SAN FRANCISCO — Their arena looks completely different. So does the Golden State Warriors’ entire roster. And in some way, the Warriors’ cosmetic and identity shift could capture their 2019-20 season.
“The new building is almost a metaphor for how we can approach the season,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We’ve got a chance to reset some things. Anything we feel like could improve our team, it’s a great opportunity to start fresh on some things.”
Oh, the irony. The Warriors open their first season at Chase Center, hoping the revamped and modern $1.5 billion privately-financed arena will finally match the swagger of a star-laden roster that produced three NBA championships in five seasons. Instead, the Warriors lost so many pieces of that championship foundation, including their top scorer via free agency (Kevin Durant), their top reserve for cost-cutting reasons (Andre Iguodala) and a dependable locker room leader to retirement (Shaun Livingston). The Warriors instead field a roster riddled with potential and question marks that captures the underdog mentality that defined Oracle Arena before the Warriors’ recent dynastic run.
“I’ve just been thinking about how this building is going to create an opportunity for us to kind of walk into a new era,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “For all the new guys, we are going to be a different team and to embrace that. This building gives us an opportunity to create something new and create something special.”
The Warriors believe they constructed something special at Chase Center with luxury suites, modern seating and a sleek scoreboard in downtown San Francisco. Even if traffic and costs might keep the fans that made Oracle Arena one of the loudest NBA venues out, the Warriors believe their new building will have enough bells and whistles to have an inviting atmosphere.
That mostly depends on how the Warriors play. Unlike the past five years, the Warriors are no longer considered the inevitable favorites to win an NBA championship.
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Without Durant, the Warriors will have a handful of role players in Alfonzo McKinnie, Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks competing for minutes at the wing spot. With Klay Thompson sidelined for at least 55 games through the NBA All-Star break because of a surgically repaired left knee, the Warriors will lack one of their most dependable shooters and perimeter defenders for over half of the season. With center Willie Cauley-Stein ruled out of training camp because of a strained left foot, the Warriors only have Kevon Looney, Omari Spellman and Alen Smailagic as available centers.
Still, the Warriors scoff at any conclusion that this means they will suddenly compete for ping-pong balls in May instead of NBA trophies in June.
“I don’t really pay as much attention as I used to because I realize how many people don’t know what the hell they’re talking about when you start talking about basketball,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “Basketball is kind of a sport that everybody thinks they know. You hardly ever just see people like randomly thinking they know football because there’s too much going on. You don’t know what the hell is going on out there for real. Everybody thinks they know basketball. Most of the time you listen to somebody who doesn’t have a clue, how in the hell am I going to let that motivate me at this point? I really don’t. I’ve got my own motivation and things that’s going to push me.”
So what will motivate the Warriors? At times, they seem either confident, empowered, curious or worried how they will handle all the change.
They seem confident that, if nothing else, they still have some continuity. They have Curry’s efficient shooting and playmaking. They have Green’s playmaking and defensive versatility. They have the team-oriented culture that could give the Warriors extra currency against other NBA contenders that could initially struggle with blending their star talent together.
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry shoots during Media Day at Chase Center. (Photo: Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports)
“We want to be a team that’s feared across the league,” Curry said. “When you see us on the schedule, regular season and when we get to the playoffs, they know what they’re in for. It doesn’t mean that people are going to say we’re the greatest or pick us as favorites or whatnot, but you know who those teams are, and we’re going to be one of them.”
They seem empowered that the underdog mentality will spark them to compete harder. The setting reminded Kerr of when he joined the Warriors for the 2014-15 season, and few had the clairvoyance to project them as NBA champions. That marked the year the Warriors truly believed in “Strength in Numbers.” And this year, the Warriors will have endless lineup combinations to account for injuries, departures and unproven players.
“There should be plenty of intensity and plenty of motivation,” Kerr said. “We’ve got jobs on the line. We’ve got playing time at stake. We’ve got so much up in the air, and there’s great opportunity for a lot of players to grab it, and you can only do that by competing.”
The Warriors seemed curious about how well All-Star point guard D’Angelo Russell will play with Curry, compensate for Thompson’s absence and play on and off the ball. That explains why Kerr considers it a priority to get to know Russell, why Curry and Russell worked out this summer and why Kerr will tweak his offense to feature more pick-and-roll sets.
“I consider myself a basketball player,” Russell said. “So whatever position coaches put me in or whatever position that I have to be in to help the team thrive or whatever it may be, I’m more than eligible to do it.”
And, yes, the Warriors do feel worried about a number of things. Even if Green can defend at all five positions, that might be asking too much for him to make up for the team’s defensive shortcomings without Durant and Iguodala. Even if the Warriors like Looney’s steady progress as a role player and defender, that might be asking too much for him to definitively assume the starting spot. Even if the Warriors seem intrigued with their rookies (Jordan Poole, Eric Paschall, Smailagic) and second-year forward Jacob Evans, they might not be ready for too much playing time. Even if they feel confident about Thompson’s recovery, he might return without much time to help the Warriors make up ground.
“I don’t know how long it’ll take. It’ll take as long as it takes,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said. “As how does the dust settle or when does it settle? I think that’s a question that we have, too, internally. I don’t know the answer to that. I do know this: We believe that things take time to evolve, and we’re prepared especially with a younger roster to allow that to happen, and that’s the mindset that we have from a coaching staff, from a front office staff, is let’s see how things are going before we make any blanket decisions or judgment on any of it. But we’re excited.”
So just like they have experienced with a new arena, the Warriors insist they will embrace their new reality even if they do not feel entirely comfortable at home just yet.
Follow Mark Medina on Twitter: @MarkG_Medina