OAKLAND -- It’s Year 5 and there is no bravado. Just a quiet confidence and a claim, despite scattered hints to the contrary, not to wonder if this is the end for this core of a group that has made four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals.
Yet the 2018-19 season might be exactly that for the Warriors.
Kevin Durant, who joined the Warriors before Year 3, has made no commitment beyond this season. Klay Thompson says he intends to return but there are no guarantees when free agency arrives July 1. Shaun Livingston is entering the final season in which his contract is fully guaranteed.
With that backdrop, the Warriors are set, if not ready, to open their 47th and final season at Oracle Arena. They’ll get their championship jewelry and then gather once more in an opening-night pre-tip huddle. The journey begins Tuesday night.
“We know exactly what we need to do as a team and how we need to be successful each possession,” Durant says. “It’s a matter of staying healthy, staying on the court.”
Truer words have not been spoken. Even with an infusion of youth, the Warriors are the oldest team in the league. Five of their eight veterans -- Jonas Jerebko, Curry, Durant, Iguodala and Livingston -- have passed their 30th birthday:
Head coach Steve Kerr has acknowledged the need to monitor playing time closer than ever, and that approach begins immediately. Shaun Livingston is questionable for opening night and Draymond Green, who returned Friday after missing 12 days with knee soreness and will play short minutes as dictated by his conditioning.
The team’s big offseason acquisition, DeMarcus Cousins, is continuing rehab in the wake of surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. No timeline has been established, but it’s reasonable to believe he’ll miss at least two months.
“We’re not in perfect shape,” Kerr concedes.
So, no, this is not the ideal start.
And, still, the Warriors are, far and away, the team to beat.
They’ll win between 60 and 65 games because no team can match their fusion of offensive firepower, defensive tenacity, and big-game composure. The two best things to happen to the Warriors since Durant arrived came in the Western Conference Finals last May. First, they fell behind the Rockets 3-2 after five games. Second, they fell behind by double digits in Games 6 and 7 and came back to win both to take the series.
Having survived that, the Cavaliers never had a chance in the NBA Finals.
Having survived that, the Warriors are issuing a warning to the rest of the league: They welcome the challenges of the Rockets and Celtics and Jazz and Raptors and Thunder and 76ers.
The defending champs also welcome the addition of Cousins, whenever the big man is ready, because his availability will invigorate the entire roster. Meanwhile, they welcome the injection of youth provided by Damian Jones, Jordan Bell and Kevon Looney, the trio that will play the bulk of the minutes at center.
The Warriors chased the No. 1 overall seed for three years running to gain a homecourt advantage they utilized once in 12 postseason series.
They gave up that specific pursuit last season and proved it didn’t matter, winning an NBA Finals Game 7 on the road for the first time in franchise history.
They know who they are, and what they’re capable of doing when the games matter most. That’s after the All-Star break and once the postseason begins on April 13.
“I don’t anticipate we’re going to be in high gear right away,” Kerr said. We’re not going to be nearly as good (Tuesday night) as we will be down the road.”
Here are some specific projections regarding the Warriors in 2018-19.
Record by month: October (6-3), November (10-4), December (11-4), January (10-3), February (9-2), March (10-2), April (4-2)
Postseason record: First round (4-0), conference semifinals (4-2), conference finals (4-1) and NBA Finals (4-2)
Date of Cousins' return: Dec. 25
Scoring leader: Durant
Rebounding leader: Durant
Assists leader: Curry