OAKLAND – A new era of Warriors basketball dawns Tuesday, when the balls roll onto the floor for the first practice of a season carefully calculated to be the first in a succession of championships while entertaining at the highest level.
One year after becoming the NBA’s most captivating team, and 100 days after losing The Finals in excruciating fashion, the Warriors have built a team from the dreams of everyone on the payroll, from the brain trust to the players to the custodial crew.
So these new Warriors open training camp with incentive on top of their talent infusion. Man, do they. This season is about pouring ice on the lingering heartbreak of June – when the Cavaliers roared back from a 3-1 deficit to win it all – with a roster joyously unified in pursuit of a parade next summer.
“There were some holes and some weaknesses that we had,” veteran forward Andre Iguodala said. “And we got a monster that filled them all.”
The “monster” is, in this instance, Kevin Durant, a four-time scoring champ, former MVP and the deadliest frontcourt scorer in the league.
That Durant, upon becoming a free agent, chose to leave Oklahoma City to link up with three other All-Stars among the Warriors is nothing less than epic. His arrival instantly made the new Warriors a Dream Team.
“A part of me is still stunned that we were able to get him,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr recently told CSNBayArea.com.
“This year, we're as confident as we were last year,” MVP Stephen Curry said. “But it will be a different journey. And our expectations are really, really high, which they should be.”
Suddenly, the Warriors, easy NBA prey not so long ago, have added a monster of a player and constructed the most imposing stars since the Los Angeles Lakers of the early 1970s featured four players – Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Gail Goodrich and Jerry West – destined for the Hall of Fame.
Such newness, however, particularly for a team that is coming off back-to-back successful seasons with virtually the same roster, means growing pains. The pain should be neither acute nor extended, but it’s going to be visible at the start.
Which is why it’s unrealistic to expect these Warriors to challenge the NBA-record 73 wins of last season.
“I'm looking forward to the challenge of growing with the guys that are new here and continuing to grow with the guys that are still here,” forward Draymond Green said. “And it's going to take some time. Everybody is going to grow. And are you going to win 74 games? To be quite frank with you, I don't want to win 74 games or 75 games. It's brutal.”
The new veterans, aside from the Durant, are center Zaza Pachulia and forward David West. The new youngsters: forward Kevon Looney (who made cameo appearances), rookie center Damian Jones and rookie guard Patrick McCaw.
"I know guys have been in the gym working out for months and months getting ready,” said Curry, who proclaimed himself healthy after an offseason of healing and strength building. “So there's a little bit of anxiousness, excitement. A little bit of unknown, because obviously for us it's a total different roster and a different experience coming off of this year July, versus last year July. So we're kind of just taking a shot. Everything starts to flow after this year.”
That’s the projection, that Curry will sign a max deal next summer and Durant will settle in and this Warriors nucleus will live at or near the top of the league for the next four or five seasons.
“I came to win,” said David West, the 36-year-old forward who heard Durant’s pitch before signing a one-year minimum-salary deal.
Durant says he simply wants to play, “to get on the court and get acquainted with my teammates and the coaching staff. I'm looking forward to that more than anything.”
It all begins Tuesday, with the preseason opener against Toronto coming Saturday in Vancouver, B.C.
Time to move on to the next, to the future, while also feeling the shove that comes with the dejection of the recent.
“You've got to turn the page, obviously, but not forget the feelings," Curry said.
“You can't really hold onto the past that much,” Klay Thompson said. “You've just got to look forward. And we've got such an amazing opportunity in front of us.”