- How much better will Golden State be next season? The rest of the league will have to find out the hard way.
JaVale McGee re-signed with the Warriors on Thursday, keeping the big man on the team with which he had his most impactful season. The Warriors haven’t had the noisiest off-season, and understandably so. But after bringing back McGee, Golden State has not only locked up its championship core, the Dubs have also kept their most important role players while adding key pieces to their bench. In short, somehow, it appears that Golden State will be an even better team next season.
Starting in late January through the end of the playoffs, the Warriors lost only once with their full complement of stars last season—their Game 4 loss to the Cavs in the Finals. From February onward, Golden State found the gear most expected the team to reach at the start of the season, a gear that was only ever derailed by injury or rest. By the end of the playoffs, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant were playing the best they ever had together, and no one had a chance at slowing them down.
Curry and Durant should be much more comfortable playing with one another at the outset of next season, and now they have tangible, championship-winning proof that their games can mesh with the highest of stakes on the line. Curry looked more comfortable without Durant at times last season, but both players hit their stride during the last two rounds of the playoffs, and their improving chemistry made the Warriors particularly unstoppable.
In addition to Durant and Curry, all the usual suspects stuck around Oakland for another run. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are locked up. David West is back for his last season. Zaza Pachulia, who acquitted himself well in the Dubs’ dominant starting five, will continue irritating opponents for at least another year. And Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala also re-signed despite opportunities elsewhere.
Those moves alone would be enough to make Golden State overwhelming title favorites in 2018, but the team also swapped out Ian Clark and Matt Barnes for Nick Young and Omri Casspi. Young will likely feast on catch-and-shoot threes in a way that will seem unfair to opponents, while Casspi’s shooting and length should allow him to fit in seamlessly on both offense and defense. This isn’t to say Young and Casspi are going to be All-Stars, but having them on the end of the bench? They are a clear upgrade over the players they replaced.
Of course, the Warriors’ continuity and improvement comes amid their biggest challengers standing pat or hysterically imploding. While the Rockets and Thunder made some strides this off-season, the Spurs and Cavs—the two teams who had the best shot against Golden State last season—haven’t done much to catch up.
San Antonio was in a tricky situation cap-wise to make big moves. But after losing out on Chris Paul, the Spurs treaded water instead of tweaking the roster. A seemingly discontent LaMarcus Aldridge is still in town. Tony Parker is still hurt. Patty Mills is back, but Jonathon Simmons and Dewayne Dedmon are gone. Pau Gasol is making big money. Maybe the Spurs are still lurking in hopes of a big trade, but as presently constructed, Gregg Popovich and Co. seem like less of a threat than they were last year.
And the Cavs, woof. Cleveland desperately needed some young wing depth to counter Golden State, and the best they could come up with was Jeff Green. The Cavs were also hamstrung by massive salary commitments, but then decided to give Kyle Korver a three-year deal. Derrick Rose doesn’t help Cleveland’s defensive issues. And we haven’t even touched the Kyrie fiasco yet. Cleveland could still easily come out of the East, but that doesn’t mean the Cavs will be in good enough shape to win the Finals.
NBA teams should obviously keep trying to take down the Warriors. This off-season has been extremely fun to watch, and teams like the Rockets and Thunder shouldn’t back down. But even with all the other craziness of the last few weeks, the Warriors have made sure to improve their roster as well. How much better will Golden State be next season? The rest of the league will have to find out the hard way.