There's No Debating It; the Warriors Are a Dynasty Unlike Any in NBA HistoryJune 13, 2018
When Steve Kerr turned down the New York Knicks and accepted the Golden State Warriors head coaching job in May 2014, who knew the decision would lead to this?
On Friday night, the Kerr-era Warriors won their third title in four years, a feat few juggernaut teams before have accomplished. Heck, the San Antonio Spurs have five titles under Gregg Popovich, but they never won in consecutive seasons.
Is this the greatest four-year stretch in NBA history? And where does this rank among NBA dynasties? Let's take a look...
The Kerr Era
"They have a good young team. The location is ideal."
That's Kerr—whose daughter and son attended college in California at the time—speaking to NBA.com reporter David Aldridge when he took the Warriors job just after they were bounced from the first round in the spring of '14. Since then, Golden State has won 63 of 83 playoff games to go along with three championships. Yes, that's like a 63-win regular season against only the league's best opponents. In the only season during the run without a championship, the Warriors won a record-breaking 73 games in the regular season and the score was tied with under a minute left of Game 7 of the Finals. It doesn't get much closer to a perfect four-peat than that.
There have been plenty of good young teams in NBA history. Almost none morphed into a team like the one that just swept the Cavaliers. Sure, the Warriors were pushed to Game 7 against the Houston Rockets a few weeks ago, but they were dominant even then; the plus-63 point differential in that series was the widest gap of the 25 conference finals that went seven games, as calculated by numbers from Basketball Reference.
So, is this the best four-year run of any team in NBA history?
First, let's look at regular seasons. Under Kerr, the Warriors went 265-63 (.808) over the last four seasons. That compares quite well when stacked up with every team of the shot-clock era (beginning in 1954-55).
Yes, the Warriors' four-year regular-season run is the best in NBA history. And it isn't particularly close. It's been 30 years since a non-Warriors team won more than 250 games in a four-year stretch. And the Warriors won 265.
Would the Bulls have won 265 if Michael Jordan never retired to play baseball? It's a fair question. The Bulls' run ending in 1997-98 includes the 1994-95 season, when Jordan only played 17 games and the Scottie Pippen-led Bulls went 47-35. Of course, if Jordan didn't have a long break, perhaps he wouldn't have had the legs to win so many games over the next three seasons.
Whether it's a matter of luck or smart injury prevention, the Warriors have enjoyed a relatively clean bill of health. Curry's health, in particular, has been one of the foundations of their run. Without Curry in uniform over the last four seasons, the Warriors have been a pedestrian 21-18. With him, the Dubs are a ridiculous 244-45 (.844) since 2014-15.
What about the postseason?
The Warriors didn't 'four-peat,' but neither did Jordan's Bulls, the Shaq-Kobe Lakers or any other monster team outside the city of Boston. The Bill Russell Celtics were the last team to win four in a row, and they eight-peated from 1958-59 to 1965-66. But all but the last of those Celtics teams needed to win just two series to win a championship. It's a lot harder to four-peat nowadays when you need to win four series in a row.
If you want to say those Celtics had a more dominant four-year run because of the eight-peat, you're essentially arguing that the Warriors' lead of 20-something regular-season wins over the best Boston four-year stretch (239-81 from '61-62 to '64-65) is meaningless because of a one-minute span of basketball in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals. (And I say 20-something because the actual number— 26—because the regular seasons were only 80 games back then.)
If the Celtics were anywhere near as dominant in the regular season as this edition of the Warriors, I'd put their four-peat run atop the current Warriors' run, but that wasn't the case. This is the best four-year run in NBA history.
Which brings us to...
Is this a dynasty?
This is where it gets tricky or fun or annoying depending on your mood. There's no official definition of a sports dynasty. According to Wikipedia, a dynasty (sports) is "a team or individual that dominates their sport or league for an extended period of time." That certainly doesn't help matters. If you consult the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a sports dynasty is "applied to a sports franchise which has a prolonged run of successful seasons."
What is "extended"? What is "prolonged"? Is that four years? Ten years?
The aforementioned Wikipedia page lists seven team dynasties in the annals of the NBA (and has since added this Warriors team to make eight), ranging from four years to 18 years: the 1948 to 1954 run of the Minneapolis Lakers; the 1956 to '69 run of the Russell Boston Celtics; the 1979 to '91 run of the Magic Johnson Lakers; the 1980 to '87 run of the Larry Bird Celtics (which, oddly enough, runs alongside the Magic dynasty); the 1990 to '98 Jordan Bulls dynasty; the 1998 to 2016 Spurs dynasty led by Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich; the 1999 to '04 run of the Shaq/Kobe Lakers. That last one only lasted five years—almost the same number of years that Kerr has led the Warriors.
If this Warriors era isn't dynasty material, then it's hard to say we've had a single dynasty in a half-century, which is the last time there was a four-peat. As mentioned above, the Warriors own the best four-year record in regular-season history, and the one time they didn't win a title in those four years, they still reached the Finals and won three games there. Jordan didn't four-peat because he either retired (in 1993 and '98) or lost before even getting to the Finals (1989-90 and 1994-95). In fact, no team since the '60s Celtics reached the Finals in four straight seasons with at least three titles in that stretch. Other than this Warriors team.
And considering those Celtics teams (until 1966) only need to win eight games to win a title, this Warriors stretch is vastly more impressive by number of wins and win percentage.
If you require your dynasties to be longer, the Warriors are off to a great start. Amazingly, if we include the 2013-14 season, when Mark Jackson was still the coach, they still have the best five-year run in regular-season history, according to research using Basketball Reference data. That's how good they've been.
Still not convinced? You will be
Bad news for the rest of the league: This Warriors team ain't going anywhere. (Well, except San Francisco.) While Kevin Durant is expected to opt out and become a free agent this summer, he told ESPN's Rachel Nichols he plans to re-sign with the Warriors and keep this going. Curry is signed through the next four seasons, Draymond Green for the next two seasons and Klay Thompson for next season.
A lot can happen before the Warriors win another three championships, but all four members of the core four (Curry, Durant, Green and Thompson) are between ages 28 and 30. Far from retirement age. From a health perspective, the Warriors All-Stars have avoided major injuries in recent years, which bodes well for their future. Still, it's hard to imagine them playing 100 games per season and not wearing down at some point. Even MJ needed a break to rest his mind and body.
Complicating matters is the salary cap, and while the Warriors will have to pay a stiff tax bill to retain all this star talent, co-owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber have shown no indications that they'll break up the team. And with gambling revenue potentially on the horizon, the cap may jump again just like it did when Durant came aboard, freeing up flexibility and lessening prohibitive tax burdens. The new Chase Center won't hurt either. The team is expected to sell courtside lounges for $2.25 million, per Sports Business Daily. That's a lot of dough for ownership to help pay the bills.
All in all, it's hard to see this Golden State dynasty falling apart with Curry locked up for the next several seasons. Will they win eight in a row like the Celtics? Maybe not. But with more teams and a longer road to the Finals, these Warriors don't have to win eight to be the best dynasty ever. They're already well on their way.
Tom Haberstroh has covered the NBA full-time since 2010, joining B/R Mag after seven years with ESPN as an NBA insider and analytics expert. Haberstroh is also a co-founder of Count The Dings podcast network and regularly hosts the Back To Back podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @tomhaberstroh.