Time is relative. The measurements are exact–60 minutes is always an hour–but how long or short any time frame feels is relative to the context and events surrounding it. Years can feel like yesterday and hours can drag a day close to eternity.
I’d like to focus on the time period of four years. Four years is the length of one U.S. Presidential term. It is also the length of time between two Olympics. Four years ago, Kobe Bryant was still an active NBA player, while Markelle Fultz was still in high school, cut from the varsity basketball team.
Four years ago, the Golden State Warriors began this period of greatness. After hiring Head Coach Steve Kerr, who had no prior coaching experience, the Warriors went from a solid team to planting the foundation of a dynasty. Their system was machine-like in efficiency. It appeared the team had solved how to be great on both ends of the floor. Most importantly, their best players were young and seemingly healthy.
Three Finals appearances, two titles, the greatest regular season ever and a Kevin Durant addition later, we have arrived in year four. With the playoffs looming, each of the Warriors All-Star players is dealing with an injury slated to last more than a couple games. Steph Curry, the cog in the Warriors’ machine that takes it from Megazord to Megadragonzord, returned from yet another ankle injury to only leave the game against Atlanta with a Grade 2 MCL sprain. Now the actual cause of the injury was a fluke, but the scenario of a teammate or opponent falling into and injuring another player is too common to treat Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green’s injuries as totally unlikely to happen again. They may not injure the exact same body part, but common contact in a contact sport has caused injury. Ask Gordon Hayward.
The Warriors do not appear to be dealing with catastrophic injuries. At this point, missed time by players is more a cautionary move than a panic-based one. However, let us revisit the time period surrounding this post. Four years of championship excellence is very rare in team sports, and there are more external than internal factors why that is. Once a team wins the title, teams then readjust their individual formula in hopes of making the championship team’s path for a second title more difficult. The term “superteam” has become a bigger part of NBA lexicon this decade, and that is just a product of understanding that supreme talent improves the chances of winning. The Warriors could keep their roster the same and still be a good team, but another squad can be better. That’s why they brought Kevin Durant into the fold. LeBron James proved he could lead a team and overcome Golden State, so the Warriors decided to add the game’s scorer supreme.
The main internal factor that derails greatness is attrition. Age, like time, is relative. The Los Angeles Clippers have two guards who are 31 years old. Lou Williams, who was one of the last players to go to the NBA straight from high school; and Milos Teodosic, who is a rookie after spending his years playing professionally in his native country of Yugoslavia. Both are 31, but there is a massive gap in total NBA minutes played. None of the Warriors’ All-Star players are as old as Williams and Teodosic, but they’ve played so many NBA minutes in four years that it is possible all that basketball could take a toll on something. Age hopefully breeds maturity, but age also means there is less and less rejuvenating waters in the Fountain of Youth.
Maybe this is just a checkup. After playing so many games, nagging ailments are bound to happen. Rest and relaxation may be the only thing on the doctor’s referral note, and those hampered players will be as close to their natural selves as one can be in the postseason.
But what if it isn’t?
Again, this is year four, also known as the halfway point of LeBron’s dynastic run to the Finals this decade. Even he had to make adjustments on his body, particularly his back, in order to maintain a level of championship excellence as the best player ever. The Warriors are at a crossroads, and those roads have a repair shop that may reveal trivial wear and tear or something much more serious and closer to impossible to fix.
But still, the Warriors remain the favorites, and if you’re betting on basketball this season, the heavy odds remain on Golden State winning their third title in four years. The collective consciousness is that this is nothing but an oil change and alignment. Time will tell.
Poemer. 8-time Hug Champion. Pick&Roll Enthusiast. Guardian of Logic and Tact. Apocalypse’s good Brother. Collector of muted souls for Mt. Filtermanjaro.