The Warriors brought their dynasty back from the dead after Kevin Durant left with no margin for error

The Golden State Warriors dynasty was alive after their loss to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 NBA Finals. The Warriors had five straight trips to the NBA Finals with three championship rings, but the organization was staring at the first real threat to its supremacy since coming to power.

Kevin Durant’s intention to go free was the NBA’s worst-kept secret. Klay Thompson had just suffered a cruciate ligament rupture that would ruin his next 12 months. Andre Iguodala was close to becoming a Cap victim and Shaun Livingston was set to retire. Stephen Curry was still standing, but he was already 31 and would now let three of his top four team-mates down next season.

The Warriors faced a series of key decisions with no room for error in the ensuing offseason. First, they used the No. 28 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft to pick Jordan Poole, Michigan’s sophomore guard. Next, despite a long and arduous rehab, they agreed to a five-year, $190 million maximum contract with Thompson. Then the Warriors turned Durant’s departure into a trade with the Brooklyn Nets, which returned D’Angelo Russell to Golden State on a four-year contract worth a maximum of $117 million. They also re-signed young big man Kevon Looney to a three-year, $15 million deal.

The next season ended before it even properly started when Curry suffered a hand injury that would end his year after just five games. The only notable moment of their season after that point came when the front office decided to trade Russell to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Andrew Wiggins and a first-round draft pick. Golden State finished the year 15-50, the worst record in the NBA, and drew the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft lottery. They picked Memphis center James Wiseman over LaMelo Ball.

The dream of the Warriors returning to the mountaintop next season was quickly dashed when Thompson tore his Achilles tendon while driving up for his return. Curry proved he could still play close to the MVP level, but the new-look Warriors just didn’t have the same flow that made their early rise to the top. The Warriors finished 39-33 overall and missed the playoffs when they lost to the Memphis Grizzlies in the play-in tournament.

The Warriors went into this season knowing that they would eventually get Thompson back, but little did they know what his game would be like after a two-year hiatus. Golden State drafted Jonathan Kuminga with the choice of Wolves and chose Moses Moody with their own lottery pick. They’ve been lauded on the fringes for their off-season work – signing Otto Porter Jr, Nemanja Bjelica and Iguodala on minimum contracts – but Las Vegas didn’t buy their chances as a genuine contender. Eight teams were determined to have as many or more wins as the Warriors. Golden State was supposed to be impressive, but the glory days felt like they were in the rearview mirror.

The popular sentiment was that if the Warriors dynasty were to have any chance of staying alive they would have to trade some or all of their three fledgling lottery picks over the past two years for more established aid. Golden State claimed they wouldn’t. The Warriors believed they could win another championship with their old core and still compete in the future.

It was the kind of plan that wasn’t easy to doubt — it was one that seemed like a moral lapse, refusing to give Curry the best chance of winning another ring.

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The Warriors’ rise to 2022 NBA champions probably shouldn’t feel as stunning as it does. Curry already had strong arguments as a top 10 player of all time before this year. We’d seen Kerr’s systems lead to championships at both ends of the floor. Green was both one of the best defensive players in the world and one of the most emotional players of all time. Even after two horrific injuries, it would have been reasonable to assume that Thompson could still hit open three-pointers.

The Warriors told us they were really good straight away, starting the year 18-2 in their first 20 games. I ranked the contenders for the NBA championship on November 30th and had the Warriors in #1.

Then Curry went into a strange slump in shooting after the calendar flipped to 2022. Green got injured and missed a lot of time. Curry was injured and missed the month before the playoffs. The Memphis Grizzlies passed the Warriors for the No. 2 West pick. When making the playoffs, the Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets (!) all had better championship chances than the Warriors. Golden State was tied for fourth by the odds makers with the Celtics as the most likely title team.

Few believed another Warriors championship run could actually happen, but from the minute the playoffs began, Golden State made the rest of the league aware that they were the team to beat.

There are so many reasons why Golden State has evolved into champions.

It happened because Andrew Wiggins found the right role for his talents and emerged as the league’s best wingstopper. Wiggins had been a must-buy prospect at his high school. He was the #1 draft pick in 2014 largely because of his incredible physical ability. He was given the opportunity to be a top scorer for Wolves but was never quite cut out for it. At the Golden State, Wiggins focused his talent primarily on the defensive end. The same tools that once made him such a highly touted contender – speed, distance, absurd jumping ability – ended up knocking out some of the world’s top scorers. Wiggins suspended both Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum as well as anyone can do during this playoff. He was Golden State’s second-best pick during that run.

It happened because, even at the age of 32, Draymond Green still has as much impact on winning as any role player in NBA history. There were moments in that playoff run when Green looked like a liability offensively and maybe a little old defensively. It was easy, and maybe even natural, to say he was washed. Everyone had their little podcast jokes. He was even benched for a while late in the fourth quarter of the Warriors’ Game 4 win that split the series 2-2. But when the chips really hit the table in the final two games of the series, Green was incredible. His auxiliary defense confused Boston’s offense all over the court, and he was a big reason for the Celtics’ turnover problems and Jayson Tatum’s struggles on the sidelines. It may not be nice in every game anymore, but Green still has the juice when he needs it.

It happened because Thompson provided both an emotional boost and some needed gunfire for the Warriors after his struggling return from injury. Thompson isn’t the same player anymore, but his contributions shouldn’t be totally discounted. He was the Warriors’ third-top scorer in the series. The only player to hit more threes than he did on both teams in the final was Curry.

It happened because the Warriors nailed everything to the edges. Porter Jr. was a minimum contingent starting in the NBA Finals. Gary Payton II was kept in training camp as the 15th man in the squad over Avery Bradley and developed into a lockdown wing defender. Looney was slowly developing into an indispensable big man, demonstrating the ability to outplay Curry and provide the crucial rebound and paint protection Golden State needed.

Getting Jordan Poole’s ridiculous microwave scoring ability with the #28 pick was a stroke of genius. He only uses his powers as an offensive supernova.

Without the contributions of all of these players, Golden State would not be a champion. Of course, curry still matters.

Curry isn’t just the greatest marksman of all time – he’s in the exclusive air of greats. Curry is still behind Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, LeBron James, Bill Russell and Magic Johnson on the all-time list, but he’s close to breaking into that top-5. At this point he has a case for being alongside or above Kobe Bryant, Shaq and Tim Duncan as one of the best to ever do it.

Oh, and curry is still not ready. As he himself said after the 2021 All-Star Game: him has nothing to prove but much to achieve. That top five is still within reach – heck, it’s likely he’ll get there. Not bad for a three-year-old mid-major who was drafted behind Hasheem Thabeet and Johnny Flynn, among others.

The Warriors are still the gold standard that the rest of the NBA is chasing. They are led by an absolute greatness that doesn’t slow down at 34. They have shown they are capable of matching local young talent with Poole and trading in for a player firmly in the prime of his career like Wiggins. You still have these three former lottery picks – James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody – all aged 21 or under. Should we really doubt the warriors’ ability to shape them into effective pieces as long as Curry retains its size?

The Warriors dynasty was on the verge of collapse. Winning that title after losing Durant and going through so many other adversities is truly remarkable. The Golden State Run isn’t over yet: They’ll be among the favorites next season alongside the Milwaukee Bucks. The team that once defined the terms of the modern game and set the bar for excellence in this era still sets the pace. For now, this remains the Warriors era.

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