If the Warriors need a reminder that nothing is guaranteed, they only need to look down the sideline at the Houston Rockets. There they'll see James Harden, a former member of the Next NBA Dynasty in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder collected Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook before landing the Bearded One.
That trio plus Serge Ibaka looked like an O'Brien Trophy factory. But after one unsuccessful trip to the NBA Finals in 2012, GM Sam Presti outsmarted himself and sent Harden out in a trade to build flexibility into the roster. The Thunder have kept running into misfortune in the years since, and there's a chance Durant could leave as a free agent in a year without having bestowed OKC with a parade.
When the Warriors look down the sideline, they'll see Dwight Howard, the man who once won three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards and was tabbed as the hero to bridge the Kobe Bryant era to a new period of success in L.A. The Lakers acquired Howard to join Kobe, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol and the franchise looked set for years to come. In fact, L.A. had 9-4 odds (tied for best in the league) to win the 2012-13 title. They finished No. 7 in the West and got swept out of the first round of the playoffs. Howard left in free agency, and Kobe has played about 40 total games since. The Lakers have been among the worst half-dozen teams in the NBA for two straight seasons since Howard bailed, with little to indicate they'll be leaving that club soon.
Nothing is ever promised tomorrow, today.^
The Warriors look the part of a young dynasty. In January, I wrote about Golden State's epic cap management and talent acquisition efforts. The way their contracts are set up, the Warriors' core can easily be kept together with only one year of luxury tax payments guaranteed. Everything is timed well, and Golden State has gotten discounts on a few key players. Plus, we know the current core of the Warriors is excellent. It had one of the best regular seasons ever. This franchise is as dominant as we thought the 2012-13 Lakers would be and as loaded with elite youth as the 2011-12 Thunder.
But we know you can't count championship rings before they're unboxed. All that promise, all those dreams of dynasty and all that unabashed hope very well could have come crashing down with Stephen Curry on Monday night.
Thank the Basketball Gods that Curry suffered no apparent harm. The Warriors' medical staff tested for a concussion and found none had occurred. Curry was sharp in the fourth quarter and indicated after the game he was more rattled by the unintentional flight and abrupt landing than hurt. After a plane ride and a day for his body to fully react, he might be sorer before Game 5 Wednesday in Oakland. Overall, he is unlikely to be much worse for the wear.
But damn, that was scary.
If the Warriors needed another reminder of the impermanence of success, Curry's heart-stopping moment provided it. Golden State hasn't been in position to win a championship (let alone several) in 40 years. To some of those loyal fans in the Bay Area, the Warriors' burgeoning success may feel deserved, a reward for the long periods of futility.
Unfortunately, that's not how the world works. In the NBA, success is never due. It is grabbed. And for the rare franchise that experiences a long run of excellence, success is grabbed tightly and never let go.
There's no guarantee the Warriors will win this championship or any other. Golden State is in better position to capture jewelry than any other team now and probably next year, too. Curry's fall reminds us that so long as winning it all depends on humans, nothing is ever won until it is won.