-- A team that just won a record 73 games isn't supposed to be able to add a former MVP in his prime.
After they fell a game short of their second consecutive championship, that's the historic opportunity the rising salary cap gave the Golden State Warriors, who successfully pitched Kevin Durant on joining forces with two-time MVP Stephen Curry and All-Stars Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.
With Durant, are the Warriors even better than last season? Is this the greatest team ever assembled? And how long can they expect to contend for championships with four stars all in their 20s?
What the Warriors might look like with Durant
While it's remarkable that Golden State even had the opportunity to make room for Durant, doing so won't be painless. First, the Warriors will renounce the rights to Harrison Barnes and make him an unrestricted free agent -- according to a report from ESPN's Marc Stein -- which isn't a big deal since Durant takes Barnes' spot in the starting lineup. Next, they will trade starting center Andrew Bogut (reportedly to the Mavericks), clearing his $11.7 million salary off the books. Last, Golden State will renounce the rights to restricted free agent Festus Ezeli, according to a report from Marc Spears of the Undefeated.
After signing Durant, Golden State would then have the $2.9 million room exception available (presumably earmarked for a center with Bogut and Ezeli both gone) and would have to fill out the remainder of the roster with players making the minimum salary. Barring some unexpectedly good players signing on to chase championship rings -- less likely this summer with so much money available in free agency -- the Warriors would be sacrificing much of their depth to sign Durant.
Projecting the 2016-17 Warriors
The moves necessary to fit Durant's max salary would produce a rotation that projects like this based on the multi-year, predictive version of ESPN's real plus-minus (RPM) as well as my college projections for rookies Damian Jones and Patrick McCaw.
Because the Warriors would still have to fill out the roster, I've included about 2,500 minutes of replacement-level play in their projection. Even with those replacement-level minutes, Golden State projects to have a net rating of plus-11.4 points per 100 possessions -- similar to last year's mark (plus-11.6).
Typically, a plus-11.6 net rating would translate to about 66 wins, seven fewer than the Warriors won last year thanks to their dominance in the clutch and tendency to struggle in the late stages of blowouts. It's certainly possible Golden State could be a better team in terms of advanced stats and win fewer games if those categories regress to the mean.
At the same time, it's worth noting that the RPM projections are designed to be conservative. Last year, the Warriors had the league's best projection at an even 60 wins. So Golden State does look better on paper with Durant than the team that won 73 games.
As the Warriors certainly know, what happens in the playoffs counts more than the regular season. And the ability to extend minutes for their stars while cutting those for the weak bench in the postseason should make Golden State even better than this projection might imply.
I'm not sure the Warriors are "light years ahead" of the competition, but adding Durant strengthens their position as heavy favorites to win a second title -- in no small part by neutering an Oklahoma City Thunder team that took them to seven games in the Western Conference finals.
Projecting Golden State in 2017-18 and beyond
How dominant the Warriors remain in future years will hinge in part on Durant's desire to maximize his earning potential. Because he'll have an additional year of experience and the cap is expected to rise again next summer, Durant could opt out -- if he signs a two-year deal with a player option -- and make a projected maximum of $35 million. However, Golden State would have to fit that figure under the cap.
Add the guaranteed contracts on the books and Curry's cap hold to Durant's $35 million and the Warriors would have about $13 million left to re-sign Iguodala and potentially Livingston. Golden State would again have to sacrifice depth to max out Durant. And the Warriors won't have their first-round pick in 2017, which they traded to the Utah Jazz three years ago in order to sign Iguodala.
Still, we're talking about potentially the greatest assemblage of prime talent in NBA history. We've seen plenty of big threes before, but never four All-Stars age 28 or younger. According to RPM, Golden State would have three of the league's top eight players in 2015-16 -- Curry, Green and Durant.
Moreover, if used correctly, the Warriors' stars should make life easy for the lesser role players around them. Coach Steve Kerr can keep at least either Curry or Durant on the court at all times, an almost unimaginable luxury that allows Golden State to focus on shooting and defense from the other spots on the court without having to worry much about the need to create shots.
Meanwhile, age works in the Warriors' favor the further out we project. At some point LeBron James' age is bound to show in the playoffs, while the San Antonio Spurs will have a tough time maintaining the same elite play as Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili near retirement.
The next great challenger to the Golden State might be some team too young to even be on the horizon yet, like the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Having added Durant, the Warriors figure to be the best team in the NBA for the foreseeable future. And that's a terrifying proposition for the rest of the league.