By MIKE HERNDON
Are we in the last days of dynasty in professional team sports?
The Golden State Warriors looked like they were ready for the offseason as they slogged through a 105-92 loss on their home floor to fall into a 3-1 series hole against the Toronto Raptors. Kevin Durant has been out the entire series with an injury and will likely be gone in free agency as soon as it’s over. Instead of the sniper who can hit from anywhere, Steph Curry looked like just another guy hoisting up one bad shot after another. Draymond Green spent more time jawing with the referees than affecting the game, and Andre Iguodala is not 100 percent.
Klay Thompson provided pretty much the only life this team had in this game, his first back after suffering a strained hamstring in Game. 2. Like Steph in Game 3, however, he couldn’t do it by himself. The bench that had looked so strong against Houston and Portland offered little help.
And I have to admit, I was stunned.
This is a hobbled team. But they have proven they can win without Durant in these playoffs, Curry went off for 47 in a Game 3 loss where he was really the only offensive option, Thompson was back, and this was a game they really had to have, on their home floor.
This was where a champion acts like a champion. Instead, the Warriors led only 4 after a first-half in which Kawhi Leonard was the only Raptors starter who hit more than a third of his shots. If that looked like potential trouble, it was. Toronto found its shooting touch in the second half and Golden State never recovered.
It’s still possible that Golden State can do to the Raptors what LeBron and the Cavaliers did to them back in 2016. Steph can turn those horrible-looking shots into spirit-killing daggers at any time. But for the first time in these playoffs, I don’t believe the Warriors are going to make it.
Maybe I’m a little late to this realization, but we could be watching the last days of the Warriors dynasty.
The East has gotten stronger. Teams like Houston, Denver and Portland are ascending in the West. The competition is getting better. And in Toronto, the Warriors have met a team with the defensive chops that could be their kryptonite.
Free agency will again change the league dynamic this offseason. Where players such as Durant, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler and Leonard himself end up will determine who next year’s top contenders will be. Pair one of two of them with LeBron in L.A. and the Lakers, absent from the playoffs this year, could be an instant contender. Collect two or three of them anywhere and you could build a potential champion – even in New York.
Don’t think for a minute that the Warriors are going to just fall apart if Durant leaves. They did, after all, put away Houston and Portland without him. And the ridiculous omission of Thompson from the all-NBA teams means he’ll be easier to sign for Golden State, as he’s not eligible for a supermax contract. But the postseason, as we’re seeing right now, won’t be the foregone conclusion it’s been the last couple of years.
Dynasty building is a difficult art in the free-agency era, which makes what teams like Golden State and the New England Patriots in the NFL have done all the more impressive. But the Warriors were never going to keep this team together forever.
And though the Patriots have been masters of remaking their roster on the cheap, there have been two constants throughout their historic run of six titles in the last two decades – Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Brady is 41 years old and with Jimmy Garoppolo shipped off to San Francisco, there is no heir apparent on the roster (If you mention Jarrett Stidham, I will be forced to refer you to his Auburn film and stats from the last two seasons). Will Belichick stay when Brady finally hangs up the cleats?
What free agency has made difficult, most pro sports leagues have sought to make even tougher. The NHL’s expansion draft rules give incoming franchises like Vegas and, in 2021, Seattle advantages that the league’s other teams never had the opportunity to enjoy. The NFL has sought to lend its downtrodden franchises a hand up through scheduling, with the worst teams getting – theoretically – the easiest schedules. If the Lions are still the Lions, it’s largely their own fault.
Even in college football, which has largely been Nick Saban’s fiefdom since 2008, there are signs of cracks in the fortress walls. It’s not that Alabama has dropped off (far from it), but Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers have risen to join the Tide on the throne. The dynasty has become an oligarchy. The Warriors’ NBA has become that of the ‘80s Lakers and Celtics.
The post-Warriors and post-Patriots landscape in the NBA and NFL figures to be much more fragmented, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Patriots’ win over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII was watched by the fewest people of any Super Bowl in the last 11 years. Adjusted for viewership in both the U.S. and Canada, this year’s NBA finals was still down 6 percent through Game 3 compared to last year.
Dynasties can be boring, if you don’t happen to be a fan of the dynasty. Parity is fun, if not particularly awe-inspiring.
But while I have spent an entire column persuading you that the days of dynasties may be numbered, allow me to also leave you with a word of caution: If watching Saban’s Alabama teams over the last 11 years has taught us anything, it’s to resist calling a time of death while the body’s skill twitching. How many pundits have been made fools by pronouncing the Bama dynasty dead, only to sit through the next Crimson Tide championship the next year?
Can the Warriors bounce back? Can Brady play at a high level further into his 40s? Like them or not, let’s appreciate the dynasties while we still can.
(Photo by Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons)