As wonderful as the home opener at Oracle Arena promises to be for the fans, players and coaches tonight, it will be one of the weirder ones in Warriors history, no doubt.
Head coach Steve Kerr, his troublesome back and all the resulting complications will be present for the pregame championship celebration — but not on the bench for the game. “A hiccup we didn’t expect,” Stephen Curry called it.
Former Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry will be there, too, except he’s the New Orleans Pelicans’ head coach now. As was the case with Curry last season, he’ll have a young superstar in forward Anthony Davis on his side.
“Alvin doesn’t need to prove anything, but I’m sure he would love to beat his old team,” interim coach Luke Walton said after a final tuneup in Oakland on Monday. “That’s how it is in sports.”
Now the Warriors face a much different kind of challenge. They’ll be out to prove that last season is no fluke, as some around the league claim, and also that they can do it with Walton in charge — at least for now.
At this time last year, almost no one outside the organization considered the Warriors to be playoff material let alone a championship contender. One year later, they’re the team that everyone wants to beat.
As Draymond Green pointed out, that is better than the alternative.
“I think that’s what you play for at the end of the day,” Green said. “If you’re always the one hunting, that ain’t good.”
“I’m fine with our guys,” Walton said. “We’ve got a competitive group, and they love challenges. So the more people want to take about it, I feel that’s only going to motivate our guys. The more people want to talk about it, I feel it’s only going to motivate our guys.”
Kerr was expected to attend the pregame festivities. Otherwise, his schedule for the remainder of the evening was uncertain. Word was, he would watch the game in the locker room, headaches and other discomfort permitting.
“I’m assuming it depends on how he feels, but I don’t know,” Walton said.
Kerr was at the practice facility again Monday, but there was no timetable for his return to the sidelines.
“It dampens the whole atmosphere that [Kerr] is not going to be there,” Gentry said. “That really hit me hard. Obviously, he was the leader behind this whole thing. The fact that he did it in his first year as a coach … He made the guys believe in him. And the way he advanced as a coach from the first game to the last game was amazing.”
The evening is sure to be emotional. After team members receive their rings, the NBA championship banner will be raised to the rafters for the first time in 40 years. Luminaries from the franchise’s past are expected.
As much as defending champions look forward to these celebrations, they have been known to be less than their best in the game for much the same reason.
“Yeah, it’s big,” Walton said. “It’s similar to like when Steph won the MVP [last season] — it takes away from the focus that’s on the game because it’s such a big night and it’s warranted. It’s a night that these guys will remember for the rest of their lives.
“That being said, you can’t help but not be excited about it and have 100 percent of your focus on the game and the team you’re playing. We know that. We hope that we’ll get our rings, we’ll be happy, then we transition our mindset to beating the Pelicans.”
Gentry served as the Warriors’ offense coordinator last season. He knows their players and system as well as anyone, which gives his team an advantage. At the same time, Gentry admits that inside information doesn’t always mean positive results.
“I know exactly what we have to do,” Gentry said. “But executing that is a little bit like the [Michael] Jordan Rules. The Jordan Rules sound great, but executing them against Michael was a little difficult.”
The Pelicans will be without four rotation regulars in center Omer Asik, forward Quincy Pondexter and guards Norris Cole and Tyreke Evans. The status of center Alexis Ajinca and forward Luke Babbitt also are uncertain.
“I told [Gentry] that he’s still got two kids who are Warriors fans,” Walton said. “So if he can’t find them after the game, come to our locker room. They’ll be in there with us at our postgame meeting.”