Warriors fully loaded, look unbeatable

‘Super team’ expected to dominate West

- Jeff Zillgitt @jeffzillgi­tt USA TODAY Sports

The balance of power in the NBA remained in the Western Conference with Kevin Durant’s stunning decision to play for the Golden State Warriors.

But within the West, the scale has swung — almost impossibly so for a 73-win team with three All-Stars — even more in the Warriors’ favor for the 2016-17 season and beyond.

By adding Durant, one of the league’s best players and the 2013-14 MVP, to a roster with two-time MVP Stephen Curry and All-NBA players Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, the Warriors are heavy favorites to win the championsh­ip next year after losing a dramatic sevengame Finals series to the Cleveland Cavaliers in June.

While some teams improved in the Eastern Conference, not one has improved enough to surpass the Cavs as the favorites to win the conference title next season. There is a strong possibilit­y the Warriors and Cavs will play in the Finals for a third consecutiv­e time — something no two teams have done, not even the Boston Celtics-Los Angeles Lakers of the 1960s and 1980s.

The San Antonio Spurs, who finished with a franchise-best 67 victories last season, fell further behind the Warriors with Durant’s decision.

The Oklahoma City Thunder, which had a 3-1 lead on Golden State in the conference finals in May, just lost its star and now has to ponder a long-term plan that might not include Russell Westbrook, who will be a free agent next summer.

The Los Angeles Clippers maintained the status quo.

The Warriors can dominate the West. They are a dynasty in the making. That doesn’t mean they will try to break their record of 73 regular-season wins. In fact, expect Golden State to take a more deliberate approach to the regular season, pacing itself for the two-month playoff run.

Now, the Warriors have work to do on the court. Incorporat­ing four All- Stars into the lineup won’t be easy, especially on the offensive end. But that’s why coach Steve Kerr — as he has said before — is paid so well. It’s up to him and his coaching staff to get buy-in from those stars to play a certain way, to sacrifice for the good of the team.

But on the surface, that roster creates so many problems for opposing defenses.

Don’t think for a second Durant’s decision to leave smallmarke­t Oklahoma City for bigmarket Golden State sits well with the rest of the league.

The 2011 lockout, in part, sought to create better opportunit­ies for small-market teams to compete. The league instituted tougher restrictio­ns in the collective bargaining agreement, including harsher financial penalties for teams spending above the luxury tax line.

As recently as June 2, just before Game 1 of the Finals, Commission­er Adam Silver said, “Creating a system that allows every team I’d say the equality — an equal opportunit­y to compete for championsh­ips. I think we’re never going to have NFL-style parity in this league. It is the nature of this league that certain players are so good that those teams are likely almost automat- ically if that player remains healthy to become playoff teams and especially mixed with other great players.”

But the influx of TV money gave teams that otherwise would not have had the financial flexibilit­y to add a maximum-salary player the freedom to do that.

Remember all that angst in 2010 about creating super teams after LeBron James joined the Miami Heat alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh? Well, the Warriors just created the super team of all super teams in this era of the NBA.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti can’t be happy about the league’s inability to prevent a move like this from happening.

Silver knew the unpreceden­ted rise in the salary cap, from $70 million to $94 million in 2016-17 would create unintended circumstan­ces.

Five years ago, NBA owners and front office executives were not envisionin­g a scenario in which a team with three AllStars could add a fourth.

But that’s what just happened, and 29 other teams, including the champion Cavaliers, are wondering how they’re going to beat Golden State in a sevengame series.

 ?? DAVID RICHARD, USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Even without Kevin Durant, the Warriors already have two All-Stars in Draymond Green, far left, and Stephen Curry, right.
DAVID RICHARD, USA TODAY SPORTS Even without Kevin Durant, the Warriors already have two All-Stars in Draymond Green, far left, and Stephen Curry, right.

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