Warriors’ repeat bid faces early test with Kerr’s absence
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) The Golden State Warriors couldn’t have scripted last season much better.
With a fast start that left the rest of the NBA chasing them all season, no significant injuries and a run through the postseason that didn’t feature a single Game 7, the Warriors faced little adversity on the way to the franchise’s first championship in 40 years.
With coach Steve Kerr on the sideline indefinitely with complications from back surgery, the Warriors are figuring out how to prepare for the new season as defending champions with interim coach Luke Walton in charge.
That’s just one of the new challenges this season.
”We’re going to get everybody’s best shot every single night and we know that,” MVP Stephen Curry said. ”We’ve obviously set up and established a system of how we’re going to play and with the personnel we have is pretty much the same as last year. There is not going to be much change there. But we can’t just say we’re going to be the same team and show up and win 67 games and win a championship. It’s not going to be easy.”
Last season looked that way when the Warriors won 21 of the first 23 games and finished with a 67-15 record, tied for the most wins since Chicago had 69 in 1996-97.
Golden State then lost just five games in the postseason. After falling behind 2-1 in the second round to Memphis and the finals to Cleveland, the Warriors ran off three straight wins in each series.
Yet the Warriors still have doubters who have called them lucky or speculated that teams like San Antonio have passed them by in the Western Conference.
”All of a sudden we’re not a top dog anymore, which is fine,” center Andrew Bogut said. ”I think it’s better and more motivation for us.”
Here are some things to watch this season for the Warriors:
KERR’S BACK: Kerr had a magic touch as a rookie coach starting with his move to start Harrison Barnes in place of Andre Iguodala. He kept Draymond Green in the starting lineup after former All-Star David Lee recovered from a preseason injury and then made two key moves in the postseason. First, he put Bogut on Tony Allen in a move that switched momentum in the second round against Memphis and then his decision to go small in the finals by starting Iguodala in place of Bogut was a key part of the finals win. Golden State doesn’t know when Kerr will be healthy enough to coach again and Walton has never been tested.
HEALTHY LIVING: The only significant injury the Warriors dealt with last season was to Lee and that even proved to be a benefit because it got Green in the lineup. Staying healthy again could be more difficult because of the abbreviated summer following the long playoff run. But the Warriors have depth and Kerr did a good job managing minutes with no one playing more than 33 minutes a night.
BIG OR SMALL: Golden State had much of its success last year with a small-ball lineup that had Green at center in place of Bogut. That leaves a combination of Iguodala, Barnes and Shaun Livingston on the wing to go with the shooting backcourt of Klay Thompson and Curry. That lineup changed the tide in the finals and could be a factor again this season
”I’m not offended by it,” Bogut said. ”If I can get three more championships by not playing the last two games of the finals series, I’ll shake your hand right now and take it.”
NASH’S INFLUENCE: The Warriors lost associate coach Alvin Gentry to New Orleans but added another sharp offensive mind when former two-time MVP Steve Nash was brought on as a consultant. Nash will work closely with Curry and Thompson.
”With my shooting ability, I draw so much attention,” Thompson said. ”Hopefully this year I can expand my role as far as play making and get other guys involved and get other guys open shots. So I see Steve helping me a lot in that aspect.”
CONTRACT TALK: The Warriors face a Nov. 2 deadline to give contract extensions to Barnes and backup big man Festus Ezeli or they can become restricted free agents next summer. While Golden State would retain the right to match any offer, the price could go up in the summer if Barnes and Ezeli have big seasons. Both players and the team have expressed interest in getting something done but it likely wouldn’t happen until close to the deadline.