OAKLAND, Calif. – Stephen Curry is confident that, if necessary, he could’ve made his way into the mosh pit without being recognized this week at Kanye West’s concert at Oracle Arena. Tilt the black baseball cap a little lower, maybe throw on some shades, and even Curry is blending with the masses, emphatically bouncing and reciting lyrics to some of the loudmouth rapper’s greatest hits.
But inconspicuousness was impossible when Curry rolled to the floor with Kevin Durant, a near 7-footer who can hardly go anywhere – especially in his new home – without being noticed. West quickly spotted Durant in the crowd, gave him a shoutout, and pandemonium ensued. Fans clustered, eager to touch the All-Stars and record selfies with the last two players to claim NBA MVP awards. The mob made moot the security team tasked with shielding the stars, but Durant was hardly in fear.
“I’m covered by a high power,” Durant said with a smile on the eve of his debut with the Golden State Warriors.
As the runners-up in the last NBA Finals and champions once-removed, the Warriors weren’t going to escape this season without any scrutiny. But as Curry learned at the concert – and the remaining core of the past two Western Conference champions has experienced over the past three months – Durant’s arrival has elevated the hysteria surrounding the Warriors.
While the Larry O’Brien Trophy resides with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Warriors remain the team upon which everyone from famous rappers to cellphone-recording fans will be fixated. The storylines are too rich and intriguing – with curiosity abounding about how well all the pieces will fit, if one ball will satisfy so many stars, if a Draymond Green eruption or anything else could serve as an impediment to the franchise claiming its second title in three years. And, if they could challenge our imaginations even more, a season after setting the NBA record for regular-season wins.
The wait has come to an end, as the Warriors open a highly anticipated season Tuesday against the San Antonio Spurs. Although the Warriors have won an unprecedented 140 games the past two seasons and will be a prohibitive favorite to capture the title, general manager Bob Myers believes the organization has plenty more to prove after coming up short in an otherwise fairy-tale season.
“Although we get a lot of notoriety, we are not a dynasty,” Myers told The Vertical. “We did not win five championships. We won one. I think that sometimes people assume that we have this air of success; we really don’t. We’ve had two good years and one championship. So we’re reminding ourselves, we haven’t figured anything out.”
The Warriors are still learning, but they have moved beyond what coach Steve Kerr likes to refer to as the “innocent” times of their early rise, when they were the fun, feel-good team that usurped the NBA hierarchy with an unexpected championship run in 2015.
That the success morphed into dominance – combined with a perceived pompous attitude personified by owner Joe Lacob’s comments that the franchise was “light years ahead” of the rest of the league – made them resented. Green’s postseason connections with opponents’ lower midsections made them reviled. And that stunning Finals collapse made them the subject of ridicule. Then, last summer, Durant decided to leave the Warriors’ primary threat to conference supremacy, which cast them all as villains. Whatever the label, they will be respected.
“They’re a great team,” Portland All-Star point guard Damian Lillard told The Vertical. “They’re going to come out and they’re going to try to bust your head open.”
Kerr has laughed off any suggestions that his players have suddenly become bad guys in the same way Myers is dismissive of any rush to anoint Golden State after it responded to failure with the ultimate consolation prize.
“Part of being successful is feeling like you never made it,” Myers told The Vertical. “Look at the [New England] Patriots. Look at the Spurs. I don’t think they walk around like their work is done. There is always work to do. There’s always things to learn. There’s always new challenges. … Some organizations can make that statement. They have had great success. The Spurs are an example of that. We are not in their category. Maybe one day we will be, but we’re not now. And so, realizing that, being honest about that, and knowing we have a lot of work to do and hopefully, we can continue to compete. That’s the challenge – being able to continue to compete for championships.”
That unfulfilled hunger is what led the organization to pursue Durant in free agency, a move that forced the rest of the league to adjust before it had truly caught up. The Warriors have never had the chance to become complacent. They attacked their title defense with a championship-rings-on-our-middle-finger approach after opponents ventured to call them “lucky,” among other slights. And, despite the run at 73 wins, Green was steadily letting Durant know through a barrage of text messages how much they could use a four-time scoring champion on the roster.
“The moment you get satisfied in this league is the moment you can hang it up,” Green told The Vertical. “Guys are too talented in this league to be satisfied. It’s guys, teams that get better each and every time we step on the floor. Year in, year out, guys are getting better. Teams are improving, so when you’re satisfied, you take a step back. You take a step back, you can forget about it. You have to continue to want to get better as a team and push for more.”
On a team that added another laid-back individual in Durant to a collection of chill bros, Green remains the fiery, emotional leader whose passion could potentially push the Warriors toward greatness or sideways – as it did last season, when his Game 5 suspension after a swipe at James’ nether region contributed to the Finals loss. Green shrugged off the notion that he would have to change in order for this latest experiment to work.
“I’m going to always be me,” Green told The Vertical. “I’m always fine with what my role is on this team. And everybody may not like that role, but at the end of the day, I think, that helps win. I’m all about winning. That’s what I’ve always been about my entire life. And that’s what I continue to be about. You don’t really expect everybody to understand that. I know everybody won’t understand, but that’s not really my job to help them understand that.”
Curry recently came to the defense of his oft-criticized teammate by saying the Warriors had adopted a “you take shots at Draymond, you take shots at the whole team kind of mentality.” The reigning two-time MVP added that “there’s nothing that’s going to derail us.” To help lure Durant, Curry made it clear that he cared more about championships than any individual awards and was eager to share the spotlight.
“You want to be in a position where grand team accomplishments [overshadow] any of that stuff,” Curry said.
Kerr joked that Durant is “light years beyond” where he was at the start of training camp – “Am I allowed to say light years?” – and is quickly adjusting to the “organized chaos” of Golden State’s freewheeling, motion offense. Durant is enjoying the transition to the Warriors but has been thunderstruck by not only the negative reaction to his move but also how any positive comment about his new environment is immediately interpreted as a dig at Oklahoma City.
“That’s one thing I actually didn’t understand, coming in here, everything was going to be taken and used as the headline,” Durant said. “So, it’s definitely a learning experience for me. Not used to all this coverage around the team and everything we do being broadcasted. But that’s just part of the job. That’s why we get paid the way we do and why we are who we are as players. … All that should matter is how we play on the court, but we know the nature of the beast.”
Myers won’t bother speculating on what Golden State will accomplish after adding some duper to the super team concept. Every step of this journey will be closely monitored. Every misstep will fuel the next round of social-media hecklers. And every success will attract audiences prepared to hate or celebrate. But what the Warriors really want remains to be seen.
“They don’t give you a ring for signing players,” Myers told The Vertical with a laugh. “In sports, I gave up trying to predict anything. People thought we were going to win the championship last year – and thought it was going to be pretty easy. It didn’t happen. I think it surprised a lot of people. I don’t think anybody felt we were going to break the record for the regular season. I didn’t. I don’t think people thought we’d go 24-0. So nothing that happened last year, I didn’t think any of that was going to happen. I’ve learned, being a part of this profession, it’s accepting outcomes, good or bad. So organizationally, each day, we try to get a little bit better. That’s all you can control and hopefully that leads to success. … Last year, we could see the summit, but we didn’t reach the top. Now we’ve got to try and climb that mountain again.”
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