I could tell you that the Oklahoma City Thunder, back in full health and with a former MVP on its roster, could create significant matchup problems for the reigning NBA champions.
It would be helpful to write that LeBron James and his Island of Misfit Boys will be a Western Conference Finals foe for Steve Kerr’s squad.
The problem is that I don’t think any of that is true.
The reality of the situation is that the only real thing standing in the way of the Warriors grabbing another title is health. Specifically, the health of the two players who are clearly the most important for them when it comes to the playoffs, Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala.
But writing a season preview for the Warriors focused on the anxiety of a potential major injury to a star player delves too far into the macabre even for yours truly. That’s not to say that a catastrophic injury couldn’t derail Golden State’s season, it’s just that writing about such a thing in September seems a bit fatalistic.
From a basketball standpoint, it is true the Rockets are a top contender to at least cause problems for the Warriors come playoff time. Before Chris Paul‘s injury last year, Houston took Golden State right to the wire in a thrilling Western Conference Finals matchup that resulted in yet another win for a Paul foe by TKO. And as much of a CP3 fan as I am, it’s damn near impossible to try and count on him being a major player deep into the playoffs at this juncture in his career.
The Thunder are a contrarian’s pick against Golden State, although even with Andre Roberson back it’s not clear how Oklahoma City is better than the Warriors. Russell Westbrook is a machine, and the Thunder are more sorted out as ever as they return Paul George. But where the Thunder could take advantage of Golden State, so too are there too many options available for the Warriors to take advantage of Oklahoma City.
This goes the same, on down the list, for just about every team when trying to pick an upset in Oakland. The problem with the Warriors is that they have too many counters to any kind of matchup problems or schematic Molotov cocktails opponents might throw at them in the playoffs.
The West is an absolute gauntlet, but the real answer for who might be able to create problems for the Warriors could lie in the East. The Boston Celtics seem most rotationally appropriate as foils for the Warriors’ cornucopia of basketball talent. Gordon Hayward returns to a team that won 55 games last season before finally looking outmatched by LeBron and the Cavaliers for lack of veteran leadership in the postseason.
The Celtics will get that back in spades as Hayward returns from a broken tibia and as Kyrie Irving, who sat out the entire playoffs, brings more firepower to the starting lineup. Boston is one of the deepest teams in the NBA, and if Jayson Tatum doesn’t hit a sophomore wall it’s possible the Celtics waiver only slightly as they move through their bench rotation. Al Horford was stellar last year. Marcus Smart is coming back. Jaylen Brown was far more valuable than many thought he would be at this stage in his career. There is no way around it, Boston is good.
This is not to lend any kind of confidence to the idea that the Warriors will have a real challenger in the Finals this season. The reality is that at full force, Golden State is better than any team in the NBA. That holds true even if Kevin Durant decides to leave next season, at least for the time being. The true enemy of the Warriors will be cap space and the aging of their core, both in terms of miles on Curry’s ankles, Iguodala’s everything, and Draymond Green’s upcoming contract. Klay Thompson has said that he wants to stay put, but anything is possible when money comes into play in the NBA.
For now, it seems as though the Warriors will continue their dominance at least through this season. Over the next three to four years, that will change. Golden State will waver, even if ever so slightly. Options will be available for teams to take over that top spot in the NBA, and someone else will win a championship.
Whether it’s the Celtics, or the Rockets, or some other team, opponents will need to pounce if Golden State shows the slightest sign of weakness, this year or next. No doubt many are prepping for that very thing.