OAKLAND – It was a season of epic win streaks and assaults on the NBA record book, with victories coming in bunches, under one coach and then another, casting a feel-good vibe that energized the Bay Area and beyond.
In their march toward greatness, the 2016 Warriors indeed bottled the wind.
And then, minutes away from their crowning achievement, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers shattered the glass.
The calendar year 2016 was, for the Warriors, the ultimate gut punch, a regular-season of glory followed by a postseason that knocked them to the floor.
Then came Kevin Durant. He can’t help the Warriors rewrite history, but he can help them up as they seed to heal the wounds.
Epic fail was followed by massive recovery.
The Warriors, after all, entered the New Year at 30-2 under interim coach Luke Walton, who three weeks into January returned to his No. 1 assistant’s chair with a 39-4 record on Jan. 21. The team barely blinked upon the return of coach Steve Kerr, going 34-5 on his watch. Surpassing the legendary Chicago Bulls, the Warriors’ 73-9 record is the best in NBA history.
But after the most catastrophic collapse in NBA Finals history – the first team to blow a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals – the Warriors will forever be identified as the bunch that went 73-and-nothing. Won 73 games, got nothing to show for it.
That is, until two weeks after the Game 7 loss, when the biggest free-agent prize on the market, Durant, announced he would be signing with the Warriors.
“Two thousand sixteen was a mixed bag,” Kerr said Friday, 30 hours before New Year’s Day. “We had a tremendous season that didn’t end the way we wanted it to as a team.
“But it was still an incredible year to be a part of the Warriors and to coach the team.”
Well, yes, there was plenty of good before that sudden and emphatic conclusion.
Stephen Curry in May was voted league MVP for the second consecutive season, and this time he earned the distinction of being the first-ever unanimous selection. He didn’t stop there. Curry led the NBA in scoring and obliterated his own single-season record for 3-pointers, draining 402 triples. No one else had reached 300; his previous record was 286, set one year earlier.
The Warriors sent three players to the All-Star Game, as Klay Thompson and Draymond Green joined Curry as members of the Western Conference team in Toronto. All three also were named All-NBA, with Curry on the first team, Green on the second and Thompson on the third.
Kerr was named Coach of the Year, an honor he conceded must be shared with Walton. What happened to Luke? He got a new job, hired away to become head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Walton left a huge void, on many levels, some of which were filled when Kerr added veteran coach Mike Brown as the top assistant.
As within the coaching staff, which also added former player Willie Green, there was change within the roster. Not just change, but dramatic change.
Durant’s arrival precipitated the departure of six players who had spent at least the past two seasons with the Warriors. Familiar faces Leandro Barbosa, Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Brandon Rush and Marreese Speights all wound up scattered throughout other teams around the league.
Joining Durant as new Warriors were centers JaVale McGee and Zaza Pachulia, and forward David West, along with rookies Damian Jones and Pat McCaw.
With the New Warriors winning 29 of their first 34 games to close out the 2016 portion of the season at 29-5, the team finished the calendar year at 72-12, the second straight season they pulled off that feat. No team in NBA history can match their 144-24 record over a two-year span.
Nice numbers, but this team learned a harsh lesson about the significance of nice numbers.
The outgoing year brought to the Warriors exhilaration and heartbreak, and renewal in the form of Durant. Will his addition lift them to the heights they couldn’t quite scale in June?
We’ll have to wait until 2017 for the answer.