All things eventually fade to black. Which squad is best prepared to eventually become the next NBA dynasty when the Golden State Warriors “Big Three” leaves “The Arena”?
After a two-year hiatus, the Golden State Warriors have returned to where they surely believe they belong — the top of the NBA mountain, once again preparing for the NBA Finals. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green have been on the grandest NBA stage five times before, winning three championships over that run and establishing themselves as this era’s dynastic power. The cast around them has changed throughout this run, but they have been the constant.
That consistency has them in position to prove that when healthy, they are the class of professional basketball. But all things die, and the star Warriors aren’t getting any younger (no offense, Jonathan Kuminga and James Wiseman). While Golden State is set up to remain competitive beyond their current “big three,” eventually losing three future Hall of Famers will take its toll, and the Warriors will fall back at some point.
This reality of life that shines in sports — that everything has an expiration date — should lead us to wonder who is best set up to take the throne from Golden State when their time does indeed come?
Here are three teams set up nicely to step up when the Warriors dynasty fades to history.
3. The New Orleans Pelicans
The Warriors’ model has been to draft well and add talent where possible via free agency and trade. Curry/Green/Thompson were all Golden State NBA Draft selections, as were other key Warriors like Kevon Looney and Jordan Poole. But Andrew Wiggins was traded for, and Otto Porter Jr. was a free agent signing. Gary Payton II and Damion Lee were undrafted players that have made an impact for the Warriors on their current run as well.
The New Orleans Pelicans have a similar mix of talent that has started to gel after the C.J. McCollum trade. Jonas Valanciunas and Brandon Ingram were not selections of New Orleans, but their acquisitions have made the Pelicans’ offense much more dangerous. Herbert Jones, Trey Murphy III and Jaxson Hayes are all Pelicans selections who have contributed to their upward swing, especially Jones who as a second-round selection with impressive defensive skill invokes the spirit of Draymond Green.
Jose Alvarado was an undrafted guard that made an impact for New Orleans, and all these players figure in to the future of the Pelicans. Add in the potential a healthy Zion Williamson provides as a superstar-caliber finisher, and the future is quite bright in New Orleans.
They have to win first, of course, which has so far eluded the Pelicans during the Zion era. Yet the McCollum trade has this team feeling differently about themselves entering next season. After a miserable 6-17 start through November, the Pelicans finished the season 30-29 without Williamson and perhaps more importantly seemingly enjoying playing together and for one another. Chemistry is a key part of long-term success, as the Warriors have shown us.
For the first time in a long time, there’s a distinctly positive energy coming from New Orleans. That, and the talent they have acquired plus another NBA Lottery selection later this month in the NBA Draft, add up to a team primed to rise in the Western Conference rankings in the years ahead.
2. The Memphis Grizzlies
Unfortunately for the New Orleans Pelicans, the Memphis Grizzlies are not just in their conference but are also in their division. And while the reigning Southwest Division champions historically have had issues with a Zion-led Pelicans team, Ja Morant and company are primed to make their own improvements to an already strong roster that is teeming with immaculate vibes.
One of the youngest NBA teams to win a playoff series in years, the Grizzlies have a “Big Three” in place that looks different than Curry/Thompson/Green but could wind up being as impactful. Ja Morant may not have the range of Steph Curry (who does?), but his electric offensive talent and ability to get to the basket makes him arguably the most fun true point guard to watch play since Curry burst on to the scene.
Jaren Jackson Jr. and Draymond Green share Michigan State Spartandom, as well as an uncanny ability to impact games defensively. And Klay Thompson’s ability to hit the 3 and be a wonderful match alongside Curry aligns with Desmond Bane’s own elite range and fit next to the skill set of Ja Morant.
All three of Bane/Morant/Jackson Jr. are 23 or younger. All three figure in the long-term plans of the Memphis Grizzlies. And reigning NBA Executive of the Year Zach Kleiman has as much flexibility as any general manager in the league to shape this team around those three however he sees fit.
Free agency has never been a strong suit for Memphis, but the allure of playing along with Morant and his co-stars may change that and the Grizzlies can free up over $20 million in cap space this summer if they so choose. Memphis also owns all its first-round draft picks as well as Utah’s No. 22 in this draft and the 2024 first-rounder of the Golden State Warriors that the Grizzlies took on when they absorbed Andre Iguodala’s contract a few years ago.
Names like OG Anunoby, Myles Turner, Malcolm Brogdon, Harrison Barnes, and even Karl-Anthony Towns have been rumored to be sensible targets via trade for the Grizzlies here, there, and everywhere. And all (except maybe Towns, but even then with enough picks it may not be needed) could be had without Memphis shipping out one of their own homegrown “Big Three” when combining well-structured contracts (De’Anthony Melton, Dillon Brooks) with draft picks and young developmental talent (Ziaire Williams).
That is a testament to what Kleiman, Grizzlies Head Coach Taylor Jenkins, and the rest of the Memphis organization have built over the last three and a half years. They’re already an NBA championship contender, having posted the NBA’s second-best record this past season. And they have all the tools available to continue that climb to play in June as soon as next year. No team in the playoffs so far has given the Warriors the test that Memphis did in their Western Conference Semifinals series.
Golden State deservedly won in 2022. Will that be true the next time these two teams meet in the postseason?
1. The Boston Celtics
It’s fitting that the Warriors are attempting to return to the NBA mountaintop against the team best equipped to be the next dynasty when Golden State’s Hall of Famers depart the stage. Led by a legitimate top-five player in the NBA in Jayson Tatum and a legitimate top-20 player in Jaylen Brown, both under the age of 26, the Celtics are entering the prime of their current title window.
This is not just because of Brown and Tatum, however. Marcus Smart has become a cult hero in Boston for his defensive tenacity, becoming the first non-big man Defensive Player of the Year since Kawhi Leonard in 2016. Robert Williams and Grant Williams have been important cogs in the Celtics’ defensive machine this season as well, and both of those players — as well as the previously mentioned Tatum/Brown/Smart — are Celtics draft selections.
Their core is five deep, and that doesn’t even mention Payton Pritchard, a key role player for them in their offensive schemes. Then add in key acquisitions like Al Horford and Derrick White, and you’re looking at a team that is designed to be dominant defensively while also providing spacing around the offensively explosive Jayson Tatum.
The only current player that logged more than 1,000 minutes over the age of 30 this season for Boston is Al Horford (35 years old). Every other key contributor is 27 years old or younger. And they’re about to take on the Golden State Warriors dynasty for the right to call themselves NBA champion.
The Warriors most certainly are not done yet. They’ve earned the right to say that when healthy, they remain the standard in the NBA when it comes to excellence. But Father Time remains undefeated. The end comes for all empires. The question is, will Golden State retake their throne? Or will they be possibly passing the torch to the next great NBA dynasty?
To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man. The Boston Celtics are about to have their chance. But the Golden State Warriors have been waiting for three years to make it back to this stage. They won’t go gently in to the history books.
The NBA Finals begin Thursday, June 2 in San Francisco, California. Game 1 tips off at 9:00 ET.