It feels like we should talk first about what happened when the Golden State Warriors just did, and so I will.
By "just did," I mean the five-game white-washing of a Cavaliers team that for the most part, represented itself quite well in these NBA Finals, but lacked - like nearly every basketball team that's ever taken the court - the firepower of their opponent. This year's Finals had its moments - my favorite is when David West and Tristan Thompson shared a warm embrace in game five - but by the time the series started to get good, it already felt over, and as much as the last 12 months was a buildup to a seemingly inevitable third straight Golden State/Cleveland meeting, the way the Warriors deflected most of the best blows thrown by the Cavs early in the series made the entire thing seem anticlimactic.
Little of that is a knock on Cleveland, and none of it is an indictment against LeBron James, who was mostly magnificent during this year's title series, averaging a triple-double while fighting an extraordinarily uphill battle from the moment the Finals tipped.
The Warriors were just better, and even if you're turned off at the way they were put together (and I'm not), you hopefully can still behold them when they're at their best. Armed with that much talent, Golden State still plays some of the best, most cohesive team ball in the sport. They're one of the most difficult-to-defend teams the NBA has ever seen, and when they're playing at optimum pace and efficiency, their offense is the most fun thing to watch in sports.
And their run over the past three years - two of which ended with titles, and one of which is markedly different because of the addition of Kevin Durant - has been historically significant. Golden State has won 254 of their last 299 regular season and playoff games. They've gone from being one of the league's often-overlooked franchises to the signature team in the sport, ushering the league into a new offensive era in the process. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have spent the past three seasons going from fun sideshow to two of the great outside shooters the game has seen, with Steph entering the conversation of the NBA's best all-time point guards (I have elaborate thoughts on this that I'll bore you with later), Draymond Green going from backup to one of the game's premiere defenders, and by joining them, Kevin Durant added the only item missing on his resume.
I don't care much about the debate as to how well the Warriors would stack up against the Bulls of the 90s, or the Showtime Lakers. The point is that they're now comfortably in the discussion with some of the greatest teams of all-time, and regardless of how history treats them, they will be talked about for a long time.
The bigger thing for me is what happens now.
Golden State's top four players are all under 29. Three are elite offensive threats who are among the greatest shooters of all-time. For all of their offensive might, they're among the league's most efficient defensive teams. Little about them suggests that things like ego, jealousy, etc. will be problems, and they will be THE place to go for end-of-their-line free agents looking to grab a ring (Hey! Congrats, David West, BTW).
And no one seems poised to dethrone them.
No legit threat to either Golden State or Cleveland emerged this year, either during the regular season or in the playoffs. The trade deadline saw most of the league sit by idly, deferring to the two eventual finalists, knowing that no one or two moves was going to help them get past either. No one in the west made a serious challenge. The Cavs ran rough-shot through the East and were still no match for Golden State. The second-best team in the east was obliterated by the team that never seriously challenged the champ. You get the idea.
Meanwhile, there doesn't seem to be a team in either conference that's one player away from seriously pushing the Warriors. San Antonio appears to be in transition. Same for the Clippers. Russell Westbrook is by himself in Oklahoma City. Houston couldn't get past a weakened Spurs team. Those teams can all improve this offseason. Some will. Are any of them challenging Golden State?
The same question lingers in the east, where the Cavs will open the season in four and a half months as prohibitive to return to the Finals again, but still a rung below Golden State. There will be free agency acquisitions around the league, trades involving stars, young players who blossom, and rookies that give hope to fans of downtrodden franchises. Nothing will look like a serious threat to a Golden State repeat.
The NBA heads into this offseason at a weird place. It has a nucleus of good-to-great stars spread throughout the league, a quality product that's as good and as popular as ever, and no shortage of marketable personalities and storylines. Yet the gap between the reigning champion and the other 29 teams seems almost too wide, so much so that it seems almost inevitable that we'll be right back where we've been each of the past three Junes 12 months from now.
Super-teams are good for sports leagues, and the NBA - a league that's had 11 franchises combine for its last 31 titles - has often been ruled throughout its history by dynasties repeat champions, and title-winners that had staying-power, but to achieve optimum health and relevance, someone - anyone - has to make a significant challenge to the champion's throne.