OAKLAND, Calif. -- As the Golden State Warriors embark on what is, at the very least, the most hyped season in the NBA since the beginning of the Miami Heat's Big Three era, there is an irony to this campaign: It’s the drum roll for a team that won’t really try to live up to the hype.
Oh, the team with two former MVPs -- Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant -- will certainly compete. The Warriors will also seek to play well on a nightly basis. What they will not do, however, is try for another wins record, after an NBA-record 73 victories last season. So, 74 wins isn’t the goal this season, even if it’s somehow plausible with this unprecedented collection of talent.
Or, as Warriors forward Draymond Green put it: “Everybody is going to grow. And are you going to with 74 games? To be quite frank with you, I don't want to win 74 games or 75 games. It's brutal.”
We’ll have to take Green's word on the brutality of winning 72-plus games, seeing as it’s not exactly the most common experience in the NBA. But basic observation and intuition deemed last season’s run exhausting. Golden State was haggard and battered at various points last season, most memorably when the Warriors brought Klay Thompson back fairly early from an ankle sprain in an effort to keep their season-opening 24-game winning streak alive. The Warriors were on a back-to-back in Milwaukee, having just edged out a double-overtime win in Boston and dragging at the end of a seven-game road trip. Golden State lost that night, because sometimes teams lose. But it was far from the only game in which the effort exceeded the circumstance, which is laudable in a way, understandable in another (given the historical implications), but perhaps not entirely sustainable. One wonders what the Warriors gave up in trying to pull off the NBA’s greatest regular season.
Yes, they came within a couple plays of winning it all, despite their sprint of the marathon. But it’s also true that the playoffs were a rocky ride, a journey made all the more harrowing for two Curry injuries suffered in the first round. Nobody knows if the all-consuming chase for 73 contributed to those health issues, but as much as the Warriors like to cite the randomness of slipping on a Donatas Motiejunas sweat slick, less cited is Curry’s preceding Game 1 ankle injury that happened out of nowhere.
Could the Warriors have had a dominating postseason if they’d relinquished a dominating regular season? We will never know. Some choices only look like choices in retrospect. For much of the season, the San Antonio Spurs were right there, challenging for the top seed. And when the Spurs finally fell back, history was so tantalizingly attainable. At that point, going for 73 wins was less a decision than a calling.
In any event, the Warriors never looked quite as good as they did in the first half of last season. So the goal this season is to perhaps reverse that process, to build strength as opposed to eroding it. There’s also the more obvious, basic goal -- the one head coach Steve Kerr kept insisting was all that mattered to him last season.
As Green put it, “Obviously our goal every year is to come out and get the No. 1 seed. And the most important goal is to win a championship. I think there definitely may be bumps in the road; it's not going to be all great like a lot of people think it is. And some people think it isn't. I know it's going to take some time for us to adjust. I'm looking forward to that. A lot of people think if we even start 19-6, the world is coming to an end.”
Kerr has been making similar statements, as have others in the Golden State organization. It’s a quixotic bid to manage expectations, surely doomed to fail. The Warriors won’t be expected to win 73 again, but a losing streak won’t exactly be forgiven. With Durant in tow, they have more firepower than possibly any team ever. Excuses for losing won’t be forthcoming.
As Kerr seeks to manage expectations, he also represents a check on them. Expect him to troll any hypothetical wins chase, seeing as last season’s chase made him noticeably uneasy. If the Warriors do emerge with another inexorable win streak, it will likely end with All-Stars watching as rookie Patrick McCaw and other youngsters enjoy an evening of heavy run. Kerr is an evangelist for energy, specifically for its maintenance. His practices include no wind sprints. This offseason he visited with Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon and was delighted to learn that Maddon had cut back on batting practice. “He says it’s better to stay fresh,” Kerr recalled.
Staying fresh can pay dividends in the right moments. For two seasons, the Warriors never suffered a losing streak in excess of two games. That is, until last season's NBA Finals, when LeBron James and Kyrie Irving summoned more than a wheezing Golden State could overcome to win the final three games. So, this season the Warriors will try to bank more for the moments that matter.
Not everyone’s quite on the page, though. Thompson, a seemingly indefatigable shooting robot and occupant of his own universe, said of another wins record, “It's not our main goal, but if it's there at the end of the year, you might try to win as many as you can.”