It wasn’t a long offseason for Warriors fans, but it was interesting. A steady diet of photos of the NBA Finals trophy from various parts of the world was interspersed with disparaging comments about the team, and then it was announced that Steve Kerr was going to be only peripherally involved for an indeterminate amount of time.
So, it was with some consternation that Warrior Nation (okay, that doesn’t exist; nobody outside the Bay Area really cares about the Warriors… yet) tuned in for the season lid-lifter Tuesday night against New Orleans. Adding to the anxiety level was the memory of how the team reacted after Curry received the MVP award during the Memphis series. Curry played that game like he was trying to be the MVP of The World, and it didn’t work out very well.
Another interesting twist to the evening was the fact that Alvin Gentry, Kerr’s lead assistant last season and the man generally credited with opening up the Warriors’ offense, was in the building, but on the wrong bench. Watching New Orleans in the first-round playoff series against Golden State last spring, it seemed all the Pelicans needed was a really top-notch offensive coach to get more out of Anthony Davis. Gentry is all that and a bag of chips.
With all this in mind, it was a relief to see that, once the game started, it all seemed very familiar. The Warriors’ offense was electric in the first quarter, and Curry was “Steph-ortlessly” showing that the MVP trophy is with its rightful owner.
It took a little while for Golden State’s defense to get on track, but once that happened, the outcome was never in doubt, just like so many of the games last season. New Orleans scored 35 in the first quarter and only 60 the rest of the way.
Curry didn’t sit out the fourth quarter, as he did 17 times last season, but he played only six minutes and took only two shots. The comfortable win was very reminiscent of so many of the 67 victories this team notched a year ago.
The Warriors have an interesting challenge on their hands this season. For any returning champion, the biggest problem is usually dealing with the hangover that comes from a shortened offseason, spent celebrating a hard-earned victory. They don’t usually spend those few months reading and hearing about how lucky they were to win the title, especially when they won 67 regular season games in the Association’s toughest conference and led the league in both offense and defense.
It would be easy to say that the criticism will be helpful to the Warriors in keeping their intensity for a second run at the ring, but that kind of inspiration has diminishing returns. It can become a distraction whenever you pay too much attention to what others are saying about you, and in this game, if you take your eye off the prize for a nanosecond, you can find yourself out of the playoffs.
This balance will be especially important for Steph Curry. He had an incredible run last season, was named the MVP, and while Andre Iguodala took home the NBA Finals hardware, everyone in that locker room knows who the most important person is on that team. His reward? When the NBA general managers were polled as to whom they would take if they were starting a franchise today, Curry did not get one vote.
29 GMs filled out the survey, and 25 said they would take Anthony Davis. Two said they would prefer Kevin Durant, whose recovery from injury this year is a complete mystery, and two named LeBron James as the one they would choose, which is bordering on idiotic — not because of what LeBron is today, but because his prime period is winding down. He turns 31 in December, and his body has logged a lot of miles.
These are the NBA’s GMs — let that sink in. They’re not media, not fans, not even players or coaches. These are the men (maybe we need some women in that group, eh?) who are entrusted with building the rosters to compete for the NBA championship, and having seen Curry do exactly what they all want to do, they still say, UNANIMOUSLY, “Naahh, he’s not the guy.”
Luckily for the Warriors and their fans, Curry is as levelheaded as any superstar I’ve ever come across (another reason, by the way, that he would be unquestionably my pick to start a franchise). Therefore, the chances are good that he will keep use these slights the right way and not go outside his considerable talents to try to prove people wrong.
Dealing with all of this, on both a team and individual basis, is where I think the Warriors are really going to miss Steve Kerr’s constant presence. Luke Walton is a smart guy with an incredible basketball life under his belt, but he’s not Steve Kerr, and you can’t tell me these players will react to his guidance exactly as they did Kerr’s last season. They’ll want to, and mean to, but that’s not the same as doing it.
All in all, I’m glad they’re back, and for the record, I think the three GMs out of 29 who picked Golden State to repeat are correct.