by ANDREW WILLIAMS
I was tempted to write this article earlier in the NBA offseason to add to the litany of hot takes but I decided to wait until I saw what the rest of the league was doing as well as watching most of the preseason games. This season’s Golden State Warriors will be something to watch, they will probably be the most entertaining regular season team in recent memory but as presently constructed they won’t be NBA champions. As writers we are always influenced by our emotions to a degree and it must be stated that I have no vested in rooting for a specific team to win the NBA championship this year.
This is a clinical examination of all the obstacles they will in face in winning this year, The same obstacles that all “super teams” face in the modern era.
Super teams are not a new phenomenon in sports. In fact the concept of super teams losing championships are pretty consistent across major sports: In the NBA alone we’ve had the 2016 Warriors, 2014 and 2010 Heat, 2009 Celtics, 2004 Lakers (The super team Lakers of Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Kobe and Steve Nash did not even make the finals). MLB has seen the 2001 and 2004 NY Yankees lose World Series to “inferior teams’ and who can forget the 2007 New England Patriots. Even the 2004 USA dream team could only muster third place in the Olympics with Tim Duncan, Lebron, Dwyane Wade, Iverson, Carmelo and friends.
The NBA season is a terrible grind for players. This is especially true for teams that are expected to win make the finals and this means they will have to play in a maximum of 110 but realistically should be closer to the high 90’s. Teams are taking advantage of the abundance medical treatments and technology to monitor players and ensure that they are rested for the playoffs. Recent NBA champions such the Heat, Cavaliers, Spurs and of course the Warriors ascribe to this ethos and must be commended for taking the long term view on player’s health. Unfortunately for the 2016 Golden State Warriors, they cannot reasonably be expected to rest as much as the previous two years due to so much roster turnover and there laughable lack of proper depth
This team is laughably thin in both depth and actual weight. Look at their entire bench and with the exception of Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, who would you want to have on your team in the playoffs? We can reasonably assume that Iguodala will play more than Zaza Pachulia in the playoffs so there bench depth is basically Shaun Livingston and presumably the corpse of David West (great career, doesn’t really fit in the Warriors style of play). This lack of depth will be exposed during the regular season and especially during the playoffs since the Warriors are not a large nor heavy team with all of their players typically giving up weight to their counterparts. This daily pounding does not only show up in visible injuries to their knees, back and ankles but causes repetitive stress which slows down recovery between playoff games.
The Warriors play at one of the fastest paces in the league and play and aggressive read and react defense intended to force turnovers rather than misses and rebounds. This pace and strategy might be untenable this season and without Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli to provide interior defense and rebounding, the margins for error which be much slimmer this year. This team cannot be expected to replicate last year’s regular season attention to detail as there are so many new players this year and younger players with no significant experience and Luke Walton is gone.
The same Luke Walton who guided the team to a 24-0 start last season while Steve Kerr was recovering from back surgery and has been a tremendous influence in player development. It is common knowledge that a head coach is only as good as his assistants. Luke Walton has been replaced with former Cavaliers and Lakers head coach Mike Brown whose lack of coaching intellect has been repeatedly exposed. The Doc Rivers led Celtics team were not able to replicate their defensive success after Tom Thibodeau left to become head coach of the Chicago Bulls. This reduction in defensive prowess would have been mitigated if the Warriors retained most of their players but once again too there are too many new players with no history of playing great individual defense.
It must be noted that their offensive architect Alvin Gentry also left last season but this did not and should have any effect on their offense as the Warriors are the best shooting team in NBA history.
This Warriors team also looks to be in the middle of the pack in terms of rebounding (offensive and defensive) and blocks. The NBA is a copycat league and the key to beating the Warriors has been shown by the Cavaliers and to a lesser extent the Oklahoma City Thunder. A combination of full court press, showing on the pick and roll and aggressive rebounding puts them in an uncomfortable place and each Western Conference playoff hopeful have followed suit by adding size and perimeter defense to their starting lineup. While these teams cannot match the Warriors for starting quality, their bench players should be able to provide defensive support to wear them down.
The NBA season is a grind and the pursuit of perfection can have a deleterious effect on the psyche of players. The 2013 Miami heat chased NBA immortality and came 6 wins short of the 33-wins streak record. They still managed to win the championship that year but were blitzed by the Spurs the following season. The joy of playing the game was gone from that team. They were burdened by their legacies and unrealistic expectations. The Warriors have already gone from America’s darling to their most scrutinized team. The season has not even begun and there has been a report about disharmony in the locker room. Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry are already on edge, becoming more surly with the media and are fully becoming “villains” this season but that does not seem to be their true nature and the 2010 Heat were also blitzed in the Finals when they went to the “dark” side. If this season is not fun for them, it will take a serious mental toll.
Speaking of mental tolls, the Draymond Green problem cannot be ignored. I see a lot of Dennis Rodman and Rasheed Wallace in him from their roles in championship winning teams (Pistons and Bulls) but also their hasty exits from other playoff teams (Spurs, Pistons for Rodman and Trailblazers for Rasheed). NBA teams value chemistry over skill and things deteriorate further between Draymond and the Warriors management then the on court results will suffer. The Warriors staff cannot be happy about his recent dick pic and bar fight controversy. Draymond is the one Warriors player who already is and will continue to bear the most scrutiny from the media and more importantly the NBA referees. His notorious leg kicks and his suspension for hitting LeBron in the groin has firmly put him in the league’s crosshairs and he will have to permanently adjust his style of play or face continued punishment from the league. This is magnified during the playoffs where he can alter the result of any series if he loses his cool for just one moment.
Losing their cool is the Warriors thing now apparently, from Steph Curry to Klay Thompson while Kevin Durant is in his feelings. This leads to a lingering concern. They are all separately concerned about their personal legacy rather than the team’s legacy. If Kevin Durant declines his player option, the Warriors will have ten free agents this offeason. The Warriors last season were the best losers in NBA history and Kevin Durant is best known for losing at this point in his career. The Warriors cannot afford to lose and even if they win the NBA championship they cannot win in the court of public opinion. This team will have to survive incredible scrutiny and hostility during the NBA season and then beat the Cavaliers who are confident in their own abilities and have zero pressure on themselves and that’s assuming they make it to the NBA finals completely healthy after surviving a combination of the Spurs, Clippers, Thunder, Trailblazers and Thunder. I firmly believe that any team with championship aspirations can only be expected to reach the Conference Finals and what happens after that is the true essence of sports and cannot be predicted but only enjoyed.