The Warriors, the Warriors, the Warriors, and yes, I agree with you, there are other interesting—more interesting!—teams in the NBA, and no, just because the Warriors are the best one and we have gone into each of the past two seasons and this not-quite-upcoming one knowing they’re probably going to take the title doesn’t mean we have to despair and shut ourselves off to everything else that’s fun and strange about the league, but, to put a fine point on it, the Warriors are what we have to talk about in the end and they are the great rumbling noise that echoes through the offseason.
LeBron James is punting on next year. After two seasons of pretty hopeless striving in Cleveland—taking Golden State to five games with Kyrie Irving, getting swept without him—the 33-year-old has taken the full measure of things and decided he’s okay with settling his family in Los Angeles and playing with a collection of young guys, ex-antagonists, and athlete-shaped detritus for a little while if and until the Lakers can bring Kawhi Leonard on board. It remains to be seen how quickly LeBron’s patience runs out—he also posited his Cavs return as a long-term venture that would take time and was exasperated with his new teammates by the third game—but the most logical thing for him to do, if he can bear it, is lead his ramshackle bunch to an early-round playoff exit, and let Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka sign Kawhi as a free agent next summer. From afar, and with few clues from LeBron, who’s on vacation at the moment and won’t speak to the media again for a long while, that appears to be the plan. He’s signed on for at least three seasons. And what? LeBron, Kawhi, and Josh Hart are going to take down a dynasty? Better to bring along Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram and see where you’re at in 2019.
Sam Presti’s gamble has paid off. Paul George is staying in Oklahoma City, which seemed a highly unlikely outcome at the time they brought him in on an expiring contract last summer. George recently admitted that he was planning on joining the Lakers, then changed his mind after playing alongside Russell Westbrook for a season. On its face, it’s a less readily legible decision than LeBron’s. George is only going to make an extra $7 million staying with Oklahoma City. The Thunder are capped way, way out and won’t be able to significantly alter a roster that lost in the first round of the playoffs last year without an improbable blockbuster trade. The Sixers and Lakers happily would have taken him.
If there’s one thing athletes aren’t allowed to admit to, it’s a lack of ambition, but obviously some possess a greater drive than others. Complacency is not really a fair word to apply to George because it’s so damn arduous to be as good as he is at basketball, but he’s chosen OKC because he’s comfortable there. He likes playing with Russ. He likes the organization. He believes Presti will, if not construct some Warriors-toppling contender, at least make smart decisions and put the team on course to succeed. That’s not nothing, but it is telling that one of the league’s few needle-moving free agents chose to stand pat over chasing his highest aspirations elsewhere. Perhaps it only says something about George’s personality, but it can with little strain be read as a symptom of Warriors-induced malaise.
It’s entirely possible that DeMarcus Cousins barely plays next season, and that when he does, it’s on a severe minutes restriction and he doesn’t look anything like himself. Achilles injuries are bad news, and they take a long time to recover from. So the most extreme implications of his move to Golden State—that the Warriors can now run out an All-NBA starting lineup—probably won’t actualize. Boogie’s not going to be putting up 25-and-12 on a nightly basis; we don’t even know when he’ll debut. But we can be pretty sure he’s going to win a championship, whether in a suit on the bench or making a sizable contribution on the court. Maybe the Rockets will dash those dreams. Maybe the Celtics will ascend toward awesomeness in 2019. Anyway, if I had to bet my life on it, I’d take Golden State. So would Boogie, apparently. At the money he signed for, he could have joined just about anybody and chose the team with a best chance getting him a ring.
And his presence adds, if not to the fact, then the sense of the Warriors’ inevitability—what’s fixing to be their third year of lightly disputed dominance, concluding with their fourth title in five seasons. It’s July. There’s no point or satisfaction to be had in crowning them this prematurely, and no squad is so strong that they can’t be brought low by bad luck. But the Warriors, simply by being so stacked, have already shaped the league’s offseason to their benefit. No LeBron-led superteam has (yet) been built to stop them. Paul George has committed to a franchise that can’t touch them. They have Boogie, in top form or otherwise. It’s boring to say repeatedly, and at some point it won’t be the case anymore, but it’s the Warriors’ NBA. This summer that proved amply evident.