Barring a monumental, unprecedented and highly unlikely collapse, the Golden State Warriors will wrap up the NBA championship sometime this week, perhaps as soon as Monday night.
And their almost-assured run to this year's title makes me wonder two things:
First, will any other team be able to knock off this star-studded ballclub in the foreseeable future?
And second, will the Warriors' seemingly certain Western Conference dominance impact Gordon Hayward's decision to stay in Utah?
Sure, crazy, completely unexpected things happen in sports all the time. Injuries and free agency can dismantle and topple a team in a hurry, and valiant comebacks are one of the greatest things in all of sports.
In 2004, the Boston Red Sox miraculously rallied from a 3-0 deficit against the New York Yankees to win the American League Championship Series and went on to capture the franchise's first World Series since 1918.
And while no NBA team has ever rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to win it, the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from being down 3-1 to beat these same Warriors in last year's NBA Finals.
Only they really aren't "these same Warriors," because this season Golden State added superstar forward Kevin Durant to its already powerhouse lineup, and he has been a huge difference-maker in helping the Warriors win the first three games of this year's Finals.
After a Game 4 loss denied the Warriors a chance to complete a perfect 16-0 sweep through this year's playoffs, it's extremely doubtful Durant and Co. will allow themselves to lose three more times to LeBron James and the Cavs over the next week.
And though some fans might whisper, "So you're saying there's a chance," that line is probably much more well-suited for "Dumb and Dumber" than it is this year's NBA Finals.
Moving forward, the daunting task facing the Utah Jazz and every other team in the West is that Golden State looks like a dynamic NBA dynasty in the making, one that'll be mighty difficult to defeat for the next several years.
In a pre-Finals conference call, no less an expert than TV analyst Jeff Van Gundy, who was a longtime NBA coach, cautioned that this Golden State squad might be on the verge of being all that.
“Just the combination of offense and defense, the talent that they’ve been able to amass, it puts them in position where this is a dynasty to me," Van Gundy told media members in sizing up not only this year's Finals, but the NBA landscape for years to come. “They have their youth, they have their health. I see nothing preventing them from going to eight to 10 straight Finals. It will be a massive upset, I think, if they’re not there each and every year.”
That's certainly not what Jazz Nation wants to hear, but Van Gundy might very well be right.
After all, the Warriors' four best players are all still relatively young. Steph Curry is only 29 years old, Durant is just 28, and Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are both 27 so, assuming that Golden State does everything it can to keep this terrifically talented core group together — and why in the world wouldn't it? — the Warriors will be the team to beat for at least the next six or seven years, it seems.
All of which brings us to Hayward and the question of will he stay or will he go now?
The two most important things for most if not all professional athletes are 1) making lots of money, and 2) winning championships — probably in that order.
And while Hayward, Utah's All-Star forward and pending free agent to be, can make far more money in Utah than he can anywhere else, the stark reality is that he might never win an NBA championship here. And to be brutally honest, darn it, he probably won't.
For any athlete who truly cares about winning, like Hayward does, that's got to be a very painful pill to swallow. But with that realization also comes the eternal hope that, someday, indeed, it might just happen.
That daunting task won't keep the Jazz franchise from constantly working to build and improve its roster, striving to get better every year, in hopes of someday catching and surpassing teams like the Spurs, the Rockets, and yes, even the Warriors.
Sure, that's going to be easier said than done, but the Utah team's ownership has shown that it's committed to putting a winning product on the floor that the people of the Beehive State can be proud of. That's the Jazz front office's goal, too, and Hayward has become a huge part of that commitment.
But if this Golden State squad stays together, as expected, then overcoming that talent-laden lineup looks like such an uphill battle that it's downright discouraging.
And that, in the end, might entice the 27-year-old Hayward to move on to Boston, or Miami, or Cleveland, or his home state of Indiana — or any other Eastern Conference destination where the powerhouse Warriors won't stand in his way of reaching the NBA Finals every darned year.
Chances are that, for the next several years, any Eastern Conference title contender is still going to have to deal with Golden State once they reach the Finals.
But as we saw last year, injuries to Curry and Andrew Bogut, along with Green's stupidity and subsequent suspension and James' incredible will to win, combined to allow Cleveland to come back from that 3-1 deficit and take the title for the first time in franchise history.
People always like to say that, if you're gonna be the best, then you've gotta beat the best. Right now, and for the forseeable future, the Warriors definitely qualify as the best there is.
But if Hayward chooses to stay, teaming up with Rudy Gobert to lead this new-and-improved Jazz version into the future, then who knows what the next decade might bring?
Truth be told, barring injuries to key personnel, the Jazz might never be able to win a seven-game series from this Warriors team as presently constituted. And there's always going to be the Spurs, Rockets, Clippers, Grizzlies, Trail Blazers and Thunder to deal with as well. The Lakers will return to that mix someday, too.
So winning a championship has never looked more challenging — nor has it ever been a more glorious goal than it is today, either.
And wow, just how truly tremendous of an accomplishment would that be? Should he stay, Hayward could certainly play a huge, critical role in making that happen.
Hopefully, someday, against all odds and in spite of Golden State's stacked lineup, the Jazz franchise and their many loyal, diehard fans will finally get to find out just how sweet that actually feels.