— Ryan Gorcey (@RyanGorcey) September 30, 2019
CHASE CENTER — Before going to the Janet Jackson concert at their new Chase Center home a week ago, Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green asked his younger teammates if they wanted to join him in his suite.
“It’s just like, ‘Who the hell is Janet Jackson?’” Green said at Monday’s team media day. “Like, Janet Jackson is a legend, and that just kind of showed me like I’m getting old.”
When Golden State opens training camp on Tuesday, seven of the eight newcomers will be 25 years old or younger. Far from the experienced group that went to five NBA Finals in five years, the Warriors that play the inaugural season in the new $1.4 billion arena will do so with more uncertainty — and more change — than at any point during the championship era.
“This is such a dramatic change than we’ve had in the last four years,” said head coach Steve Kerr. “It allows for more change, more internal evaluation, what we can do better. The new building is almost a metaphor for how we approach the season.”
Last season, seven Warriors had been a part of at least two of the team’s three most recent title teams, including Kevin Durant, who left for Brooklyn via a sign-and-trade for D’Angelo Russell. This year’s roster for training camp — which begins on Tuesday — features just three in Green, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, now the oldest player on the team at 31 (“Stop reminding me,” he said). The youngest: 19-year-old Serbian import Alen Smailagic, a gangly high-ceiling project who may have to play meaningful minutes.
Golden State built the Chase Center out of the sustained success they’ve had over the last five years, but with Durant and championship anchors like Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston gone, the outside expectations for this year’s Warriors are far short of reaching a sixth NBA Finals.
“The last four years have been so different — we knew what we had and we were working towards the playoffs,” Kerr said. “We were working to be ready for the playoffs and be healthy and peaking during the playoffs. This is an entirely new group, and so we’re trying to figure out who we are.”
Kerr said this upcoming training camp will be the most challenging since his first with the team in 2014.
“We were experimenting with a lot of different things,”Kerr said. “I think that’ll be a similar feel this year. We have a lot to experiment with, a lot of combination possibilities, so it’s a really, really important camp, and I would say we will have to work much harder than we have had to the last four seasons because of the number of new players. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Defensively, the Warriors lost three of their best wing defenders in Durant, Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala, and they won’t have their best — Thompson — for the first four months of the season. That will mean less switching, and more experimentation with schemes and coverages. Kerr will have to be more imaginative and creative than he’s been during a tenure that’s mostly involved balancing egos and superstars’ playing time.
Offensively, by acquiring Russell to mitigate the loss of Durant’s scoring, and by signing former Sacramento center Willie Cauley-Stein, Golden State committed to running more pick-and-roll, a stark contrast to Kerr’s preferred ball-movement, pass-happy scheme.
Further complicating matters is the fact that Cauley-Stein suffered a mid-foot strain in his left foot while going up for a lob during a pick-up game last week, knocking him out at least until the end of October. A roster that was once stocked with upwards of five NBA centers now has just one healthy one — Kevon Looney.
Golden State may wind up playing three distinct types of basktball this season — one a blend with Curry and Russell as the main scoring options, one heavily pick-and-roll and another closer to the style seen throughout the Warriors’ championship era, once Thompson returns after the All-Star break. Thompson thinks that he, Curry and Russell will mesh just fine.
“I’ve been watching D’Angelo for years now, and he’s an amazing passer,” Thompson said. “I don’t think he’s played with two shooters like me and Steph. I think he’s just going to have fun as far as play making and coming off those pick-and-rolls he did in Brooklyn so well, now with the space he has with us.”
After practicing with Curry and Green for the first time last week, Russell — who grew up in an NBA those two have dominated — called his father and his brother to tell them how excited he was to learn from them. Omari Spellman, who cried when he learned the Atlanta Hawks traded him after his rookie year, was humbled that the best franchise for the past five years took a chance on him. These are not those Warriors.
Where once Golden State’s biggest preocupation was how to work in their latest superstar addition (and in a sense, they will with Russell), this year, they’re ushering in a new era on the backs of an inconsistent G League performer (Jacob Evans), a complete unknown (Smailagic), a sophomore forward with yo-yoing weight (Spellman), a shot-happy late first-rounder who couldn’t seem to find net in the summer league (Jordan Poole) and possibly the next Draymond in Eric Paschall.
Ten players on the current roster come in with three years of NBA experience or fewer. That’s the most inexperience the Warriors have had since 2012 — Green’s rookie year, Curry’s fourth and Thompson’s second.
“You want to start with some younger guys and you want to grow with them, and as they get older and you kind of start to bring in a new wave and start to prep guys to get ready to take the reins,” Green said. “That’s kind of how this has gone. I think that’s a great sign. It means that there’s been a pretty good amount of success if you’re still trekking along with those guys.”