Andre Iguodala gets told he’s being yanked from the starting lineup for the first time in his 11-year NBA career, spanning 758 appearances. He winds up eight months later being chosen as MVP of the 2015 NBA Finals.
And that was just one of maybe 473 happy outcomes that went the Warriors’ way in a championship season that, from beginning to end, was wondrous, magical … and not likely to be duplicated.
“The unexpected thing,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters Thursday at the team’s practice facility, “was that everything went exactly as we hoped. That never happens.”
The chances of everything falling into place again, just so, are about the same as LeBron James letting David Blatt hang out in the back seat of that Kia with him. With at least a dozen wannabe contenders making moves to seize what the Warriors just won, with James’ and Blatt’s Cleveland Cavaliers bound to get better if Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love return healthy, and with the good luck the Warriors had on their side so difficult to bottle, the last thing Kerr and company want in 2015-16 is to offer up a static target.
Fortunately, the NBA foists change of one sort or another on everybody. If it’s not a player departure via free agency, it’s some worthy performer being sacrificed to the salary cap or luxury tax. If it’s not a team’s remarkable good health unraveling into double or triple the man-games missed, it’s the intrusion of personal agendas, a subtle shift in chemistry or maybe even Yoko Ono.
By a lot of team’s standards, the Warriors’ ambitions to be as good or better next season start in a good place: a stable core. Most of the essential players are under contract at least through next season, including Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Finals MVP Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Shaun Livingston and Festus Ezeli. The Warriors hold a team option on backup big Marreese Speights for $3.8 million, and reserve guard Leandro Barbosa was on a veteran’s minimum deal.
That leaves, most notably, Draymond Green, the versatile defender and effervescent scorer who glue-guyed his team all the way to the franchise’s first championship in 40 years. Green is a restricted free agent, meaning the Warriors can match any offer sheet he signs with another team. That’s the word they put out, too, to chill the market as much as they can.
“When you have the success that we had, you’d like to keep it together as much as possible,” general manager Bob Myers recently said.
So where does that leave David Lee? Probably on the outside playing elsewhere. Lee was praised nearly as much as Iguodala for how he handled his loss of a starting job, and the former All-Star and double-double man stayed ready enough to help shake loose Curry in Game 3 of the Finals. But Lee’s $15.4 million salary next season (the most expensive in team history) can best be used to pay Green and subtract from the luxury-tax threshold. There were reports within a day of the decisive Game 6 that the Warriors were working with Lee’s agent Mark Bartelstein to find Lee a trade to a team offering more minutes.
By going elsewhere, Lee indirectly would help the Warriors — their payroll, anyway — by sacrificing to a cause that no longer requires his services.
There is no problem with age on this roster and, since Curry found the proper regimen for his delicate ankles, no cause for undue injury worries. But that still leaves all sorts of nooks and crannies into which disappointment can creep.
Will Kerr seem as fresh and as fun in his second season as he was in the first? Can Curry make like his earlier self, Phoenix’s Steve Nash, and repeat as MVP by topping his own devilish, long-distance pyromania. The Warriors would seem to have the know-how for winning a championship once, and presumably the humility to understand how difficult it is. No one, certainly, has figured out how to beat them scoring two points at a time against their barrage of 3-pointers.
And if money or individual grumbles don’t break up this contender in the offseason, the return of Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant might. Or Patrick Beverley back and active with the Rockets in Houston, the acquisition of Lance Stephenson by the Los Angeles Clippers, the Portland Trail Blazers getting lucky with both LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews available, or a half dozen other tweaks and steps forward by the nasty thicket of competition in the Western Conference. The
Cavaliers should have it so tough out East.
One Las Vegas sports book issued odds near the end of the Finals for next NBA season, and Cleveland sat atop the board at 9-4 favorites to win next June. The Warriors, at 5-1, were a distant second. But all that is, really, is managing the distribution of the wagers that come in.
Managing everything the Warriors get thrown at them next season and navigating an 82-game schedule just for the opportunity to top themselves by repeating themselves, that’s a lot trickier.
“There’s potential for us,” Kerr said, “to build this long-term.” And the key word, as always, is potential.