The Golden State Warriors, a basketball dynasty that redefined the sport with their long-range shooting and small ball lineups, face an offseason of uncertainty after falling short in their bid to win a third consecutive NBA title on Thursday.
Looming free agency for key players, a move to San Francisco next season and a rising tide of teams that are catching up to their brand of positionless basketball all raise questions about the future of the franchise. The biggest question surrounds the fate of forwarding Kevin Durant, who helped lead the team to two championships.
Durant ruptured his Achilles in his return to the lineup in Game Five on Monday and coach Steve Kerr on Thursday said he will miss all of next season as he recovers. But given that he is arguably the most dominant player in the league, that setback may not dampen the enthusiasm of teams lining up to sign him to a long-term contract.
The New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Clippers are among those expected to vie with the Warriors to land the seven-foot sniper. The Warriors will also look to retain Klay Thompson, who was an integral part of the team's championships in 2015, 2017 and 2018 and who also becomes a free agent this summer.
Thompson injured his knee after being fouled during the third quarter of Game Six in Oakland on Thursday and did not return after shooting two free throws. It was unclear how serious the injury was but the Warriors are expected to do whatever it takes to sign him again.
The team on Thursday also closed the curtain on Oracle Arena in Oakland, which has been their home for 47 seasons. The team will move to San Francisco's new Chase Center next season, a decision that has left a bitter taste in the mouths of some of their most diehard fans, who prefer rugged Oakland to ritzy San Francisco.
The talent gap could also be closing. The Warriors dominated the league by playing a style of basketball that emphasized small, speedy lineups full of shooters that forced defences to spread out, opening passing lanes and leading to an array of dazzling offensive sequences.
But the Warriors were pushed to six games by the scrappy Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs as they mirrored their unselfish offensive style and a stingy defence. And on Thursday they fell in Game Six of the Finals to a Toronto Raptors team that punished them with old-school basketball that emphasizes the size and brute strength under the hoop.
Despite the loss, Warriors guard Stephen Curry said it is not the end of the road for the team, which came within a missed three-pointer from forcing a Game Seven in Toronto. "It was a one-possession game to keep our season alive tonight," he said of the 114-110 loss.
"We'll be thinking about this one, it's tough. But with our DNA, who we are and the character that we have on this team, I wouldn't bet against us being back on this stage next year and going forward," he said. "So I'm really proud of the way that we fought until the end and this five-year run has been awesome.
"But I definitely don't think it's over."
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