If the Warriors don’t realize it by now, Doc Rivers was put on this planet to antagonize them. He’s a frustrated man, unable to lead three monster talents beyond the conference semifinals, so he’ll try instead to irritate the rivals who blew by him on the Larry O’Brien Superhighway and became NBA champions. Tonight in Los Angeles, with the real season a week away, the Clippers coach likely will try to invade their collective psyche again before a trivial exhibition game.
This time, the Warriors must ignore him.
From now until springtime, in fact, they should tune out Rivers and all others on their growing list of trolls and critics — James Harden, Ty Lawson, Kyrie Irving and Charles Barkley included — and purge the L-word from their daily discourse. That would be Lucky, the operative slur employed by naysayers to describe Golden State’s extraordinary good fortune last season in avoiding major injuries while its playoff opponents were not. Last week, the Warriors noticed when Rivers told an ESPN-related site, “You need luck in the West. Look at Golden State. They didn’t have to play us or the Spurs.”
And they responded. Andrew Bogut said his championship ring has been fitted for his middle finger. Draymond Green went to an immature place — “It’s like a bitter female. You ever dealt with a bitter female that’s just scorned? God. That’s rough,” he said — before pointing out that classy organizations, such as Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, weren’t dishing out insults. Klay Thompson also aimed and fired, saying, “I wanted to play the Clippers last year [in the playoffs], but they couldn’t handle their business.”
Stephen Curry simply removed his smile and dry-mocked everyone. “I apologize for us being healthy. I apologize for us playing who was in front of us. I apologize for all the accolades we received as a team and individually. I’m very, truly sorry, and we’ll rectify that situation this year,” he said. Even general manager Bob Myers, who usually pays no mind to jibber-jabber, cracked jokes about being lucky. Sick of the disrespect, tired of holding their tongues, the Champs finally lashed back.
And Rivers, of course, seized the opportunity to snipe some more over the weekend. In trying to claim that the Warriors misunderstood his comments, he snuck in a zinger.
“Now, clearly, it bothers them for whatever reason. That part I could care less about,” he said.
Block him. Delete him. Say nothing more about the L-word. Or the Warriors will be going home with an “L” in the playoffs.
They already have enough issues, understand, to burden themselves with silly payback dramas. While there’s hope that Steve Kerr will coach on Ring Night free of back pain, headaches and spinal-fluid leakage, no one is certain when he’s returning to the bench. Luke Walton has made it abundantly clear he does not enjoy the interim gig, and if the Warriors continue to play sporadic defense without Kerr to verbally kick their asses, they could find themselves in an early hole in a Western Conference that won’t have mercy. Owning home-court advantage at Oracle was a major factor in their so-called postseason luck. They need to be focused from Opening Night on, or they’ll be starting playoff series in difficult settings such as San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Houston.
The Harrison Barnes situation is inching toward problematica, too. First, Barnes has yet to prove he’s worth $16 million annually, much less the $23 million a year he wants in free agency next July after the league’s TV-money-enhanced salary cap kicks in. He’s a curse of sorts to the Warriors because his value has been created by Kerr’s vision and belief in him, the megatalent around him and a title season to which he moderately contributed. Barnes would be wise to take the $64 million and become part of a potential multiple-title team that has identified him as part of its long-term Core Four. You wouldn’t Barnes and his agent to let the drama linger until the offseason; by then, maybe owner Joe Lacob tells Myers to screw Barnes and enter the Kevin Durant sweepstakes.
And did I mention Barnes has a bruised knee and hasn’t played since last week? Shouldn’t that remind him, at 23, of a basketball career’s fragility?
We’ll be watching closely as Curry, beginning next week against Anthony Davis and Harden, resumes encore performances against great players who want his Most Valuable Player trophy. Though everyone should have shut up and paid their awestruck respects amid one of the all-time dynamic offensive seasons, some idiots still think he’s a one-dimensional jumpshooter. Sigh. He may not be the MVP again, but Steph won’t stop being Steph. As long as he avoids conking his head on the hardwood, there are no concerns about him.
Thompson, I wonder about. He wouldn’t want to be identified as a streak-gunner who can score 37 points in a quarter one night, then fade out the next. He took exception when Andre Iguodala said Thompson was tired near the end of last season, telling us, “I thought I was great and very fresh throughout the whole year.” But he wasn’t always consistent.
As for Green, he’s the one who has the most to prove, not only because he’s now a $82 million property but because no one is certain what he’ll say next. In one very loud, molten-energy package, he’s the soul of the Warriors and also a potential evil. At halftime of last week’s home preseason game against Denver, he was yelling at someone — an official, Walton, a teammate? — for no apparent reason. He is valued for his emotion, his basketball I.Q., his leadership. He is valued in the community, such as when he gave $3.1 million to his alma mater, Michigan State University. Yet he still can be his own worst enemy when he, uh, compares Rivers to “a bitter female that’s just scorned.”
“I’ve learned a lot,” Green said. “You know, it was kind of foreign territory for all of us, coming off a championship. I’ve really learned how to manage my time more. You’re still getting your workouts in, you’re still continuing to get better at your game, but you still find the time for your family and your friends, the people that’s important to you, while taking care of your business, as well.”
Part of that business should be ignoring the trolls. Perhaps making progress in this area, Green pointed to a man who was measuring the Warriors for their ring sizes. “You see the man over there? Jason of Beverly Hills — he’s fitting us for our ring,” he said. “That’s pretty cool. So if they’re saying that, [there’s] some bitterness and saltiness going around. They’re obviously not the champs. So who cares what they say. It is what it is.”
Why pay attention to someone who wants what you already have? And why let someone else’s issues become yours?
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.