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2018 NBA Playoffs

Are the Warriors so good they won’t be fun to watch next season?

They turned it on in the playoffs, but they played like they were bored during the regular season

Since the Golden State Warriors hired Steve Kerr, the Bay Area has been the home of the NBA’s most alluring brand of basketball. The pace and style that Kerr installed in 2014, marked by long-distance shots, never-ending movement and quick passes, has enchanted fans from across the globe. It’s become a near-perfect distillation of a sport featuring the world’s best athletes. With each player touching the ball on offense, fans witness five men working together, appearing like beautiful choreography, to demoralize their opponents.

But then this season started. It was a bit different — still fun, but not the same for me. The squad frequently competed at half-speed and looked decidedly lackadaisical. Against the Utah Jazz on Jan. 30, for example, the Warriors lost by 30 points, 129-99, and never appeared like they even intended on winning. The same jerseys ran around the court that night in Salt Lake City, but the men inside them might well have been doppelgängers.

Starting games slowly recurred constantly during the regular season, and that intensified the frustration of watching them. Last season, the Warriors had a plus-4.1-point first-quarter scoring margin, leading the league. This season, however, the first-quarter scoring margin fell to 0, 13th in the league.

Things got so bad this season that in the Warriors’ Feb. 13 matchup against the Phoenix Suns, Kerr felt compelled to take a step back and let the players coach themselves. Kerr told Scott Bordow of The Arizona Republic: “I haven’t been able to reach them the last month. They are tired of my voice and I’m tired of my voice. It’s been a long haul these last few years. I wasn’t reaching them, and we just figured it was probably a good night to pull a trick out of the hat and do something different.”

Even still, the Warriors flipped the switch during the playoffs and beat the league’s best regular-season team, the Houston Rockets, in seven games and are now up 3-0 over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. Only a miraculous reversal can keep the Warriors from winning three of the last four NBA titles. The NBA season effectively ended when Kevin Durant lunged the 35-foot blade of a jump shot into the hearts of Cavalier Nation in Game 3 on Wednesday night.

That got me to thinking about the future of the team. How will the Warriors play next season? Will they be even less fun to watch? I fear the answer is yes.

The lesson the players learned is that they can turn it on when the playoffs start. They learned that their talent overwhelms their foes. They learned that the regular-season effort, or lack thereof, they give doesn’t mean they can’t win the championship. They formed some bad habits and it didn’t matter. They remain the league’s best team, and when they’re fully healthy, the margin appears wide.

The smartest kid in class who doesn’t need to study to get an A usually doesn’t develop better habits, considering his success. He gets cockier. He extends even less effort. His head gets even bigger.

As a Warriors fan who considers every game must-watch television, I worry that the 82 games of fun I had the first three seasons of Kerr’s run will become 82 games of “ehh.” We’re going to have to sit through more doppelgänger games. Perhaps even less effort. More lazy first quarters. More of Kerr’s remarks about how he can’t reach the guys. But then in the playoffs, their dominance will reappear. The result, hoisting the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy, will likely be the same.

As a fan, I want the journey to be fun. But it probably won’t be fun, at least not like it once was.

Brando Simeo Starkey is an associate editor at Andscape and the author of In Defense of Uncle Tom: Why Blacks Must Police Racial Loyalty. He crawled through a river of books and came out brilliant on the other side.