The Warriors should not expect to return to Finals

Jun 19, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) leaves the court after game seven of the NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 19, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) leaves the court after game seven of the NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

The Golden State Warriors were close to winning their second consecutive title. They can’t take that for granted and need to work to get back to this stage.

The Golden State Warriors were two baskets away from repeating as NBA Champions.

Through more than 333 minutes of game time, the Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers were even. This looked like a game that Golden State, who has a knack for making the right plays when they’re needed most, could win. But Kyrie Irving hit one of the greatest shots in NBA history, knocking down a stepback three over Stephen Curry then LeBron James sealed the deal with a free throw.

So instead of talking about a potential dynasty, we’re talking about disappointment. Both conversations have the same core point: how do they get back here?

Following the heartbreaking Game 7 loss, Draymond Green asserted that “this ain’t the last that you’ll see from us.” Curry echoed the sentiment, saying that the memory of the loss will fuel the Warriors and “this ain’t the last time [we’re] going to this stage.”

Curry is 28 years old. Green is 25. Klay Thompson is 26. Harrison Barnes, if re-signed, is 24. That’s four starters on a team that has been to consecutive NBA, 28 or younger. All about to enter their prime.

The Warriors’ All-Star trio is young. They’ve played a lot of basketball together, building fantastic chemistry. They have an extremely intelligent front office and aggressive ownership, willing to do whatever it takes to build a winner. And, like 29 other teams, they will have a lot more money to play with as a result of the salary cap rising.

The Golden State Warriors are in good position to make another run at the Larry O’Brien trophy next season. But they can’t just expect it to happen.

Four years ago, Kevin Durant, 23, Russell Westbrook, 23, James Harden, 22, and Serge Ibaka, 22, all went to their first NBA Finals. They won Game 1 of the series against James’ Miami Heat then lost four straight. There was a collective sentiment around the league that the Oklahoma City Thunder would be a regular in the Finals in the following years.

They haven’t made it back.

Harden was traded to the Thunder following their loss to the Heat. Durant and Westbrook have each suffered major injuries in the subsequent seasons. Ibaka seems to be declining. Scott Brooks, the head coach that had them three wins away from winning a title, was fired prior to the 2016 season.

Those guys were supposed to be right back in the Finals, but they haven’t.

The Warriors could very well return to the NBA Finals, healthier and hungrier than ever before. But it’s not just going to happen. They can’t just hope for greatness. They can’t get complacent.

The ’15-16 Warriors were very special. They were probably the most explosive and complete team that we’ve ever seen. They were dynamic and revolutionary in how they approached the game on both ends of the floor. They were, as we just witnessed, flawed.

No flaw was bigger than their tendency to get complacent. They took teams lightly. That’s why they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers. That’s why they needed a Harrison Barnes game winner to beat the Philadelphia 76ers. It’s why they dropped Game 1 to the OKC Thunder after leading by double digits by halftime. it’s why they lost a 3-1 lead to the Cavaliers.

The Warriors were 48 minutes away from victory and expected Cleveland to stay down. They gave the greatest player of his generation a window and he snatched away the title. After blowing Cleveland out two games in a row to start the series, Golden State was being handed the championship. And it looks like they believed it.

Green and Thompson are going to be in Golden State uniforms for a lot of years and, with his bargain contract up after next year, Curry will be locked up too. It’s a start. They have a lot of talent between those three. Talent that can lead a team back to the promised land and, more importantly, talent that can attract other talent.

There’s a lot of factors that go into being a championship team. Obviously having the personnel is imperative. Continuity is necessary. You need the unity and focus. And, of course, you need a dash of luck.

The Warriors have the pieces they can control. They just have to put them together. And make sure they stay the whole way through.