Here in the age of ubiquitous social media and rampant hyper-scrutiny, following a summer during which they tilted the balance of power in the NBA, the Warriors embark on a season in which they may be the most inspected and analyzed team in American sports history.
Their ability to handle this overload of attention will determine whether the next eight months are good, great or magical – or a colossal disappointment.
Regardless of talent level – the Warriors four All-Stars – it is incredibly difficult to consistently crush opponents while also navigating potential distractions, managing the inevitable discord and deflecting the harsh radiance of what surely will be ceaseless public glare.
“The only thing that matters is what happens in the gym every day,” coach Steve Kerr says. “And that’s our job as a coaching staff, to address dynamics as they arise, whether it’s on the floor or off. And I’m sure there are going to be lots of off-the-floor dynamics that we’ll have to get through this year.”
The sideshows are well under way. There is Kevin Durant’s much-debated decision to leave Oklahoma City and sign with the Warriors. There is the back-and-forth over how this will affect Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. There is the curiosity about Draymond Green, partly regarding his role but mostly regarding whether he can keep his white-hot emotions from overriding his considerable intellect, a subject well-chronicled as the preseason came to a close.
“You could nitpick all you want,” Curry says. “You could chime in here and there. But at the end of the day, we’re all competitive. We’re all our own person. We’re all in this thing together. It’s a ‘You take shots at Draymond, you take shots at the whole team kind’ of mentality.”
There it is, Curry indicating the Warriors are ready and willing to circle up, close ranks, link arms and spend 82 games unleashing their abundance of firepower upon the rest of the NBA.
The Warriors are a team always seeking a reason to turn up their ferocity, scanning the globe for slights and insults and anything else that will lead them to believe that you don’t believe. They will have plenty of ammunition.
They’re coming off a devastating loss in the NBA Finals, where they became the first team to take a 3-1 series lead and not finish the season with a championship. They engineered the biggest acquisition of the summer, signing megastar forward Durant. They’re reading that their incumbent Green is on a path that could destroy everything they’ve built.
And, for the heck of it, they’re being told they no longer have a rim protector.
Here’s what the Warriors hear: Their 2015 title was a fluke, they’re trying to game the system to create a super team, their good chemistry is a hoax, they’ll be giving out free tickets to easy buckets. And, more important, that some folks may be out to get them by prodding them to say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing or otherwise wreck what they believe is a championship roster supported by an enthusiastically ambitious culture that begins with CEO Joe Lacob
It was Lacob’s comment last season about the Warriors being “light years ahead” of NBA competitors that after the Finals loss became a whispered phrase of derision, a soft jab at the CEO’s propensity for glorifying his product. But that line has company. There is the Draymond Factor, the KD Decision and the fact that Andre Iguodala and Curry are in the final year of their contracts.
And there is, above all, the suspicion that the magnification of the Warriors will lead to an insane thirst for information/comment that could nudge any guileless or agenda-pushing member of the organization into deep and treacherous water.
Kerr has on multiple occasions referred to preponderance of attention devoted to the team, adding that the players “have their guards up” when dealing with media. Whether players dilute their comments will depend on that player. All are on alert.
“But at the end of the day, it’s just enjoying yourself and just trying to enjoy the game of basketball, because it can be fun," Kerr said.
If these Warriors have fun while being unified and productive, they can indeed be magical, capable of exceeding 70 wins. They can top 60 even while surviving a few bumps. They can probably win 50 even while slowly unraveling.
There was, after all, only one basketball issue during the preseason that give reason for pause. New starting center Zaza Pachulia is going to have difficult handling big men highly skilled in scoring, such as Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins. That, however, is a small problem given the paucity of such centers in today’s NBA.
Other than that, these Warriors are built to punish defenses, assaulting teams with a barrage of 3-point shots. As long as they can keep their minds on the principles of basketball, as designed by Kerr and his staff, they’ll be playing deep into June.
“We just keep moving forward,” Curry says. “There’s nothing that’s going to derail us. That’s basically the gist of it. So our goal is to not let anything come into that locker room that’s not from us, and we do a pretty good job of that.”
That has been the recent history of this group. But history has never put an NBA team through what the Warriors are about to face.