Jerry Krause could see "cracks in the foundation" of the Chicago Bulls dynasty as it entered its last dance with Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan. He saw Jordan's wingman Scottie Pippen miss significant time due to two operations in two years. He saw Dennis Rodman and Luc Longley deteriorate physically as the wear and tear of multiple championship runs caught up to their aging bodies. And he saw multiple supporting players become unaffordable as his capped-out Bulls could no longer afford role players with championship pedigrees.
Now one of those role players faces a similar predicament as head coach of the Golden State Warriors. Eight-time NBA Champion Steve Kerr has seen his aging stars Steph Curry and Klay Thompson miss significant time to injury. He's seen the physical struggles of players like Draymond Green and Kevon Looney following short offseasons. And he's watched as once diamond-in-the-rough role players have driven their market value beyond Golden State's capacity given the franchise's current salary commitments.
As each member of Golden State's injury-riddled core will be in their 30s when Golden State returns to action next season, the Warriors dynasty is over according to members in the media such as Stephen A. Smith, Nick Wright, and Jalen Rose.
But as the NBA's Disney World restart gives new life to this year's contenders, it also gives new life to a Warriors dynasty in search of its 4th title in 7 years.
Here are 3 reasons why the NBA restart positions Golden State for a return to title contention in 2021:
1. Rest and Recovery
In Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals, Golden State star Kevin Durant tore his Achilles in what turned out to be his last game as a Warrior. Things couldn't get worse for the Warriors… until they did.
Klay Thompson tore his ACL in Game 6 of that NBA Finals and has yet to return to action. Steph Curry played in just one game in the calendar year 2020 due to a broken bone in his hand. Draymond Green missed roughly half the 2019-2020 season due to a series of nagging injuries. And oft-injured 23-year-old Kevon Looney underwent a core muscle surgery last month after playing just 20 games this season.
The NBA's Disney Bubble plan pushes the start of the 2020-2021 season to December 1st, providing the depleted Warriors with much needed recovery time following 5 straight NBA Finals appearances.
2. Turnaround for Competition
While Golden State's stars rest, recover, and train for the 2020-2021 season, teams of equivalent talent will play as many as 36 games between July 31 and October 12. Contenders such as the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks will then return to training camps in November before starting another season on December 1st.
Come December 1st, Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, and Draymond Green will play their first set of back-to-back games in 18, 13, and 9 months respectively.
The aging Warriors could not have caught a better (or longer) break than that provided by the NBA's July return.
3. Opportunity Following Salary Cap Drop
One often overlooked factor affected by COVID-19 is the 2021 NBA Salary Cap.
According to ESPN Insider Bobby Marks, fans can expect the NBA salary cap to drop by as much as $25-$30 million next season due to lost revenues from forgone games and empty arenas in 2020.
Golden State had already committed to contracts putting them more than $44 million over the pre-COVID salary cap and $20 million over the luxury tax threshold.
Typically, a reduced cap would harm an already capped-out team like the Warriors. However, if the Warriors' ownership continues showing a willingness to pay exorbitant luxury taxes, Golden State can benefit from the reduced cap due to two assets in its possession: its Traded Player Exception (TPE) and Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (MLE).
A decrease in salary cap will likely force non-contending teams to part ways with expensive pieces who do not serve as building blocks for the future. Consequently, the trade market will be ripe with veteran contributors who are best suited on contending teams. Golden State's $17.2 million TPE (from the 2019 Andre Iguodala trade) will provide the Warriors with the means to absorb the contract of such a player without giving up any player assets or facing any cap penalties.
Should the Warriors' trade partner demand more in return for the player of their choice, Golden State also has a top 5 2020 NBA Draft pick at its disposal as well as the Minnesota Timberwolves' 2021 first round selection.
While Golden State's Traded Player Exception gives the Warriors flexibility via trade, the team's Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception will enable General Manager Bob Myers to improve his team in free agency. The roughly $6 million allotment (prior to any cap changes) gives a capped-out Golden State team the means to add a veteran free agent in pursuit of an NBA Finals appearance. As the salary cap shrinks due to the economic impact of COVID-19, so does the market for aging free agents like Paul Millsap, Derek Favors, and Marc Gasol. The opportunity to compete for a ring may be enough to lure a player of this caliber to Golden State as the NBA's economic state diminishes the demand (and consequent salary expectations) for these aging contributors.
Was the Warriors dynasty dead following Kevin Durant's departure to Brooklyn and DeAngelo Russell's trade to Minnesota? A league worst 2020 record certainly reinforced this idea.
But after coronavirus cut Golden State's tumultuous 2020 season short, the virus's league-wide impact ultimately extended the Warriors' title window.
Hear Mike and I discuss this topic as well as the NBA's return plan and more in this podcast episode:
Also streaming on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.
- Doug Battle, Co-Host of Fanalytics