The Warriors won the title, now comes the hard part


The Warriors just won back-to-back NBA titles and a third championship in four years.

Now the hard part begins.

The Warriors have become the model of success in the league — and perhaps even in North American professional sports — not because they rest on their laurels, but because they push already great things to the next level.

Remember when Warriors owner Joe Lacob told the New York Times in 2016 that the team was "lightyears ahead of probably every other team"? Well, going out and signing Kevin Durant that summer and winning back-to-back titles after that did an excellent job of backing up that claim.

But the Warriors' "light years" lead on the court is shrinking — down to mere light seconds.

And while the Warriors will always think big, the truth is that if Golden State wants to go for a third-straight title next year, they'll have to make some changes to this roster — specifically to the bench.

Championship teams are made just as much in the margins as they are with centerpiece superstar players. Look at how overmatched the Cavaliers looked against the Warriors the last two years, or how the possible dynasty in Miami died on the vine in 2014 because of a lack of solid role players to surround LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade.

You obviously need stars, and the Warriors will re-sign Kevin Durant this summer to keep their four All-Stars together. (It's highly unlikely that Andre Iguodala or Shaun Livingston go anywhere, either.)

"Our goal — to be honest — is to keep the whole thing together," Myers said.

Yes, it's been reported — and aggregated — that the Warriors are interested in acquiring Anthony Davis, but that's in the same way that I'm interested in acquiring a Mercedes AMG S-63 — I'd certainly like to have it, but I'm neither capable or willing to pay what it costs.

(Until someone starts paying me millions for these unparalleled sports takes, I'm going to stick with my reliable Hyundai Sonata.)

But the increased competition from around the league means that the Warriors can't go into the 2018-19 season with Nick Young and five centers on the bench and expect to come out on top again.

"I feel vulnerable all the time," Warriors general manager Bob Myers said Monday. "We were vulnerable in Houston in Game 7... It's a very thin line between winning and losing — it may not look like it."

The Warriors will have seven free agents this summer. Durant has pledged to come back, but the futures of Zaza Pachulia, David West, JaVale McGee, and Nick Young are in flux. West could retire and the Warriors could let the rest walk, or a few might come back for another year on a minimum-value contract.

Add in the free agencies of Patrick McCaw (who is a restricted free agent) and Kevon Looney (unrestricted) and you could — and perhaps should — see a bench that is drastically different than the one that just helped the Warriors win a title.

The problem is that the Warriors won't have much collateral through which to make those changes — there's no massive jump in the salary cap (which allowed the Warriors to sign Durant in 2016) looming this summer. Instead, they'll have to find a way to improve via the No. 28 pick next Thursday's NBA draft, a tax-payer mid-level exception contract slot (valued at roughly $5 million), minimum-value contracts, and a wad of cash they can offer any team dumb enough to sell them a second-round draft pick.

"We just don't have a lot of vehicles to add players, as far as financial or cap space or even the non-taxpayer mid-level [exception] — things that you'd normally have, we don't have," Myers said. "We do have a draft pick. We're looking for a guy that can play, which is a little unusual... [a guy] who can go out there and give us minutes."

Yes, that No. 28 pick is going to prove disproportionately important for Golden State because not only are the Warriors fighting the rest of the league — they're also fighting malaise. If you thought the Warriors struggled with disinterest over the course of this past season, wait until you get a load of the 2018-19 campaign, when the Warriors will be going for a fifth-straight NBA Finals appearance, something that hasn't been done since the 1960s Boston Celtics went to 10 straight between 1957 and 1966.

"Getting younger is an important factor for us," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Monday. "I think it's good that we're going to be relying on a lot of young guys."

Those young guys Kerr is referring to are Jordan Bell, Quinn Cook, and Damian Jones. The No. 28 pick could well play a role as well, and if McCaw or Looney return, they'll be expected to take on bigger roles next season.

But signing older guys — whether that be ones who were on the team this past year or a new batch of ring chasers — is still something the Warriors need to do this offseason. With the free agent market likely to be compressed thanks to a flattening salary cap, there is sure to be a surplus of players looking to sign one-year make-good contracts this summer.

Free agency is yet to start, but with their mid-level exception, the Warriors could target:

Avery Bradley — a defensive-minded point guard who might find a less-than-robust market.

Brook Lopez — a second-unit 3-and-D 7-footer. Something to think about.

Ed Davis — a rebounding machine that has tormented the Warriors as a member of the Blazers in recent years.

Trevor Ariza — There are already rumblings the 3-and-D wing wants out of Houston and would want to come to Golden State.

Tyreke Evans — is a much better player than this placement would indicate, but fringe-star players are going to find it hard to get big deals. Evans might want to get some Golden State shine for one year in an effort to cash in down the line.

Jamal Crawford — one of the finest offensive players in the league, who might we willing to take a pay cut to play for a winner.

Will Barton — one of the most underrated players in the league, who might get squeezed in a tight free agent market.

Joe Harris — should attract a larger deal, but might not in this free agency market. Shot 47 percent from beyond the arc after the All-Star Game.

With minimum contracts, Golden State could target Marco Belinelli, Seth Curry, or Joe Johnson — as well as a few dozen other players around the league.

Yes, there are a ton of players who, if circumstances are favorable (to the Warriors, not necessarily the players) would love to join a winner in Oakland. But piecing together this puzzle, with so many unplaced pieces will no doubt be a massive challenge for Myers, who has a healthy perspective heading into what might be the most important offseason of his career:

"You never really get exactly what you want," Myers said. "You just have to be fluid and understand that there's going to be a lot of different variables."

How it all shakes out is anyone's guess, but the Warriors know it has to shake — at least a bit — if they're going to be back in the same position this time next year.


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