The Golden State Warriors may be the best team in NBA history. People are mad about that. But they shouldn’t be. Yes, this is about the future of the 76ers.
The Warriors have run the Cleveland Cavaliers out of their gym in the first two games of the NBA Finals. It was an inevitability, really, as the Warriors are that good and, despite losing in the Finals to the Cavs last season, the addition of Kevin Durant all but sealed the fate of this NBA season many months ago.
Fans are mad because the Warriors aren’t just good, they are so good — so much better than every other team in the NBA — that the playoffs are boring. The second half of every game is nearly unwatchable it’s so boring, and outcome itself is boring because the superteam the Warriors created has taken the NBA from a league where maybe three or four teams can win the title to, by the looks of it, just one.
Sam Hinkie was right along along. He saw this coming years ago, if not from the Warriors than some team (read: the Cavs), which is why the Sixers were tanking for the right to draft the best players every year. And while other teams were getting up in arms about the competitive balance of the NBA suffering because teams at the bottom of the standings were putting out subpar NBA lineups in order to finish with more chances to win the NBA Draft Lottery, the NBA’s elite were stacking their rosters full of All-Star teams, making the disparity between the best and the rest as wide as it has ever been in NBA history. And that includes the Jordan-era Bulls.
How can the Sixers be expected to compete with the Warriors if the second-best team in the NBA — the one with the highest payroll in the league and the best player of his generation in LeBron James — can’t compete with them? It’s ridiculous how good the Warriors are, but that’s not Golden State’s fault. And, frankly, it’s as much the NBA’s fault as the tanking situation is. Which is to say, there’s nothing anyone can, or should, do.
Just last week, Clippers coach Doc Rivers ripped Durant for going to the Warriors, saying, “that was tough for anybody, anybody’s that’s competitive, to watch. He lost, and then he joined. Having said that, it was his choice, I have no problem with him, but it’s something from a competitive standpoint, you would think you wouldn’t do.”
Rivers reiterated he has “no problem” with what Durant did, before stating several reasons why he has a problem with what Durant did.
By the way, the Clippers had the second-highest payroll in the NBA this season, behind only the Cavs. The Warriors ranked 16th out of 30 teams.
Yes, the best team in the NBA — maybe the best team in NBA history — had a lower payroll than the New Orleans Pelicans, Charlotte Hornets and Sacramento Kings. This is only a superteam on talent, not in any rule-breaking, salary-cap-evading way. Be mad at Durant, but don’t take it out on the Warriors franchise. If anything, do everything you can to emulate their model.
Be mindful, the superteam won’t last. Steph Curry is due a max deal, and there surely won’t be room for all four of their potential hall of fame players after the former MVP gets his money. Draymond Green and Klay Thompson would surely be the best player on almost any other team in the league, but on a roster with Curry and Durant, one of them will be expendable. In adding Durant this season, Thompson seems to be the man on the outside, yet he and Green are the only two key players signed beyond this year. (Durant has a player option for next season.)
The Warriors will have a tough decision this off-season on how to sustain this run, but it will come after two titles and three-straight trips to the finals.
So here’s what the Sixers can learn from them: Draft smart, sign players to team-friendly deals and save enough cap space to bring in a marquee player when the opportunity to become legendary arises. And then… superteam.
Klay Thompson was the 11th pick of the 2011 NBA Draft.
Draymond Green was the third pick of the 2012 NBA Draft…by the Warriors. Green was taken 35th overall that season, after the Dubs selected Harrison Barnes 7th overall and Festus Ezeli 30th.
Not only did the Warriors draft extremely well, they re-signed their stars to sensible deals in order to afford this current run. And they also got rid of some guys, or at least let them sign elsewhere, to balance the budget even more.
Thompson signed a 4-year, $68.9-million extension before last season, with an average base salary of around $17 million that already seems like a steal.
Green signed a 5-year, $82-million deal the same off-season, giving him one extra year but a little less cash per season than Thompson.
Curry signed a 4-year extension before the current run, and before he became known as one of the deadliest shooters in NBA history. He’s making $12.1 million this season, due for the biggest salary bump in league history in a few weeks.
The Warriors let Barnes walk to sign a 4-year, $94 million deal with the Mavericks this offseason. They dumped Andrew Bogut as well, and reshaped their roster by leveraging recent success to sign players like David West to the league minimum. Durant is making $2 million more than Thompson and Curry combined this year. Andre Iguodala is making more at $11.1 million than the entire rest of the Warriors’ bench.
And that’s the lesson for the Sixers: Sign your top guys now, but make sure it’s the right guys, watch them develop together for cheap, then add the right pieces via free agency. And win.
Joel Embiid is already eligible for a second NBA contract. He’s a restricted free agent after the 2018-19 season, but signing him now, while risky given his health concerns, could prove smarter than waiting to give him a deal.
Is Robert Covington the Sixers’ Draymond, or is he more like Barnes, in that he’s a solid player who won’t be worth what he’s paid on the open market?
Is Dario Saric the Draymond of this roster — do-everything player who is an excellent passer, can rebound, body a big and shoot from outside a little — or is that Richaun Holmes, who like Green was a second-round pick who has fast proven he belongs on an NBA roster.
Is Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot the Sixers’ Klay? He was a first-round pick many overlooked who had a solid rookie campaign. Figuring out if he’s a building block for the future may go along way in setting up the rest of the roster.
None of those players can shoot like Thompson or Curry (or maybe even Green) which is where this analogy starts to fall apart. The roster is built around bigs, not guards, but the math still works the same. Roster management is the key, not where the stars line up.
Of course, there is no Warriors comparison for Ben Simmons, as Golden State never had the luxury of picking first in the NBA Draft during this run. And there is no Warriors comparison for Jahlil Okafor either, which might not be a bad thing. (Maybe it’s Ezeli, who was a late first rounder now jettisoned elsewhere while a journeyman does what he was asked to do on his rookie deal.)
As the rest of the NBA continues to complain about how unfair it is the Warriors are so much better than a team who signed LeBron and traded for Kevin Love to team up with Kyrie Irving, remember this Warriors team was built long before Durant signed, and he only went there because of the championship pieces already in place.
If the Sixers can learn from anything, it’s that tanking will only get you so far, but smart drafting and even smarter roster management can turn a lineup of young talent into the greatest building model in NBA history. Even if it ruins the NBA Finals in — pardon the pun — the process.