The parade is not until Friday. The Golden State Warriors are already looking ahead to what could be a promising future. And with their young core under contract and MVP Stephen Curry just entering his prime, the Warriors believe their first NBA championship in 40 years could be the start of many more. ”There’s potential for us to build this long-term,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Thursday. The Warriors rolled to a franchise-record 67 wins during the regular season before dispatching New Orleans, Memphis and Houston in the Western Conference playoffs. They won their first title since 1975 on Tuesday night when they finished off LeBron James and the depleted Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
The victory capped off a 2014-15 campaign that wasn’t just a drought-breaker – it was historic. The Warriors totaled 83 wins in all, the third-highest ever. Only the 1995-96 and 1996-97 Chicago Bulls won more, and Kerr played on both of those teams. ”It’s ironic, but the unexpected thing is everything went exactly as we hoped. That never happens,” Kerr said. Along with hearing from President Barack Obama, Kerr has received congratulations from former teammates and coaches. Some even teased him for winning as a rookie coach. ”It’s that easy huh?” Kerr said former Spurs teammate Tim Duncan texted.
General manager Bob Myers, the NBA Executive of the Year, is hoping to capitalize on the roster flexibility he has masterfully made happen and give the Warriors a chance to hang more championship banners soon. Nearly every key contributor – Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, Shaun Livingston and Festus Ezeli – is locked up through at least next season. Draymond Green is a rare exception. The versatile forward is set to become a restricted free agent, meaning the Warriors can match any offer he receives. Green expects to be back and the team intends to pay whatever salary he commands, even if that means going into the league’s luxury tax, which Myers said he has been given authority to do from owner Joe Lacob. ”I always said, `Players that help you win and certainly win at the level we won at, you want to keep,”’ Myers said. ”And we’ll do everything we can to keep him. Thankfully, the rules are in our favor.” Green, the runner-up for defensive player of the year, got his shot this season after starter David Lee injured his left hamstring in the final preseason game. Lee, who is owed $15.4 million next season in the final year of his deal, will likely be on the way out to limit the team’s tax hit. The Warriors will need to make a decision on reserve forward Marreese Speights, who has a $3.8 million team option next season. Reserve guard Leandro Barbosa, who played for the $1.4 million veteran minimum this season, will be a free agent. And Barnes and Ezeli, part of the franchise’s acclaimed 2012 draft class with Green, are eligible for contract extensions. Myers said it’s too early to tell what will happen this offseason but he feels good about the team’s ability to remain a contender.
”When you have the success that we had, you’d like to keep it together as much as possible,” Myers said. A move also will need to be made on Kerr’s staff. Kerr will need to find a new lead assistant as associate head coach and offensive guru Alvin Gentry is leaving to become the head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans. Kerr could promote assistant Luke Walton or try to attract a more experienced coach such as Brian Shaw or Mike D’Antoni. Kerr said Walton could be a head coach someday, but he has just begun to think about replacing Gentry and whether Walton is ready for that role. First, he wants to enjoy the championship parade through downtown Oakland and bask in the storybook season. Of course, there’s little down time for a title-winning team. The NBA draft is next week (the Warriors have the last pick in the first round), free agency talks start July 1 and then it’s a matter of weeks before training camp when the Warriors try to do what the franchise has never done: repeat as champions. Kerr said the challenge is balancing the burden that has been lifted off players’ shoulders and keeping the same edge that won them a championship. ”There’s a freedom that comes with winning the first one,” Kerr said, ”but you can’t let that freedom erode in terms of the fabric of the daily work that you put in.”
Even after guiding a team wrecked by injuries to the NBA Finals in his first season, Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt can’t escape a narrative that’s shadowed him for months. His relationship with superstar LeBron James remains a trendy, touchy topic. On Thursday, as a national column painted an unflattering portrait of how James treated him during postseason games, Blatt said he considers coaching the four-time MVP a privilege and they have a positive connection. ”People sometimes judge things on a game or on a period of time and they forget that we’re in there working together and striving to make the utmost of our team and of our situation day to day,” Blatt said, ”and a bond develops over time that is a lot more than what meets the eye.” Two days after the Cavaliers’ season ended with a Game 6 loss to Golden State in the NBA Finals, Blatt and general manager David Griffin both addressed the team’s upcoming plans to rebuild its roster, re-sign several core players including James, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson and improve a bench – aging at the back end – that didn’t provide enough help against the Warriors.
And while there’s plenty of work to be done, Blatt, who said he ”absolutely” intends to return next season, doesn’t believe his bridge with James needs major repair. It’s no secret that James didn’t always seem engaged with his coach during timeouts – anyone who watched the Cavs this season witnessed that – and there were times when he disagreed with Blatt, even questioned his strategies. But James’ respect for Blatt seemed to grow as the season went on. In fact, following Tuesday’s pregame shoot-around before Game 6, James and Blatt walked off the court at Cleveland Clinic Courts with their arms around each other. Blatt, who joined the Cavs last year after winning numerous titles in Europe, was asked if he adjusted his coaching style to accommodate James, the world’s best player. ”Absolutely, yes,” he said. ”He is a galvanizing player. He is our best player. He’s the league’s best player. He’s a winner. He’s a proven champion. I think it’s important that he feels empowered and at the same time that he knows that he’s very much a part of this team. He’s exhibited that, and always put the team’s success beyond his. ”Now if he has felt that he has something to say and wants to impose his will in terms of influencing in a positive way on those around him, that’s a good thing. That’s a good thing for all, and I certainly encourage that and certainly respected the fact that LeBron’s heart was in the right place.”
Griffin pointed out that just two weeks ago James, in the midst of a playoff run made more challenging because of season-ending injuries to Love and Kyrie Irving, praised Blatt’s performance this season by saying he had done ”a hell of a job.” ”That’s what the man said,” said Griffin, who agreed with James’ assessment, adding the Cavs went 33-3 in their last 36 games in which James, Love and Irving played together. Griffin has grown tired of the negativity directed at Blatt. ”It never has to go away because it’s all conjecture,” he said. ”So I think one thing David did as well as anybody I’ve ever seen, and I wish I did better, was just ignore the noise from the media perspective. Because frankly, none of that means anything. We know what actually takes place here.” The
Cavaliers had a remarkable run, making the finals for just the second time and pushing the Warriors as hard as they could before running out of bodies. Griffin hoped to keep his roster mostly intact, but he could be faced with some big decisions. He expects both James and Love to opt out of their contracts and become free agents. James signed a two-year deal last summer with the ability to opt out after one, and he may re-sign a one-year deal in order to capitalize on an expected surge in the salary cap following the 2016-17 season. Also, James wants to keep pressure on the Cavs to continue to add quality players. Love’s situation may be more complicated. After he underwent shoulder surgery, Love said he expects to be back with Cleveland next season. He, too, might prefer signing a one-year contract, but it’s possible the Cavs will offer him a longer package and more security to gauge his commitment.
Griffin said the club intends to re-sign forward Tristan Thompson, a rebounding force who was invaluable when Love got hurt and could demand a maximum-level contract. Griffin will extend qualifying offers to restricted free agents Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova. He would also like to add younger bench players, ”guys that are more in a 26-to-30 range perhaps. Maybe finding the peak of their careers.” Above all, Griffin wants to keep the momentum going for the Cavs, who lived up to expectations, overcame adversity to beat Chicago and Atlanta in the playoffs, and came within two wins of a title. ”We very much intend to keep this group together,” he said. ”You look at that as a group that’s the potential to be special, special good.”