Commentary

Golden State will dominate for at least five more years

"Boring NBA Finals. It's no longer a competition."

Those words were a lament by my Hong Kong friend on my Facebook feed last week, after the Golden State Warriors ambushed the Cleveland Cavaliers for a vital, come-from-behind Game Three win that, in retrospect, was key to them winning their latest title.

While they couldn't manage to sweep LeBron James and the Cavs, the inevitable came yesterday (Singapore time) as the Warriors regained the title with a 129-120 Game Five victory.

Cue more complaints from disgruntled fans: "Ugh, too easy, no drama, no excitement like last year's Cavs upset win."

So, yes, it's becoming a predictable pattern: The Warriors keep swaggering past all rivals with their awesome firepower, and frustrating every other team's fan base.

So what? It is certainly through no fault of the Warriors that they are a dominant NBA team.

Like the Bulls, they dominate both the regular season and play-offs. Yet, the team they resemble most are Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s.

It may seem grossly unfair that, after setting the all-time regular season win-loss mark (73-9) last season, they could simply sign up Kevin Durant to avenge their heartbreaking NBA Finals defeat by the Cavs last year, a move that seemed to contradict the league's attempts at parity among its 30 teams.

Yet, this is the result of the astuteness of the franchise in drafting their rookies. The bedrock trio of the team - Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green - were selected from rookie drafts, and not acquired from other teams via overpriced trades or the promise of inflated salaries.

Together with the NBA's new national TV deal, which led to a dramatic spike in the team salary cap from US$74 million (S$102 million) last season to US$94 million this season, the Warriors found enough salary leeway to woo Durant, despite already being stacked with talent.

Now they have four great All-NBA-level players, all under 29 years old. If fans are already moaning about the Warriors' dominance, here's the bad news: They are set to keep dominating for at least the next five years.

And why not? Team sport is about seeing how well a group of players can combine and execute winning strategies, and the Warriors are tearing up conventional basketball tactics as they find new and thrilling ways to score.

Long-range three-pointers to quickly-taken shots to pull-up jumpers - once viewed as poor shot selections - have become potent weapons under the Warriors, not to mention devastating tools to demoralise opponents who had tried to defend them well.

Durant's arrival gave them additional insurance - a calm and reliable scorer from anywhere on the court, he balances the occasional out-of-control tendencies of Curry and Green, and has been duly rewarded with his first NBA title after 10 years in the league.

So, sorry, NBA fans, but the Warriors will not be going away any time soon. A third title looks like a sure-fire bet, and they could conceivably be stacked with as many as six titles - just like Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls in the 1990s - before they are done, even with the plethora of great NBA teams currently in the league.

Where, then, can they eventually stand among the pantheon of great NBA teams?

Like the Bulls, they dominate both the regular season and play-offs. Yet the team they resemble most are Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s. Both rely on exceptionally creative and exuberant offences, and both had a superlative rival team to challenge them year in, year out (the Lakers had Larry Bird's Boston Celtics, while the Warriors have the Cavs).

That Lakers team had five titles, two of them back-to-back in 1987 and 1988, and eight Finals appearances. These seem like good historical targets for the Warriors to aim for.

If they get there, well, the only team left to overtake are Bill Russell's Celtics in the 1960s - a daunting 11 titles in 13 years. But it will be a comparison riddled with the inconsistency of different eras of basketball; the league had a mere nine teams then, and defence was non-existent.

So the Warriors could be remembered as the greatest team in this fully-mature NBA league stacked with domestic and global talents.

Two titles in three years? They have barely even begun - and that should further infuriate fans with short attention spans.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2017, with the headline 'Golden State will dominate for at least five more years'. Print Edition | Subscribe