When Kevin Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors this summer, they instantly became the most feared team in basketball. Adding one of the world’s best players to a roster that already included three All-NBA caliber stars seemed almost unfair.
Other team’s looked at the level of shooting, playmaking, and defensive ability that the Warriors assembled, and wondered whether or not there was any hope for them. It turns out there wasn’t. Golden State ended the season with a championship last night, finishing what seemed to be a relatively easy year by achieving the most difficult feat the sport has to offer.
The Warriors posted an 83-16 record across the regular and postseason combined, and lost only a single game in the playoffs. That’s absurd, and it’s reflective of their level of talent. They’re completely unguardable when they go small, and they sacrifice nothing on the defensive end of the floor.
Golden State’s nucleus is now in its prime, and could conceivably compete for titles for the next five years. There are reasons to think that might not happen. “Super teams” have a storied history of falling apart faster than expected, and the sheer finances of keeping all of the team’s stars together might make doing so untenable.
Still, rival front offices are rightfully considering the possibility that it might be better to simply build for contention 4-5 years down the road, rather than try to compete with Golden State in the present. Every team will answer that question differently, based on their current rosters, ability to add talent, and just how good they perceive the Warriors to be and for how long they believe the current iteration of the team will exist.
The Boston Celtics are in a particularly unique situation. They’ve been blessed with a very talented team in the present and enough future assets (young players and picks) to wait out any established NBA super powers. Traditionally those long-term assets may have been used to acquire a player that can help Boston win more immediately, but those moves have become less palatable with the Warriors rise to dominance.
They’re not completely off the table though. Celtics’s President of Basketball Operations, Danny Ainge, spoke with ESPN’s Zach Lowe about the possibility of a win-now move:
"We are definitely not in punt mode," Ainge said. "But trading away picks and promising young players for a veteran who might be 5 percent better is not in our plans, either."
That’s a healthy, balanced—albeit somewhat noncommittal perspective—and it’s likely the right one for the Celtics to operate from at the moment. Boston should be looking to improve its current team, but not at the expense of its future. Their best shot at winning a title may very well lie in what’s to come a half-decade from now.
"I like having targets in Cleveland and Golden State," Ainge said. "I like trying to meet their standards. It might not happen in a year. It might not happen in five years. With them, it might never happen. That's how special they are."
Ainge may be posturing here, but he also may be right, and if he is, then Boston would be wise not to trade any picks or players that might turn into superstars as the Warriors’ and Cavs’ windows for contention begin to close. Doing so might mean limiting the team’s current potential, and that is where things get so tricky.
There are no guarantees that Boston’s young players and future picks will turn into big enough stars to compete at the game’s highest level. They have a very good team right now, and if winning a championship is their goal, then adding another star (or two or three) might actually be the best opportunity to do so.
It’s impossible to predict just how good the team might be once Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and the team’s first round picks from the next two years hit their primes. That means doing the math on whether or not surrendering any of those pieces makes sense equally difficult.
It’s less challenging to predict just how good the Warriors will be for the next several seasons, however, and that is why building for the future is so appealing. Constructing your team based on another franchise’s timeline isn’t typically a wise choice, but there isn’t anything typical about what is happening in Golden State. They’re a sweet-shooting, smart-passing, long-armed, swarming nightmare, laced with generational talent on both offense and defense. They’ve altered the landscape of the NBA. To ignore that fact would be foolish.
That doesn’t mean other teams will stop trying. The Celtics have a lot of talent, and a lot to work with moving forward. They’re chasing the Warriors, and the Cavs for that matter, at the moment, but they’re better equipped than just about anyone else to catch them some day. Danny Ainge will be focused on doing so until they do.