Defending champ Warriors sail into season with talent, laughs
There is one question that matters when it comes to the Golden State Warriors and it isn’t: “Will they win another championship?”
The answer to likely is “yes,” at least if common consensus, recent precedent and the Vegas line is to be believed. It’s not complicated. Just look at the roster.
One thing that might be open to deeper scrutiny however, is how we are supposed to view these Warriors, as the organization heads into its bid for a fourth title in five seasons.
Are they cocky or are they fun? Or are they both?
We know they’re having fun, that much is clear from a preseason campaign that produced just one win and precisely zero concern about that fact.
For the Warriors, who opened the NBA season this week against the Oklahoma City Thunder, there simply has been no reason to worry.
No chemistry issues to fret over. No rework of the system. No overhaul. Just business as usual.
The warm-up games heading into the campaign then have become little more than gentle shakeouts and the chance for a bit of levity.
Head coach Steve Kerr got himself tossed for arguing with the referees against the Phoenix Suns and seemed to enjoy the experience immensely, as did his players.
Kevin Durant was relaxed enough to walk off the court following an offensive foul against the L.A. Lakers because he had to “go pee,” ultimately fouling out after 24 minutes of action with a beaming smile on his face.
The Warriors are chilled. That’s what happens when you were the best already and just got better. Golden State was stocked and stacked, then had DeMarcus Cousins rock up to join the party and take a pay cut for the privilege.
Steph Curry and his pals give off the aura of a team that has nothing to fear, and, in all honesty, they might be right. Is that cocky, or is it just the byproduct of having been utterly dominant for long enough that the word
dynasty is not out of place? Chances are, your mind already is made up. Sometimes teams filled with controversial bad boys are the most divisive, but the Warriors split opinion just by being themselves.
They are not hard to like and there are many who enjoy the shtick, the smiles, the humblebrag lightheartedness and the showy antics, reasoning that a sprinkling of stardust lighting up the league is no bad thing.
For some, their crime is simple. They win too much. Familiarity can breed contempt, or annoyance at least. When your team is fighting its heart out to avoid a losing record it probably isn’t much fun to glance across at a group cruising through the season and grinning all the while.
Purely in the name of variety, there is no shortage of neutrals who would be more than happy to see new faces in the NBA Finals and a fresh name on the trophy.
Just don’t count on it. Under Kerr, the Warriors are as strong as ever and, despite preseason looking like a casual stroll, might be acting now under some kind of presumed deadline. Durant might well be in his last season as a Warrior, while Klay Thompson also will be out of contract at the end of the season and Draymond Green’s deal expires a year after that.
Kerr still is there of course, and he is feeling rejuvenated enough following years of back trouble that he accepted a role assisting Gregg Popovich on Team USA duty the next two summers.
The Warriors are aware of it too. Thompson went so far as to speculate how five Warriors could potentially start for the national team, which tells you all you need to know about his level of belief in himself and his teammates.
So where are the cracks? Overconfidence might be the most realistic weak spot, and there were signs of it last season, when games against lowly opposition often saw a sleepy response, an early deficit, before just enough effort to ensure a “W.”
It made the Warriors look more vulnerable than normal heading into the postseason, but different rules apply when you are packed with such ability.
If anything, Golden State had kept something in reserve, enough juice to come back from a 3-2 deficit against the Houston Rockets after finding themselves in a hole in the Western Conference finals. They smiled then, too.
“Joy isn’t being silly,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said, in explaining how he has tried to replicate Kerr’s fun-filled methods. “Joy is having fun while you’re doing the work so it doesn’t feel like work.”
The Warriors are doing work even when it doesn’t look like it, smiling while presenting an infuriating barrier to the dreams of many.
It is a different kind of intimidation, but it is intimidation nevertheless.
1. Golden State Warriors: Surprised? The back-to-back champs were already historically good, and they added arguably the best big man in the league for next to nothing. When DeMarcus Cousins returns from his Achilles injury, this might be the most talented starting five in NBA history.
2. Boston Celtics: Finally, it’s Boston’s time. Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving are healthy. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have another summer under their belts. LeBron James is out of the East. The Celtics should make it out of the conference for the first time since 2010.
3. Houston Rockets: The Rockets, who were oh-so-close to taking down the Warriors in last year’s Western finals, got worse. Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute were two of Houston’s best defenders, and their departures create a void Carmelo Anthony can’t fill.
4. Toronto Raptors: So long, DeMar DeRozan. Welcome, Kawhi Leonard. Leonard arrives with baggage, most notably being limited to nine games last season by a quad injury. If he can become a top-5 talent again, the Raptors will be a force.
5. Utah Jazz: Coming off a season in which they exceeded all expectations, the Jazz are poised to take another step forward. If reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert can stay healthy and Donovan Mitchell continues to develop into a full-blown star, a top-4 finish in the West is likely.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder: A second consecutive firstround exit and Paul George’s pending free agency left things looking bleak in OKC. But George pledged his loyalty in the form of a four-year contract and an unhappy Carmelo Anthony was sent packing. The Thunder look like contenders again.
7. Philadelphia 76ers: Years of rebuilding paid off last season for the Sixers, who advanced to the East semifinals behind the two-headed monster of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If Markelle Fultz regains the jumper and confidence that made him the 2017 No. 1 overall pick, watch out.
8. Indiana Pacers: This is essentially the same team that nearly knocked James out in the first round but might be better. Big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis are poised for breakout seasons, and reigning Most Improved Player Victor Oladipo is trending up. 9. Denver Nuggets: They missed the playoffs with a loss in the last game, but don’t expect that again. Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, Will Barton and highupside additions Isaiah Thomas and Michael Porter Jr. make them one of the best teams in the West. 10. San Antonio Spurs: They don’t exactly fit the bill of what the league covets nowadays, what with DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge being midrange marvels. Still, we’re not about to count out the Spurs.
11. Milwaukee Bucks: Is this the year it all comes together for the Bucks, who have underperformed the past few seasons despite the meteoric rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo? Bringing in former Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer was huge, and the hope is that he’ll get this group to tap into the potential that Jason Kidd couldn’t. The Bucks could finish as a top-4 team in the East. 12. Los Angeles Lakers: The best basketball player on the planet is in town, and everything is trending in the right direction. The addition of LeBron James, Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley, combined with the expected ascension of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, makes this team as intriguing as any. 13. New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis says he’s “the best player in the game,” and we don’t blame him. He’s not, of course, but he’s inching closer. Could Davis, Jrue Holiday and Julius Randle become one of the best big-3s in the league? 14. Portland Trail Blazers: The Blazers will be good, better than their first-round sweep at the hands of New Orleans indicated, but that’s it. They’ll miss Ed Davis, who left for Brooklyn in free agency. 15. Minnesota Timberwolves: With the Jimmy Butler drama yet to end in a trade, it’s tough to truly gauge this team. Regardless of where the 4-time All-Star is on opening night, this is an unfortunate situation for a squad that just ended its 13-season playoff drought. 16. Washington Wizards: Washington needs to get it together, and fast, in year No. 7 for the duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal. With Otto Porter hoping to take a step forward and Dwight Howard, Austin Rivers and Jeff Green in the fold, Washington has enough talent.
17. Miami Heat: The Heat have no stars. Their ceiling, barring some sort of significant change? A trip to the postseason and a first-round exit, just like last year. 18. Los Angeles Clippers: While the Clippers might be on the outside looking in for the second consecutive year, their sights are set on next summer. They might become a Western Conference power again sooner rather than later.
19. Detroit Pistons: Aside from Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond beginning their first full season together and the addition of reigning Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, there’s not a lot to be excited about. 20. Charlotte Hornets: The Hornets are stuck in no man’s land, and with limited young players to build around, they could stay there for a while. 21. Cleveland Cavaliers: Sure, Tristan Thompson, the Cavs are technically the reigning “four-time Eastern Conference champions.” But without James, they’re nothing more
22. Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies won’t be good, but they won’t be the train wreck they were last season. Rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. has the highest ceiling of this year’s draft class, and Kyle Anderson was an underthe-radar difference-maker in San Antonio. 23. Chicago Bulls: The Bulls have to take a collective step forward this season, and that begins with Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. If they can stay healthy, the Bulls might have a good thing brewing. 24. Dallas Mavericks: A lineup featuring No. 3 overall pick Luka Doncic, Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes and DeAndre Jordan should be enough to get the Mavs well past last season’s win total of 24. 25. Brooklyn Nets: This is the year for D’Angelo Russell to become a star. The 2015 draft’s No. 2 overall pick is only 22, and he showed a lot of promise during his injury-plagued first season in Brooklyn. At long last, things are looking up for the Nets. 26. New York Knicks: Can new coach David Fizdale end the decades of disgust for Knicks fans? No. Not this season, at least. But he can steer the team in the right direction.
27. Orlando Magic: The Magic have a handful of young players to build around, mainly former lottery picks Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba. But they’re still deep in the rebuilding phase. Another year of losing is on the way.
28. Phoenix Suns: Sure, they’re lottery-bound once again, don’t have a starting point guard and saw franchise cornerstone Devin Booker have surgery on his shooting hand. But this team has a nice mixture of young talent and veterans.
29. Sacramento Kings: It’s 12 seasons and counting since the Kings last made the postseason (longest active streak in
the league), and you can bet it’ll be 13 by the time April rolls around.
30. Atlanta Hawks: There’s a good chance the Hawks finish the season with the worst record in the East once again, and that’s OK. This season is all about internal development. It starts with No. 5 overall pick Trae Young, but don’t sleep on young forwards John Collins and Taurean Prince.
Voters: Jeff Zillgitt, AJ NeuharthKeusch, Heather Tucker, Matt Eppers
Like the rest of the Warriors in the preseason, Kevin Durant, left, and DeMarcus Cousins were all smiles despite going 1-4 in games.
Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, above, says he’s “the best player in the game,” and we don’t blame him. He’s not, of course, but he’s inching closer. With Jrue Holiday and Julius Randle, Davis could be part of one of the best big-3s in the league.
If reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert can stay healthy, the Jazz could be bound for a top-4 finish in the West.