Raptors’ Finals triumph over Warriors sends strong message to rest of NBA
The end always comes, even if we never see it coming. The Warriors are no longer champions of the NBA.
A 114-110 defeat at the hands of the Raptors on Thursday night knocked Golden State off its perch. A Toronto group led by Kawhi Leonard largely dominated the 2019 NBA Finals and took home the franchise’s first Larry O’Brien trophy.
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Game 6 wasn’t just about losing the chance at a three-peat, though – this may be the end of the Warriors dynasty as we know it.
Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson are about to enter free agency, but Durant’s ruptured Achilles and Thompson’s torn ACL could rule them out for the entire 2019-20 season regardless of where they land. DeMarcus Cousins and Kevon Looney will be unrestricted free agents as well. Shaun Livingston could consider retirement.
This team will have Stephen Curry and Draymond Green plus some sort of supporting cast, and that’s enough to remain competitive. A title favorite? That’s a stretch given the Warriors’ current situation.
This year’s injury-plagued NBA Finals should send a message to the rest of the league: The age of Warriors domination is over. If ever there was a time to go all-in, it’s right now.
Raptors president Masai Ujiri made his gamble last July with a trade for Leonard, and it clearly paid off. There are plenty of candidates out there just one roll of the dice away from potentially becoming next year’s version of Toronto.
After finishing second in the Western Conference in 2018-19, do the Nuggets pair another star with Nikola Jokic? Is this the Trail Blazers’ opportunity to finally jump a level from very good to great? What about the Rockets, a contender that has fallen to the Warriors in the last two postseasons? Out in Los Angeles, could it be the Lakers with an Anthony Davis trade or the Clippers with a splash in free agency?
The Raptors may largely be the same team next year if Leonard stays, but the Bucks, 76ers, Celtics and Nets are lurking in the Eastern Conference and hoping to turn them into a one-hit wonder.
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It always feels silly to anticipate the Warriors folding. These are the better-players-than-you, no-lead-is-safe, light-years-ahead Warriors. If Golden State re-signs Durant and Thompson to max contracts, then one season off could simply mean time to regroup after three rings and five straight trips to the NBA Finals.
“I think true champions like we are, we should be able to adapt and keep this same kind of DNA no matter what our roster looks like next year,” Curry said after Game 6. “And [we] have high hopes about being back on this stage, whether it looks the same or not or, obviously, we’re changing buildings (to Chase Center in San Francisco) and all that type of stuff, there is going to be some change.”
It’s easy to let feelings cloud the facts. This is not 2016, when Green recruited Durant from a parking lot following an unprecedented 3-1 Finals comeback by LeBron James and the Cavs. The formula was simple then: Swap Harrison Barnes for Durant at small forward, and then annihilate everything. The 2019 offseason will be much more complicated, with higher importance placed on not only the star signings but also the Warriors’ moves on the margins.
The pathway to an NBA championship is growing wider, and teams would be wise to take advantage. Front offices should be ready to increase the aggression on the free-agency trail and make that extra trade call.
The end always comes, even if we never see it coming. It’s time for a new era to begin.
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