OAKLAND — It was more than 90 minutes after the NBA Finals had ended, after the Toronto Raptors had beaten the Golden State Warriors four times in six tries.
The fans had left. First, the dispirited Warriors fans who didn’t believe this is how the final game at Oracle Arena would end. Next, the Raptors fans, loud and celebrating like first-time champions should, taking their party out into the city. The stage where Adam Silver had handed Kawhi Leonard his latest Finals MVP trophy had been taken down and put away. The only people left in the building were media members, ushers taking one last look around the arena, and some champagne-drenched players.
Stephen Curry was there and joined his family and friends up in the seats behind one of the baskets for one last photo, some remembrances, one last chance to soak in Oracle Arena.
Because It’s never going to be the same for these Warriors.
Not just because of the new building that takes them out of Oakland and drops them in the heart of San Francisco.
Whatever the Warriors look like next season, it won’t be the same as the team they believed would win them an NBA championship this past season.
Next season may look a lot more like the lineup the Warriors had on the floor at the end of Game 6 — no Kevin Durant and no Klay Thompson, both recovering from injuries, and a group of inexperienced and/or inexpensive players around Stephen Curry and Draymond Green.
What the Warriors will look like in two years is anybody’s guess.
But it will not be the same.
Kevin Durant is a free agent this summer and all season long it has been assumed in league circles he was gone from the Bay Area. Maybe headed to New York, possibly to be a Clipper in Los Angeles, but he was going to bolt town. Now, however, with a torn Achilles that will sideline him most if not all of next season, did his mindset change? Will he want to sign a shorter contract and rehab with a franchise where he knows the staff, knows the trainers, knows the players and is comfortable? Or does he still want out? Durant himself, still trying to process the emotions of this career-changing injury, may not know the answer. That said, the buzz is that he still leaves.
If he leaves, the Warriors are still over the cap and can’t just replace him. Those new Warriors will look more like the 2015 edition, just older.
Klay Thompson is a free agent as well, and he also will likely miss all of next season recovering from a torn left ACL. While he will also have suitors from coast to coast, nobody around the NBA seriously thought Thompson was leaving as long as he got a max contract. He will still get that, and Thompson’s father Mychael said on Friday his son will stay in Golden State.
DeMarcus Cousins is a free agent and the most the Warriors can offer him under the terms of the CBA is $6.4 million. There’s a good chance another team will come in higher than that despite Cousins’ injury history (after said team strikes out with other free agents and gets a little desperate). Cousins will just have trouble getting the number of years he wants.
Kevon Looney free agent and while Steve Kerr called Looney a foundational part of their future, it will be very expensive to keep the young big man after his strong performance in these playoffs. Other teams are targeting him.
Draymond Green’s contract can be extended, although with the Warriors cap situation it is more likely he becomes a free agent in 2020 and re-signs with the team, an extension would be a paycut.
Around all that, the Warriors need to find a way to get younger, get more athletic, get role players who can eat up a lot of minutes and take some of the load off Curry, Green, Andre Iguodala and the rest.
It’s a lot on GM Bob Myers plate — and the price tag is high. Very high.
Golden State’s co-owner (or whatever term you wish) Joe Lacob has said he would offer both Thompson and Durant the max, and he was willing to pay the tax to keep the band together. That sounds good, but bring everyone back and this team’s combined payroll and luxury tax will push $350 million. An NBA record. Yes, the Warriors are in the black. Yes, their new Chase Center building (owned by Lacob and company) basically prints money. That’s still a massive tax bill, and how many billionaires do you know of happy to pay taxes?
And that tax bill is a team that might not make the playoffs next year and certainly will not be a title contender with Thompson and Durant out (if KD even stays).
That’s why there’s a lot of speculation around the league that if Durant stays the Warriors may try to trade Iguodala and even Green, just to save some money, both next season and down the line. Green will be up for a max in 2020 and do the Warriors want to give him five years and north of $195 million?
There are a lot of questions, ones we will learn the answers to in the coming weeks. The one thing we do know?
That doesn’t mean the Warriors should be counted out.
“But our DNA and who we are and the character that we have on this team, I wouldn’t bet against us being back on this stage next year and going forward,” Curry said.
“I think everybody thinks it’s kind of the end of us. But that’s just not smart,” Green said. “We’re not done yet. We lost this year. Clearly just wasn’t our year, but that’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes. But, yeah, I hear a lot of that noise, it’s the end of a run and all that jazz. I don’t see it happening though. We’ll be back.”
They may well be back in 2020.
But it’s going to be the same.