During the 2016-17 NBA season, headlines will be dominated by Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors on a daily basis. However, having a super-team doesn’t guarantee a championship; just look at the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. Everything can change and anything can happen in the NBA. A team can implode, the injury bug could strike, or a team simply might not play to its potential. In this Last Word On Pro Basketball series, we will break down which two key factors will determine the fate of each team in the upcoming season.
In this edition, we’ll take a look at the Golden State Warriors.
Two Key Factors to a Successful Golden State Warriors Season
First Key: Utilizing Kevin Durant Effectively Without Losing the Warriors Chemistry
The Golden State Warriors won a record 73 games in the 2015-2016 season, which beat the 72-game record set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. However, unlike the Bulls, the Warriors fell short of winning the NBA Championship by losing in game 7 to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Following their season, the Warriors made a splash by signing former MVP Kevin Durant from the Oklahoma City Thunder. The signing of Durant meant that the Warriors had a fourth All-Star to play alongside of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. The Durant addition instantly made the Warriors the overwhelming favorite to win the 2016-17 NBA championship.
The Warriors did lose starters Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut, who both are now playing for the Dallas Mavericks. Admittedly, both players were the lowest scorers in the Warriors starting lineup; however, Bogut provided protection in the middle on a very small team. While Barnes’ production dwindled in the playoffs, Barnes had been a strong cog in the Warriors regular season machine.
In addition, the Warriors lost backup center to Bogut, Festus Ezeli, who signed with the Portland Trail Blazers. The Warriors tried to replace the loss of Bogut and Ezeli by signing 6-foot-11” Zaza Pachulia from the Mavericks and David West from the San Antonio Spurs. Pachulia is not nearly the rim protector that Bogut is, but he is a solid offensive rebounder. West is 36 years old and is clearly in the hunt for a NBA title before he retires. West will likely be solid in limited minutes.
The Warriors also lost three other bench players in Leandro Barbosa, Brandon Rush and Marreese Speights. The Warriors had always focused on the chemistry of their team. This year the Warriors will play without six players that formed part of that chemistry.
Obviously, the Durant addition should more than offset that lost talent. However, the question will be if Durant, who has traditionally been the star of his Thunder team, will be able to mesh with the more team-oriented Warriors team. Despite the overwhelming talent on the Warriors, there is still only one basketball to go around.
Thus, the first key to the Warriors’ success will be whether they can utilize Durant effectively and not upset the chemistry of a record-setting championship team.
Second Key: Handling the Mental Aspect of Being the Villain
The Warriors were the media darlings the past two seasons due to their team-play and general likability of their stars. Curry is a very personable player off the court and appears to be genuinely humble. Until last season’s playoffs, Green was admired for his gutty play against bigger centers when the Warriors played small-ball lineups.
However, the signing of Durant caused ripples in the NBA for both fans and other teams. It seemed unfair to add another MVP level player to a championship team. In addition, Durant left his Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook. The Thunder had forced the Warriors to 7 games in last year’s playoffs and it was hoped that the Thunder could challenge them again this year.
The Warriors will be viewed more like the Miami Heat after they signed the big-three in LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in 2010. Many fans rooted against the Heat because they thought that the players had “gamed” the free agent system by colluding together.
Thus, the second key to the Warriors’ successful season will be handling the additional mental pressure of being the villain, the team fans root against. Many players welcome such a role. Green appears to be that kind of player. The question will be whether Curry, Thompson and Durant who have always been fan favorites can withstand the pressure of such a role.
GUANGZHOU, CHINA – JULY 11: American professional basketball NBA player Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors attends a commercial event for Nike at Tianhe Sports Center on July 11, 2016 in Guangzhou, China. (Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images)