OAKLAND -- Shaun Livingston is a healthy reflection of the Golden State Warriors’ new approach to an old problem – how to keep the grind from becoming the grind, how to put the kick back in kicking tail, and how to make tomorrow more bearable today.
Or, to quote Stephen Curry, how to make the last year in the old digs “a dope story right here in Oakland.”
“I think for all of us, the trick is in staying in the moment,” Livingston said. “Anything can happen, and we want to enjoy this window were in. We all have personal journeys we’re in. But how many teams go to the [NBA] Finals four straight years? It. Doesn’t. Happen. It’s important that people who are able to can get that message across.”
The sanctioned message a year ago from head coach Steve Kerr and general manager Bob Myers was that the hill only gets steeper, and it did. The Warriors still won their championship, but it was less joyful on a daily basis, less consistently fun.
So this year the theme has shifted from how hard this is supposed to be to how much fun it’s supposed to be.
“Last year, we talked about how hard repeating was,” general manager Bob Myers said. “We’re going to try and move off that narrative this time. We’re going to try and enjoy it, all of it. The highs, the lows, the in-betweens.”
“There's no formula for this stuff,” head coach Steve Kerr said. “You just try to feel it as a coach. I'm usually pretty frank with you guys, with the players. So I didn't want to come in last year and sugarcoat it and say this is all going to be real easy. I knew exactly what they were facing, having gone through a similar experience as a player.
“I thought last year we made it through. It was a grind and we won. And I think we should look at that as its own experience and this year as a brand new one. And there's no doubt if we can get back to the Finals and it's another nine-month haul, we're going to have some bumps in the road and it's not going to be easy. But I do think there should be a slightly different theme this year.”
Good call, that.
“It was the toughest thing I've ever been through in my life,” Draymond Green said about the quest for the third consecutive ring. “Just last season, like I said the Houston series was so tough and even the Finals, everybody like you want it easy because you swept. That wasn't easy. It's like it's not easy to sweep with a team that makes it to the NBA Finals -- by far one of the toughest things I've ever done in my life is winning that championship last year and afterwards I didn't want nothing to do with it. I didn't want to think about the basketball, didn't want to think about the run, none of that. Didn't want to see the trophy. We get the opportunity to take the trophy back home or wherever you want to go. I wanted no parts of it. It was so tough that I really needed to decompress from that and just get away from it for a while. It wasn't something that I really wanted to think about.”
But having the third championship in the rearview mirrow, the Warriors want the fourth not to be such an all-flaming chore.
“We are playing with some house money,” Kerr said. “We won three of the last four championships. Our place in the history of the league is pretty secure.”
All that is true, but there is also the spectre of this part of the show possibly ending.
“I don't think our guys should feel a ton of pressure,” Kerr said. “I think they should feel the importance of trying to do it again, because this may be the last time we have this current iteration of the Warriors, just given all the free agents and the money crunch and everything else. So we don't know what's going to happen. So why not just go all out and enjoy every step of the way?”
Livingston may be one of those changes, as his current contract expires this June and there may not be another, or the one that does materialize might be with another team. And he is not alone, as the contracts for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant loom like Thanos on the horizon.
“We all have personal journeys that we've been through that are different than other guys,” he said, “but being in this moment, how many teams go to the Finals four straight times in a row? It just doesn't happen, you know? And so with the savvy group of guys, Steve, Bob, guys that are able to get that message across to us, you know, and also the fact that we're going to have a better preseason schedule this year I think is going to help us. It felt [last year)]like we came back from China, and it was like, game 30. That was rough.”
There is no China this time. There is only the season at hand. With that as the guide, Kerr and the players have met and decided to focus less on lifting the piano up the stairs, and more on the view when the piano is in the front room. It is the latest way of redefining a season for players and coaches who are not merely linear thinkers.
It is the challenge of making the challenge seem less challenging and more dope.