Winning 84% of their regular season games in the past three seasons, having been to three straight NBA finals and winning two of the last three NBA championships with four all-stars in their prime; it’s quite easy to see the Warriors winning multiple championships in the future and having very little competition standing in their way.
That’s a very boring proposition to most NBA fans and team executives, but there is one group who should be elated at the dominance of the Golden State Warriors: small-market NBA teams. Why? Because the Warriors have created a desperate enough environment where playing for a small-market team may be the only option to get past the behemoth in Oakland. The biggest fears of executives in small-market NBA teams are being alleviated because of the dominance of Golden State.
What are the biggest fears of small-market NBA teams? It’s very simple: drafting a superstar player, having that superstar be the face of your small-market team for multiple years, attracting no free agents to help your superstar because of your franchise’s small-market status, and then having that superstar leave, often for nothing in return. What’s next? A long and painful rebuild. It’s a sad and devastating sequence of events that small-market team after small-market team has faced.
It happened to the Orlando Magic in 1996 with Shaquille O’Neal. It happened to the Denver Nuggets in 2010 with Carmelo Anthony. It happened again to the Orlando Magic in 2012 with Dwight Howard. The Portland Trailblazers suffered the pain in 2015 when LaMarcus Aldridge departed (but rebuilt quicker than most teams with Damian Lillard). And just when it seemed that NBA players were becoming more loyal and less eager to leave small-market teams, Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2016 and the franchise received nothing in return for the former MVP.
For all of the small-market teams that saw their longtime drafted and developed superstars leave, there was one common trend: small-market teams could not convince other superstars to join. And it’s easy to see why. Why would an NBA star go to a small market and receive less recognition and fame when they could join a large-market team and be just as competitive for an NBA title? And that’s why these small-market teams struggled to get other superstars to join. Lillard missed out on an all-star appearance in the last two seasons despite turning in two seasons that far outmatch his two previous seasons in which he was an all-star, precisely because of where he plays. His games are less televised, a predicament that dooms players like him from getting the recognition that he deserves. Up until the Washington Wizards’ recent playoff success, superstar guard John Wall suffered the same fate.
The Golden State Warriors have now changed an essential part of this dilemma for small-market teams. Simply put, Golden State has four all-stars. It would take at least three all-stars to realistically have a chance at beating the Warriors in a seven game series. Players around the NBA are starting to and will continue to realize this.
We are past the days when duos could challenge for titles. Gone are the days when duos like Jordan-Pippen, Stockton-Malone and Shaq-Kobe had a realistic chance at dominating and winning multiple championships.
This summer, the NBA world witnessed the formation of two amazing duos. Nine time all-star PG Chris Paul, widely considered to be the best passing point guard in the league, joined forces with PG James Harden, a man who has averaged 29 points a game or higher for the past two seasons and led the league in assists this past season. We also witnessed four time all-star SF Paul George join forces with PG Russell Westbrook, the 2017 NBA MVP who broke the great Oscar Robertson’s record for the most triple doubles in a season.
And what kind of reaction did the formation of these two incredible duos generate for most NBA fans? A weak applause. A head nod. A hearty thumbs up. Why was the reaction to these newly formed duos so weak? You already know the name: the Golden State Warriors. Every NBA fan could do the quick math on these new duos, identify that it was going to be two-all stars versus Golden State’s four all-stars and predict the future: both of these duos would lose to Golden State in a seven game series. NBA players and executives know this too. With the Warriors now the benchmark and standard to judge all NBA transactions, every team knows that two star players isn’t enough.
That’s why the Rockets are still interested in adding SF Carmelo Anthony. That’s why the Portland Trail Blazers are searching for superstars to add to SG CJ McCollum and PG Damian Lillard. That’s why Cleveland discussed multiple deals to try to add George, SF Jimmy Butler or Anthony.
And it’s why small-market teams will now have a chance. The main goal of players in the NBA going into free agency will soon be to form super teams good enough to take down the Warriors. And it won’t matter to them whether that team is formed in a small market or a large-market city.
PG Kyrie Irving has interest in joining C Karl Anthony-Towns and Butler in Minnesota. Yes, that same cold, boring, small-market Minnesota. Anthony reportedly has interest in joining the Portland Trailblazers. Yes, Portland, the small market that “no one” cares about. And George is willing to give the second smallest market in the NBA, Oklahoma City, a good chance to make it his home.
It’s all because these players understand what the Golden State Warriors have done to the NBA. They have made super teams the only path to a championship. The city that these super teams are formed in will matter very little to players. Expect teams like Denver, New Orleans, Portland, Milwaukee and Minnesota to continue to add more talent in an attempt to form super teams. And expect the next great challenger to the Golden State Warriors to be a super team put together in an unassuming small market.