OAKLAND -- Steve Kerr keeps mentioning how refreshingly invigorated the Golden State Warriors seem this training camp, almost as though he is genuinely surprised by it after last year's season-that-never-ended.
The Warriors head coach cites the eagerness of Golden State's young players vying for the 50 minutes or so of playing time the Core Six cannot cover. He cites the absence of a trip akin to the one to China that bit a sizable hole in all their summers. Monday night, he even mentioned the fact that Draymond Green, who played with a hotel ice machine strapped to his extremities most of last season, is speaking openly of wanting to win another Defensive Player of the Year Award.
“I like it better than if someone on our team said, ‘I want to win the scoring title,’” Kerr said with a smile.
Hours later, he even found the upside to getting tossed from Monday’s 117-109 loss to the Phoenix Suns shortly after halftime for walking on to the floor to object loudly to official Ben Taylor to a foul call on Stephen Curry.
“I was in the wrong,” he said afterward, semi-sheepishly. “I got what I deserved. I was just trying to make a point. Trying to distinguish myself.”
Then, as he left the press conference he room, he muttered slyly, “I was just trying to give something to the network.”
And maybe inadvertently to the town that would appreciate a preseason ejection most.
This hasn’t been mentioned much, given that the organization is trying to make the move to San Francisco a little less traumatic for the ticket-buying core of the East Bay. They’re not leaving a city, the corporate story goes, they’re just leaving a building.
The problem with that logic, though, is that the building they are leaving is stamped with Oakland’s DNA, and even though many of those genetic markers have been priced out of the Coliseum by the franchise’s success, it still exists in the atmosphere and the floorboards and the explosive roar that the crowd still musters when properly inspired. The players know this place. They like this place.
Not that they won’t like the new place when it opens next year – it’s just that it won’t be Where It All Began. It’s why this is one of the Warriors’ themes for the new season – to make a great last impression.
Nobody has ever left an old arena with a title, not in hockey or in basketball, unless of course you want to count the 1969 Pittsburgh Pipers of the old ABA, who actually left town entirely.
Three teams in NBA history have opened new buildings with a championship – the 1989 Detroit Pistons (leaving the Pontiac Silverdome for the Palace at Auburn Hills), the 2000 Los Angeles Lakers (leaving The Forum for Staples Center) and the 2003 San Antonio Spurs (leaving the Alamodome for SBC Center, now AT&T Center). In hockey, the only two times it has happened is when the Boston Bruins abandoned the old Arena for the Garden in 1929, and 1996, when the Colorado Avalanche relocated from Quebec City and won in their first season in Denver.
But nobody has ever said goodbye with a parade before, and while it is not a prime motivator in the Warriors’ quest for a fourth ring, let alone having more fun while doing it, it is the best way to leave Oakland feeling whole – and maybe the only way.
It surely beats the way the 11,000 fans in attendance at Sunday’s open practice reacted – with a tsunami of boos – when reminded by the master of ceremonies, “Can you believe this is the last year at Oracle Arena?” In other words, this has the potential to be a sore subject in what would seem to be another routine march to a championship.
Fortunately for all involved, the players seem to get it. They cut their teeth on this building and in this town, and those who don’t know how much this fan base endured en rout to their current sense of grandeur have been told by those around them.
Kerr knows for sure, and though he is careful not to wade into this particular pool of nostalgia, did say, “I think getting off to a fast start would be good for us. I think we lost more games at home last year (12, not counting postseason) than we did the three years before combined (nine). When we’re winning at home, that’s when we know the Warriors’ world is right.”
And if along the way he has to walk on the floor to get thrown out of an exhibition game just to compete for the entertainment dollar, then clearly the Oaktown is strong in him.