OAKLAND – Now comes the hard part for the Golden State Warriors – again.
All that revelry on display on Tuesday, when the buses rolled down Broadway in downtown Oakland and everyone from Steph Curry to Jordan Bell hopped off to celebrate their latest title with an adoring crowd, was familiar and fun all at once for the team that has won three of the NBA’s last four championships. But the men with the blowers came through quickly just before 2 p.m., blasting the blue and gold confetti into nice little piles to be picked up by the street sweepers.
It might as well have been Warriors owner Joe Lacob and general manager Bob Myers themselves doing that deed.
Enough with the victory lap, in other words. They have work to do. And now, as opposed to before, they truly understand the depths of this challenge.
“It was naivete (before),” Myers had explained to USA TODAY Sports about the two titles that came before this one. “You didn’t know (how hard it was). Knowing that the mountain is hard to climb makes it hard to start climbing the mountain. When you don’t know how hard it is, you’re just climbing up. And then, when it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to do this again, there’s a…”
He breathed hard, as if we were actually trekking up Mount Everest.
“It’s like ‘Really, do I (have to)?’” he continued. “But when you get there, it’s worth it, because you know it’s tough.”
If the Western Conference finals taught these Warriors anything, it’s that the gap between their super team and the rest of the league isn’t nearly as large as they might have thought. That seven-game series against Houston revealed quite a bit about their group, weaknesses that were masked for so much of this season that they all agree was harder than the three that came before.
The natural solution to what ailed them, as they see it, is a combination of roster changes and relationship counseling that won’t happen overnight. Who are the role players going to be next season when reserves/free-agents-to-be like David West, Nick Young, JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia, and Kevon Looney won’t likely be part of the program? Golden State will have its midlevel exception again ($5.3 million), and it’s a safe bet that they’ll use it on someone who is more adept at playing both ends of the floor this time (i.e. not Young). The Warriors also have their No. 28 pick in the first round draft on June 21, with an eye on young wings that can help balance out their big-man-heavy roster.
Can the core four of Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green regain their edge after these past eight months of mental and physical fatigue, especially with the reality that multiple contract situations will likely loom over the group? Thompson and Green are both eligible for extensions this summer, but both stars are highly likely to decline such offers because free agency (in 2019 for Thompson; 2020 for Green) will be far more lucrative.
By signing extensions, Thompson could leave as much as $85 million on the table while Green could leave $118 million behind. Durant is a free agent this summer, but he told USA TODAY Sports during the Finals he fully intends on signing a new deal with Golden State. These are good problems to have, considering the end result, but they are problems nonetheless.
As Myers explained after the Warriors’ Game 4 win on Friday in Cleveland, this season was a wake-up call of sorts when it comes to the interpersonal dynamics. Stockpiling this much talent means there is no shortage of ego in the room, no matter how many times they preach the power of selflessness. Add in the fact that so many of these players have been sharing the same oxygen for so long now, and it takes work to make sure the chemistry remains.
All of which made it so strange that so many prominent Warriors voices would dare to joke about such sensitive matters at the parade.
During the interview session with team play-by-play man Bob Fitzgerald, he stepped in front of Durant to handle his M.C. duties and said, “I’m gonna stand in front of KD; Before his Warrior exit, I want to enjoy as much time with him as possible.” Curry, who signed a five-year, $205 million deal last summer, could be seen shaking his head.
Then when Fitzgerald kidded with Myers, who had told Durant he could have any contract he so desires, Myers said with a smile, “Yeah, that was just for the media. He can’t have anything like that at all…”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr deadpanned: “Midlevel…”
Fitzgerald kept going.
“Last year, you told Steph he could have any contract he wants, too, so…” he shot back.
To which Myers said, “Yeah, that was different. He’s been here from the way before days. He’s earned it.”
Fitzgerald, with the final shot: “And there ended the Warriors’ cohesion right there…” he said as the crowd reacted to all this awkwardness.
It was all in fun, of course, because that’s what this day was all about. But truth be told, they would have been better off watching replays of the Finals games together as a reminder that – airballed punchlines aside – they need to do whatever it takes to keep this group going.
“Relationships require effort,” Myers said. “Your marriage, mine. I mean it’s just – you can’t let go of the rope. I mean, it’s every day. That’s the hardest part of the job with every relationship in your life, and so – for me in my position – when you’re overseeing this thing that’s made up of 70 people, and you’ve got coaches and players and trainers and ownership, there’s all kinds of things that need attention. The thing that I honestly learned (this season) is that it’s really hard. It doesn’t get easier. But winning is what you do it for.”
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