Moods are incredibly positive in Oakland this summer, the Golden State Warriors offseason has essentially been an encore performance to their playoff run during the spring.
Momentum is simply on Golden State's side. Its 47-win season led to a first-round playoff victory, which led to a near defeat of the San Antonio Spurs in Round 2. This, in turn, motivated both elite free agents and role players, Andre Iguodala, Jermaine O'Neal and Toney Douglas, to come to the Bay Area.
But momentum can only carry a franchise so far, and it certainly cannot carry a team to a championship. What makes a team championship worthy is its ability to overcome downward swings in momentum, to win when doubt starts to invade the fanbase—as it inevitably does for every team at some point during a season.
For the Warriors, that doubt could threaten the team very early in 2013-14.
No Longer Slept On
The Warriors were a legitimate playoff team in 2012-13 no matter how one looks at it, but they also stole a few wins due to their relatively unknown status around the league.
This was especially evident early on, as the team won 22 of its first 32 games.
Since they won 47 games and a playoff series last year, most teams in the league are circling dates with Golden State this year. Coaches are already thinking about ways to guard against budding superstar Stephen Curry. Opposing players are gearing up to play in front of the NBA's loudest, most respected home crowd.
For the Warriors to win 47 games again, they'll need to show even more mental toughness and poise in big games, because their opponents will be presenting them with a more difficult challenge.
Even if the Dubs up their intensity, a 22-10 start seems unlikely. Compounding this is the team's brutal opening schedule.
14 of 22
On Dec. 11, the Warriors will have played 14 road games and only eight home games. Only eight teams in the NBA last year had a .500 record on the road, and even if the Warriors play to that elite level (say they go 7-7), they shouldn't come out of this stretch with better than a 13-9 record.
Things could go much worse.
The team's lineup may be more dynamic this season, but gone is the hardworking Carl Landry and the run-stopper Jarrett Jack—two players who each had the ability to come into a game during a trying moment and score.
If Golden State doesn't replace those elements right away (which is entirely possible), a 5-9 road record and 5-3 home record over this stretch would completely zap the team of any carryover momentum from last season or this summer.
Losing Jack and Landry doesn't only jeopardize the team's road toughness, it creates a gaping hole in the locker room.
The 2012-13 Warriors were one of the most tight-knit groups in the NBA with Jack and Landry at the center. Surely, guys like David Lee, Curry, Kent Bazemore and Draymond Green will keep the locker room fun, but there's no replacing Golden State's two departed super-subs—at least not quickly.
This could lead to a rocky start this season. The Warriors' Pythagorean win-loss record (projected record based on scoring differential) was 44-38 last year, but their ability to play as a team, trust one another and as a result trust themselves led to astounding proficiency in winning close games.
While the Warriors did add "team" guys (particularly Iguodala and O'Neal), it is likely to take some time for the players to develop a new chemistry with each other. Close, winnable games may be dropped in the process.
Defending Without Malone
Along with Jack and Landry, the biggest Warriors loss this summer was that of Mike Malone.
The assistant coach was also the team's defensive strategist—the man who made sure the players were able to practice what Mark Jackson preached.
Malone succeeded in this role, to put it mildly.
Last year, the Warriors were No. 4 in the NBA in field-goal percentage defense, No. 7 in three-point defense and first in defensive rebounding.
With Malone now coaching the Sacramento Kings, the Warriors will lean on Jackson, Pete Myers and the rest of the coaching staff to replace Malone's guru-like gameplanning. Unfortunately for the Warriors, Malone is one of a kind—which is exactly why his career is taking off.
Clearing the Hurdles
Here's the good news: The Warriors are fully capable of jumping over each one of these hurdles.
The defense may suffer without Malone, but a much-improved crop of defensive personnel in Iguodala, Douglas, O'Neal, a healthy Bogut and more Bazemore means that an inferior defensive coaching job doesn't have to lead to inferior defense.
While the team chemistry may take a while to form, it will form. In fact, it could form in ways that make the Warriors more dangerous than last year. With Marreese Speights replacing Landry, Golden State loses a stay-loose persona but gains a nasty edge.
The best teammates aren't necessarily the ones you like the most, they're the ones your opponents like the least.
If the team can take on more of that gritty, physical edge (more minutes for Green could aid this change), the games of Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes could flourish. Come playoff time, the Warriors may be able to come out on top of a war of attrition—a war they couldn't even compete in last year.
Even the home-road splits and the hunter-to-the-hunted scenarios provide benefits.
Every team plays the same number of road games, and while a road-heavy start could leave the team facing an uphill battle come midseason, a home-heavy schedule late (13 out of their final 20 games are in Oakland) is the natural and highly beneficial result of it.
As for the team's newfound high profile, being played tougher by opponents may be canceled out by being played softer by referees.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
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