Is this the final series for the Warriors as we know them?

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The Golden State Warriors are trying to complete a three-peat. The NBA championship is there for the taking, if they can only get rid of those pesky Toronto Raptors. But the result of the Finals is not the only thing up in the air come June. With Kevin Durant‘s decision looming, and several players needing to be paid, the question is whether these Warriors will open next season intact.

Who Golden State will be next season — and if this iteration of the team will come to an end — requires us to start with a begining question: who are “The Warriors” to you?

Time has the effect of smoothing out the bumps and ridges, the detail that make up the storylines of every NBA season. Ask a Warriors fan and ask a Lakers fan this same question, the question of The Warriors, and you will get two different answers. But there is a core that isn’t debatable: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green.

The characters surrounding this core have changed over the year, and so too has the dynamic of Golden State stars and their importance to the squad. In 2014-15, Golden State won its first NBA title in this era. Everyone remembers the onslaught of Curry and Thompson from the 3-point line, the beginning of a revolution in the NBA. But what some folks forget is the impact that other players had. Marreese Speights, Andrew Bogut, Shaun Livingston, Harrison Barnes… all these players were once also considered core supporting members of what made this team great.

To that end, storylines for that supporting cast have changed as time has gone on. For instance, Speights played a significant amount of minutes for the Warriors in ‘14-’15 but posted a negative VORP for the season. Livingston, seemingly back from the dead after early knee issues in his career, had not yet found his stride with the Golden State. That wouldn’t come until the next year.

But time has a funny way of finding a narrative and running with it. For some it’s been “Speights was a great floor spreader” and “Livingston was instantly dominant for GSW” even though those things aren’t really wholly true. Time allows us less nuance.

Players have gone from important to overlooked during a Golden State’s run over the past half-decade. This season is no different than that first Finals appearance, and the Warriors have done what teams in the “Big 3” era do. That is, surround their stars with low-level players who can be a part of the system, do their job, and not commit crucial mistakes. Kevon Looney, Quinn Cook, Jordan Bell… the names change, but the roles remain the same.

The point is, supporting cast comes and goes in Golden State like it does for just about any championship squad. But now the Warriors are faced with real questions. Questions about whether they should re-sign their stars (Green); about whether they can re-sign their stars (Durant); and about how much they should re-sign their stars for (Thompson).

These are not easily answered for GM Bob Myers, either. Thompson seems like a no-brainer, even at a max deal that will put a serious crunch on the Warriors’ cap in a couple years time. But Green, who is 29 and will probably want a huge payday, is a riddle harder to answer. Will he decline in ability? Is Regular Season Draymond who you get on the next contract, or are you getting Playoff Draymond? Can he survive in five years without being able to shoot?

Then, hardest of all, is that of Durant. Never mind the fact that Golden State will have to weigh whether they want to spend the next half-decade assuaging Durant’s delicate feelings — Durant might not want to stay with the Warriors if he wins another championship. To change might not be up to Golden State to decide.

But in trying to answer these questions, it ultimately comes back to the most important factor of all: Curry. The superstar point guard is under contract for three more seasons after this one ends, and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. In fact, with Durant out with a calf injury during this postseason, Curry has shown that he still is who he was before KD flew in from OKC.

For that reason, there’s hope we will see “Golden State” — this Golden State, the Golden State we think of right now — in 2019-20 and beyond if major changes come to this roster.

The Warriors might not be inevitable in the coming seasons. If Durant leaves, the seismic shift that tilted the NBA off its foundation in 2016 might finally be repaired. Parity, however slowly, will come to the Western Conference. We’ve already seen what the vacuum left by LeBron James has done to the Eastern Conference. But just as Golden State adapted to Durant’s arrival, they will respond in kind if he happens to depart. The same will be said if Green takes a big payday elsewhere next year.

Because really, the Warriors have always adapted. They made up for Barnes when the Dallas Mavericks signed him in 2016, mostly with Durant but also with the minutes from Matt Barnes, Ian Clark, and better output from Livingston. They replaced Bogut with Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee, and David West. Then Looney was added, and Omri Casspi, and Cook. The list goes on.

The Warriors are about Curry and Thompson, and how the offense Steve Kerr has built for them operates. On the other side, Golden State is about how those same players are able to thrive thanks to Ron Adams’ defense, Green’s excellent play notwithstanding. Losing Durant would be big. Losing Green is inevitable, either to age or to free agent poachers. But Curry is the engine that makes this Warriors team go. Would losing both of them in the same offseason mean this team has a fundamentally different identity? I don’t think so.

It’s evident when you watch the team play, and it’s certainly exemplified in Golden State’s advanced statistics — Curry is the favorite son in the Bay, and as long as he is in blue and gold, the Warriors will stay The Warriors.

Watch Kawhi Leonard score two clutch buckets, including game-winner, in his return

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Kawhi Leonard looked rusty in his return for the first 47 minutes Monday night: 5-of-13 shooting, 0-3 from beyond the arc.

But that final minute was special.

First, there was a great hustle play from Paul George — also making his return — that got the ball to Leonard to tie it up.

Then, after a stop, the Clippers got the switch they wanted, cleared out the side and let Leonard go to work on the game-winner.

Los Angeles picked up the 119-117 win on the road. Not exactly pretty, but for a team just starting to get healthy and build some chemistry, they showed resilience and got the win. Leonard finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, and George looked sharp on his way to 19 points on 8-of-15 from the floor. It was a balanced Clippers attack, which is what Tyronn Lue is trying to build.

Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 28 and P.J. Washington added 26 for the shorthanded Hornets.

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers
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The 76ers were able to keep their heads above water. For 14 games, James Harden was out with a right foot tendon sprain — both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey missed games in that stretch as well (Maxey remains out) — and Philadelphia went 8-6 with a +2.9 net rating and the best defense in the NBA over that stretch.

Monday night in Houston, Harden returns.

This wasn’t a surprise, nor is the fact Doc Rivers confirmed Harden will be on a minutes restriction at first.

Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game before his injury, and while his 3-point shooting percentage was down (33.3%) he was still efficient and finding his footing as more of a facilitator than scorer.

The 76ers are 12-11 on the season and sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the East (with the Pacers and Raptors). If Harden can spark the Philadephia offense there is plenty of time for them to climb into the top four, host a first-round playoff game and position themselves for a deep playoff run. But it starts with getting their starting guards healthy again.

Harden is ready to take that on.

Trae Young frustrated ‘private conversations get out to the public’ about missed game

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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Rumors and chatter of tension in Atlanta — about how Trae Young was adapting to playing with Dejonte Murray, and his pushback on coach Nate McMillan and his efforts to get the ball moving more — have been all over the league since the start of the season. Over the weekend, a little of that leaked out, with reports Young chose not to come to the arena Friday after McMillan gave him a choice of participating in shootaround or missing the game.

Young addressed the report and seemed more concerned that it got out than the report’s content.

“I mean, it was just a situation. I mean, we’re all grown men here and there’s sometimes we don’t always agree. And it’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now. Yeah, I’m just gonna just focus on basketball and focus on helping my team win. And that’s what I got to be focusing on…

“Like I said, it’s a private matter, again, made public, which is unfortunate. And if it was to stay private, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But like I said, it’s unfortunate in my job, and my goal is to win championships. And that’s what I focus on.”

Young went through shootaround  Monday and is set to play against the Thunder.

Murray has been professional throughout this situation, saying he didn’t see anything at the shootaround Friday and backing Young and McMillan when asked.

Bringing in Murray was supposed to take some pressure off Young and spread the wealth more on offense, ideally allowing Young to be more efficient. Instead, Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season, he is shooting just 30.3% from 3 and his true shooting percentage has fallen below league average. The Hawks as a team make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (stat via NBA.com). The Hawks’ offense is still a lot of Young, but it’s not as efficient as it has been in years past.

Atlanta is still 13-10 on the season, has a top-10 defense and sits fourth in the East — they are not struggling. But neither have they made the leap to become a team that could threaten Boston or Milwaukee atop the conference, and that’s what the Hawks expected.

There could be personnel moves coming in Atlanta — John Collins is available via trade, again — but if the Hawks can’t smooth out their internal, existing concerns (and get Collins and DeAndre Hunter healthy) other roster moves will be just cosmetic.

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.