Andrew Bogut strolled into his press conference sporting a new haircut — a fade, to be precise — such a departure from his traditionally unkempt style that the first reporter to ask him a question couldn’t help but comment.
The hairdo wasn’t the only thing different about Bogut. He also offered a unique answer to a question usually met with a familiar platitude: Will it be harder to repeat as NBA champions in 2016 than it was to win the title last season?
“I don’t think it’ll be as difficult as probably last season to be honest. I think last season (everyone was saying) the Warriors are a regular season team, they’re not going to do anything in the playoffs…We’ve had all this testing — bulletin board material type things about other teams disrespecting us. It’s the same this season. … I think it’s better and more motivation for us.”
Conventional wisdom states the second title is always more difficult, often due to the inevitable changes successful organizations go through. Notably, the departure of key players that catch the attention of high-paying suitors.
That isn’t the case for the 2015-16 Warriors, who, aside from losing beloved offensive assistant coach Alan Gentry, are essentially the exact same team that won 67 regular season games en route to an NBA title a season ago.
Not only that, Golden State returns four starters slated to enter the prime of their careers: Draymond Green, 25, Klay Thompson, 25, Stephen Curry, 27, and Harrison Barnes, 23. All four had their best seasons to date in 2015, and it’s entirely likely their improvement could continue in their fourth year playing together.
Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay
There’s also the return of NBA finals MVP Andre Iguodala, who’s willingness to take a reserve role in place of Barnes last season set the tone of the unselfish mentality that helped propel the Warriors to greatness. Iguodala doesn’t have a problem taking that role for another go-around, and is actually sounded excited to be coming off the bench for a second consecutive season:
“When you embrace things, they tend to work out in your favor. So I’ve been through it for a year, I understand it a trillion times more. So definitely more comfortable. I’m actually looking forward to it.”
Looking forward to a possible Sixth Man of the Year award? Iguodola said not so much:
“A lot of sixth man have more responsibility and they’ve made more of an impact sometimes than 80% of the rest of the guys on the team. So it’s just a name … It’s like affirmative action or something like that to me.”
Despite all that appears to be in their favor, the Warriors are not favored by many (including Vegas) to repeat as NBA champs. That has much to do to with a belief that the Western Conference, a juggernaut last year, is even better. The Spurs added LaMarcus Aldridge, the Clippers added depth to their bench and the Thunder are healthy for the first time in two years. The Cavaliers are healthy as well, and you can bet LeBron James will be even hungrier after losing his fourth championship.
Combine that with the target that comes from being reigning champions, and league MVP Stephen Curry isn’t as convinced as Bogut that 2016 will be a smoother ride:
“We’re going to get everybody’s best shot every single night and we know that, so we have to be at our best every time we step foot on the floor…We can’t just say we’re going to be the same team and show up and win 67 games and win a championship. It’s not going to be easy.”
Curry is right that it won’t be easy. The Warriors will need improvement, notably from fifth-year shooting guard Klay Thompson. Thompson remains one of the best shooters in the NBA and a valuable wing defender, but the reliance on his jump shot lead to inconsistency for stretches of last season. The All-Star said he has focused on improving a number different aspects to become more well-rounded:
“(I’m focused on) being more consistent this year on a nightly basis and doing it on both sides of the ball. For me I want to get to the free-throw line more and be a better play maker. I know Coach will be on me all year to help rebound so I’m going to grab one or two more a game to help our big guys out, and stay in great shape so I can do it on both sides of the ball.”
Draymond Green’s ability on both sides of the ball earned him an $82 million contract this offseason. Adversity is a word that has followed Green throughout his life, with the 2012 second-round pick a question mark to make the Warriors’ roster after an All-American senior season at Michigan State.
Green believes the Warriors will once again be the team to beat in 2015, but they will have to be ready to fight if they want to become the first back-to-back champions in franchise history:
“It’s probably going to get worse, where everybody is going to be gunning for us. There’s no nights off. Everybody wants to beat you. We’ve got to make sure that we come ready to play from day one. I think the challenge for this team is to approach game 1 of 82 like it’s game 1 of 82, and that’s going to be the focus for us going in, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re ready to do that.”
They better be, because everybody else will. Especially that king looking to reclaim his throne.