The NBA offseason has brought many changes to rosters, coaching staffs, and the list of championship contenders. As we draw closer to opening night, it's time to move our focus from the potential impact of each offseason event and onto the broader issues that figure to define this season. The BDL 25 takes stock of, uh, 25 key storylines to get you up to speed on where the most fascinating teams, players, and people stand on the brink of 2015-16.
There are few precedents for the 2014-15 Golden State Warriors, a group that jumped from perennial playoff participant to wire-to-wire best team in the league. With roughly the same roster in place as in the previous season, new head coach Steve Kerr led the Warriors to a franchise-record 67 wins, the team's first title in four decades, and point differentials and efficiency numbers that rank among the greatest in NBA history. Such a progression defies the league's typical path to a championship, in which an improving squad sees incremental improvement before reaching the ultimate prize. By contrast, the Warriors duo of 2-1 deficits in the postseason don't even qualify as crises. They were merely brief delays before they solved the Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Cavaliers, just as they had figured out the proper configurations and tactics to beat everyone else.
[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]
The Warriors enter 2015-16 as favorites to repeat if only for the totality of their success last season, but their relatively frictionless path to glory makes projecting their finish tougher than it might be for a more conventional defending champion. Teams that make an arduous climb to the top are expected to stay there for at least a season or two, but a group like Golden State has not proven an ability to contend outside of 2014-15. The question is if that proves to be a fluke or their new normal.
If it's the former, then it will most likely be because of injuries. The Warriors stayed remarkably healthy last season as only one of their top eight players, starting center Andrew Bogut, missed more than six games. (He played a still quite high 67.) A team that thrived on its depth and versatility did not have to play shorthanded very often, to the point where they rarely had to approach a big game with anything less than an optimal lineup. Compare that health to the San Antonio Spurs (64 games played for Kawhi Leonard), Los Angeles Clippers (67 for Blake Griffin), and Houston Rockets (41 for Dwight Howard and 56 for Patrick Beverley), three rivals who had to deal with key losses to one of their top two players and suffered consequences to their seeding or postseason form because of it. It's unfair to say that the Warriors would have failed to win the title if Stephen Curry had missed 10 games in January, but the overwhelming consistency of their dominance would have been tough to match. A serious injury to Curry, Klay Thompson, or Draymond Green would seem to change the course of this upcoming season dramatically, and there's no guarantee that Golden State will be able to adjust.
Yet concern about the Warriors' ability to repeat may not be quite so well-defined as to point to one potential area of trouble. Rather, the issue is that even the best teams don't have seasons go so well as last year did for the Warriors. No team gets a new coach and immediately becomes that much better, sees an undersized former second-round pick with promising defensive skills turn into the avatar of a league-wide positional revolution, dominates so thoroughly that the NBA MVP doesn't even have to play in 20-plus fourth quarters, etc. They even made up for the lack of a mascot with the cutest kid in sports. This kind of success is virtually unheard of in a league where teams are tested several times per week and must adjust on the fly. There are too many moving parts for the machine not to require some maintenance over an eight-month span.
These worries do not arise from any flaw in the Warriors' construction. There is no substantial evidence for undue pessimism over Draymond Green getting too arrogant for his own good, Kerr proving to be a one-year wonder, or the team somehow not being hungry enough to strive to win. Instead, the feeling is that, at some point, the vagaries of chance will affect this otherwise excellent basketball team in negative ways. They'll fall victim to some sort of misfortune if only because that's what happens to every team in every sport.
The story of this Warriors season, then, figures to be a matter of when calamity strikes and how they manage to respond to it. They have proven that they are among the best teams in the NBA. Now they will show if they can build on a legendary and begin to craft a dynasty.
- - - - - - -