning two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry. Fast forward six years, and this is no longer the case.

Golden State still has an opportunity to retake home-court advantage in the 2022 NBA Finals Friday night despite Green’s completely disastrous play. He scored two points while grabbing four rebounds and dishing out three assists in Golden State’s blowout loss on Wednesday. Green’s biggest stat? The six times he comitted a foul in 35 minutes of action.

“Where you play 34 minutes, you have 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 points. Draymond Green does that in a grade school game, not in the NBA Finals. He has lost focus in terms of concentrating on beating the opponent.”

NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas on Draymond Green after Game 3

It’s been a common theme throughout the playoffs. Golden State winning games despite some ugly performances from the team leader.

Moving forward, one has to ask whether the Warriors’ brass actually values Green at a clip that enables him to be a core member of the team into the twilight of his career. We’re now at a point that this question doesn’t seem to be ridiculous. Continued struggles in the 2022 NBA Finals would add another layer to that.

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Just how open is the Golden State Warriors’ check book?

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Co-owners Joe Lacob and Pete Guber continued to invest in the Warriors’ roster during a two-year span that saw the team either find itself in the bottom rung or lose in the play-in tournament.

Once Golden State fell to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 NBA Finals with both Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant suffering serious injuries, most figured the Warriors would blow it up to an extent. That was magnified when Durant opted to leave for the Brooklyn Nets roughly a month later.

Instead of making cost-cutting moves, this ownership group talked Durant into a sign-and-trade that brought D’Angelo Russell to the Warriors briefly. Russell was then flipped to the Minnesota Timberwolves less than a calendar year later for a package surrounding the expensive Andrew Wiggins. All the while, both Thompson and Stephen Curry were sidelined to injury.

In short, the Warriors’ brass was not willing to give up on its dynastic run due to some misfortune on the part of the previously downtrodden organization.

This has come up a lot recently with reports that other teams are upset about the Warriors’ free-spending ways. Somehow, these rival squads believe it’s unfair that Golden State has been able to retain its homegrown core of Thompson, Curry and Green on multiple extensions under the NBA salary cap rules.

“I think on that point, you should be allowed to spend on your own players. I mean, we drafted a lot of these guys, we developed them. It’s not like we went out and signed all these guys as free agents and built some team that way.”

Golden State Warriors GM Bob Myers on criticism, via 95.7 The Game

Myers has always been appreciative of the Warriors’ brass spending big bucks to keep this team as legit title contenders. Why wouldn’t he be?

Sure the Lacob/Guber group bought a Warriors team that’s now valued at $5.6 billion for a cool $450 million back in 2010. They can’t cry poor. But Golden State’s payroll and luxury tax bill is absolutely insane. How much longer can the owners continue to spend without more championship flags being draped in the Chase Center?

The Warriors were $40 million over the luxury tax this past regular season. Every penny they spend to retain their core group and add veterans will cost another penny in the luxury tax. That is to say, a potential payroll of $450 million in 2022-23. To put this into perspective, the Los Angeles Dodgers have the highest payroll in MLB this season at $260 million.

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Cost of the Golden State Warriors retaining core group

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Stud young guard Jordan Poole is slated to become a restricted free agent following the 2022-23 season. Myers himself opened up about the potential of signing the 22-year-old Poole to a rookie-level max extension during the summer ahead of the NBA Finals.

“You don’t need me to tell you what our payroll is. It’s pretty high. So he (Lacob) just wants to win. And we’ve spent a lot and we’ve kept all the players we want to keep, so I don’t see that changing.”

Myers on potential Poole extension

Said extension would come in at five-years and $190 million, adding to the most-expensive payroll in sports history. Despite playing well down the stretch and in the postseason leading up to the Finals, Poole is in struggle mode.

  • Jordan Poole stats (2022 NBA Finals): 12.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 2.7 APG, 41% shooting, 39% 3-point

Outside of the obvious questions about Poole’s worth, there’s this whole financial component to this. If Golden State remains in the luxury tax, that $190 million in spending on Poole would reach to over $400 million throughout the duration of the contract. Remember when we pointed out the Warriors’ owners spent $450 million on the team 12 years ago? Yeah, this figure is even more insane.

Andrew Wiggins will be playing under the final season of his five-year, $147.7 million contract in 2022-23. After that, the first-time All-Star will hit NBA free agency. Rumors have persisted that the Golden State Warriors will look into trading him this summer. Whether that’s the case remains to be see. What we do know is that he’s likely played himself into another near-max contract and is an important player on this team.

You don’t replace that three-and-D meantality on a whim. You certainly can’t expect to replace his production and veteran presence with a 19-year-old Jonathan Kuminga for a Warriors team that will still boast championship aspirations regardless of the results of the 2022 NBA Finals.

Taking it one step further, the Golden State Warriors will have to make a decision on 32-year-old guard Klay Thompson at some point. He’s been a shell of his former self since returning from two serious lower-body injuries that cost him 2.5 seasons.

Thompson will be a free agent after the 2023-24 season. While he hasn’t played like a max-contract performer, there’s signs of progress in this regard. Would Golden State’s brass be willing to offer up a max deal that will end up costing it $200-plus million in addition to the luxury tax total? We’re not too sure.

As for the aforementioned Draymond Green, he could technically become a free agent following next season — joining Wiggins and Poole in that class. Green has a $27.59 million player option for 2023-24 — one that he’ll likely decline to cash in on one final huge pay day.

The moral of this story is clear. It will end up costing Guber and Lacob the type of money we’ve never seen in North American professional sports to retain the Warriors’ core group. A loss in the 2022 NBA Finals might make the two rethink this strategy.

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Blend of young talent, veteran experience only goes so far

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As long as Stephen Curry is playing at the level we’ve seen in the playoffs, these Warriors will always be a difficult out. We’re just not sure how much longer that is going to be with the all-time great having turned 34 in March. Thompson has taken a step back. Green looks like a shell of his former self.

All the while, Golden State has built up a dynamic young core group with the likes of Jordan Poole, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga and an injured James Wiseman. These will be the players to lead the Warriors into the future. There’s little question about that.

The question then becomes how much longer can Golden State find this happy medium? Kuminga and Moody have barely played in the Finals after the two rookies showed flashes earlier in the postseason. Can the Warriors justify having aging and regressed veterans take up more playing time than them moving forward? It’s a real question.

At some point, the Warriors’ brass will either have to move off someone like Green or Wiggins in order to give a dynamic Kuminga more playing time or trade Kuminga as part of a larger-scale package for a proven star. It’s something Lacob, Guber and Myers pushed back against last summer and ahead of the February 10 NBA trade deadline. That might not be the case moving forward.

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Yes, Game 4 is a must win for the Golden State Warriors

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Down 2-1 in a series is no big deal. A win Friday evening would help Golden State retake home-court advantage heading back to the Chase Center where they have lost exactly one game since March 30.

On the other hand, a defeat at the hands of a more athletic Celtics squad would put Golden State int a 3-1 series deficit and pretty much end this one. In turn, more questions will be raised for an organization that has defined NBA basketball for the better part of the past decade.

It wouldn’t represent an end to the Warriors’ dynastic run, just as Michael Jordan deciding to play baseball didn’t end the Bulls’ dynasty. But it would be the beginning of the end.

On the other hand, coming back and winning the title would represent Golden State’s fourth NBA championship in eight years. It would also force the powers that be in San Francisc to run this thing back again in 2022-23 and beyond.

No pressure.