In 70 years, only 18 teams have ever won more than 80 percent of their games in an NBA season. The Washington Capitols did it first in 1947. The 68-win Philadelphia 76ers—led by 30-year-old Wilt Chamberlain and his 24-point, 24-rebound per game averages—were next, exactly 20 years later.
The league's been clobbered by several dynastic waves between and since—from Russell to Magic to Bird to Jordan to Duncan to Shaq to LeBron—but nothing's been quite as overwhelming as the Golden State Warriors, the first team in NBA history to win at least 67 games three years in a row. They've turned something that was once historically rare into something normal, almost boring even, and the end of their run can't be seen with a telescope.
Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green are still under 30, Steve Kerr is younger than half the league's head coaches, and the Warriors have established an altruistic culture that attracts helpful veterans who're willing to play for less than the market says they're worth. There's a new stadium on the horizon, and Durant just defanged the CBA by happily taking less money so Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston could eat.
The Warriors are an unstoppable, selfless Godzilla. But games are played for a reason, and over the next few years 29 other teams will do all they can to unseat them. Our season preview at VICE Sports will instead resemble a treacherous leap into the NBA abyss. Over the next week, we'll take a look at five teams that have as good a chance as anyone to take down the Warriors over the next five years.
Several teams have a right to be cautiously optimistic right now, but none more so than the Houston Rockets. Not only did they acquire Chris Paul—the greatest point guard of his generation—to reduce the unreasonable burden James Harden carried last year, but versatile pieces such as Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker who can provide even more flexibility to a team that last season had one of the ten most efficient offenses in league history.
Tucker, specifically, deserves some recognition for the bite he'll provide; through a closer look at all he brings to the table, the Rockets feel as potent an adversary as any Golden State has seen since they reached the NBA's mountaintop.
Up next, in 2019, are the Boston Celtics. Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, and Gordon Hayward are all All-Star-caliber talents who both complement each other wonderfully and are still improving as individuals in various ways, but if Boston wants to overachieve and sustain championship contention through the next decade, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, two interchangeable wings who're long, athletic, and harmonious with the modern game, must make notable strides sooner than later.
Both are third overall picks trying to develop inside a system that isn't motivated to go out of its way to accentuate their strengths and make them feel comfortable. Tatum and Brown must instead excel in tight roles in meaningful moments. It's a lot to ask, but the Celtics need both to contribute in dependable ways if they want to win it all as early as next year.
By 2020, the best player in the world should be on the Minnesota Timberwolves. If Karl-Anthony Towns becomes the brain-melting evolutionary force we all expect, while developing into a monstrous physical presence on the defensive end, no team will be able to concoct an effective response whenever he's on the court. He's the quintessential fulcrum of an unstoppable basketball team.
The seven-footer who can attack on three levels, fly off screens, handle the ball, whip passes over his head, bombard the glass, switch out to handle guards, protect the rim, stretch the floor, and force defenses to make demeaning compromises when he attacks on the block, is already a matchup nightmare at 24. Imagine three more years of seasoning.
Riding along a similar plain are the Milwaukee Bucks and their own crowd-convulsing megastar. Giannis Antetokounmpo is on track to supplant LeBron James as the Eastern Conference's chief headache. But even if he develops a three-point shot and cements himself as a perennial candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, Antetokounmpo will need at least one more top-20 player by his side.
As essential as Khris Middleton is, a healthy Jabari Parker creates even more possibilities for the Bucks. If he's a crafty one-on-one presence by 2021, it's hard to see how teams will slow him down, let alone Antetokounmpo.
Our final team of promise is the Philadelphia 76ers, aka everyone's favorite pick to reign. Joel Embiid's body, Ben Simmons' outside shot, and Markelle Fultz's defense each carry differing degrees of concern, but even if all three work out for the best, 23-year-old Dario Saric is the necessary glue stick who holds it all together.
Keeping everyone around won't be cheap, but Saric's skill-set has the potential to turn Philly into what the Warriors are now, except humongous: a switch-happy team where everyone's natural position is closer to power forward than point guard. His talent, intelligence, and complementary traits are vital on a championship-level roster, and we'll take a look at why the Sixers so badly need him to reach his potential.
The NBA's constant turnover turns intelligent forecasting into an oxymoron. But these five teams have necessary ingredients to one day give Golden State a run for its money.