Warriors discuss reality of no longer being NBA championship favorites

Warriors discuss reality of no longer being NBA championship favorites

SAN FRANCISCO -- Twelve months ago, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins gathered together in the Warriors' Oakland facility for a picture that documented perhaps the best starting five of all time. 

Similar sights were few in far between during media day Monday afternoon. Gone was the Oakland facility, replaced by the new Biofreeze Center tucked inside the Chase Center. Gone was Durant, who helped Golden State to three Finals appearances in the last three years. And gone was the foregone conclusion that Golden State will be the last team standing in June. 

"I think there's definitely a lot of unknowns," Warriors forward Draymond Green admitted during media day. "But it is exciting."

In front of a similar white backdrop Monday, Green posed alongside a slightly different crop of All-Stars. Cousins and Durant were replaced by D'Angelo Russell, acquired in the sign-and-trade that facilitated Durant's departure. Russell -- who averaged 21.1 points and seven assists with the Brooklyn Nets last season -- is among eight new additions to the team. 

Posing just to the right of Russell was Thompson, who tore his ACL three months ago and doesn't expect to return until at least around the all-star break. Adding to Golden State's conundrum, the team announced Willie Cauley Stein -- the only traditional center on the roster -- would miss a month with a foot strain

Golden State's injury woes have been compounded with an influx of youth. Of the Warriors' eight summer additions, just three have postseason experience and two are over the age of 26. Over the last five years, Golden State has entered the regular season the prohibitive favorites to win the title. This season, most observers don't believe the Warriors can reach a sixth straight Finals, some are writing off a postseason appearance. On Monday, Green defiantly dismissed the notion Golden State wouldn't be a factor. 

"I think it's definitely fun," he said. "It's exciting. I don't really pay as much attention as I used to because I realize how many people don't know what the hell they're talking about when you start talking about basketball.

I've got my own motivation and things that's going to push me," Green added. "To listen to some people who don't really know what they're talking about at this point, it really don't matter anymore."

Golden State's changes as the league it once dominated has retooled. The Lakers added star big man Anthony Davis, while the LA Clippers acquired all-star wings Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and the Houston Rockets reunited guards Russell Westbrook and James Harden. 

"Every year since we've been at this stage, every team is trying to get the better -- to knock us off when we won or just retool to win a championship. That's what everybody is in this business to do. You know, look at every era of basketball, for a team to sustain this type of level of play and this greatness, it doesn't happen that often, and when you need to retool, it may look different, but the great teams, great players figure it out as they go." 

The key to Curry's season will be his health.

Over the last two seasons, Curry has missed a combined 44 games due to injury, including 31 during the 2017-18 season. Last season, it was a non-contact groin injury that forced the guard to miss more than two weeks. The season before, a series of ankle injuries undermined one of the best statistical seasons of his career, as he missed the most games since 2012 when ankle surgery ended his season. While Curry said he doesn't plan on resting.

"I don't know what it's going to look like, how many minutes I'm going to play. We haven't really honestly talked about it that much, but it's just an opportunity to take another step and evolve. I'll put the work in and we'll continue to do that for as long as I can."

Monday marked the first view at the new-look Warriors, one that didn't include the built-in assumption that a title awaits, a notion that's new territory for most. 

[RELATED: 'Klay Area' shoes to drop in Oakland]

"Stuff has kind of just been status quo for the last few years and just kind of knew what to expect going into it, and it's pretty much just been that," Green said. "It's a new challenge now, which as a competitor is very exciting. We've been to the mountain top with the previous group, and we know how that feels. Now, can you do it again? Can we bring this team together and get back there? I think that's the most important thing, and I think that will be our focus moving forward."

Warriors NBA free agency targets: Five guards, wings team could sign

Warriors NBA free agency targets: Five guards, wings team could sign

NBA free agency is slated to open Oct. 18 at 3:00 p.m. PT.

Despite the fact that still is over three months away, it's never too early to look ahead.

Last week, Grant Liffmann listed six "under-the-radar" free agents the Warriors could target. And on Wednesday -- Monte Poole, Kerith Burke, Liffmann and yours truly advanced the discussion in the latest "Warriors Roundtable."

One player discussed in depth was Josh Jackson of the Memphis Grizzlies. The 23-year-old -- who was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft -- averaged 16.6 points, 2.8 assists and 1.4 steals over his last five games before the season was suspended, while shooting over 38 percent from deep.

How he plays in the Orlando "bubble" might greatly impact his earning potential on the open market, and it's possible the Warriors won't be able to afford him.

[RELATED: Why Kenny Smith used pickup analogy to describe Draymond]

Watch the video above to see the complete conversation.

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[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

How LeBron James' Decision put him on path to become Warriors nemesis

How LeBron James' Decision put him on path to become Warriors nemesis

LeBron James put himself on a collision course with the Warriors a decade ago Wednesday.

Few would've guessed as much when James, then 25 years old and already the best basketball player on the planet, told Jim Gray and viewers nationwide that he'd take his talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat. James, after all, was leaving one of the saddest franchises in NBA history, spurning the Cleveland Cavaliers to link up with close friends Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The Warriors, then 35 years removed from their last NBA championship and a year away from drafting Klay Thompson, didn't have anything to do with it.

But James' departure from Cleveland planted the seeds for the prodigal son's return four years later, and the kid from Akron's titanic decision to leave set him on a path that would become inseparable from Golden State's by the end of the 2010s. You can trace the roots of the Warriors' cross-conference rivalry with the Cavs, as well as Kevin Durant's decision to sign with Golden State, to "The Decision" a decade ago.

James and the Cavaliers were the Warriors' biggest obstacle during their dynastic run, with the teams squaring off four straight times in the NBA Finals. But he might never have stood in Golden State's way if he never left Cleveland.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

While James surely could've done without the instantaneous, visceral backlash from his hometown fans, or the childish letter penned in Comic Sans by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, he told Lee Jenkins -- then with Sports Illustrated -- in 2014 that he always knew he was going to return to Cleveland at some point.

"When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission," James said at the time. "I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio."

The Cavaliers seemingly prepared for the possibility, too. Going an NBA-worst 97-215 in James' absence helped Cleveland compile high pick after high pick who would either play alongside James (Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson) or be used in trades to acquire other pieces (Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins). If James stays in 2010, it goes without saying the Cavaliers aren't picking in the lottery over the next four years. Former general manager David Griffin and the Cavs' front office instead eventually built a contender around James, whereas Griffin's Miami counterparts would've had a much more difficult time remaining one.

Even if James stayed with the Heat, president Pat Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg were without multiple first-round picks thanks to the sign-and-trades that brought James and Bosh to the Heat in the first place. Young talent was needed, in hindsight, as Wade got older and Bosh eventually retired due to his blood clotting condition. Miami couldn't have provided that, and it's thus difficult to envision James as the Warriors' nemesis while staying on South Beach.

James still would've been close to the peak of his powers, but the Heat wouldn't have been as formidable a challenge for the Warriors as James' Cavaliers were in their first two Finals matchups. A hypothetical Warriors-Heat Finals in 2015 probably is even more one-sided than the San Antonio Spurs' gentlemen's sweep of the Heat a year prior, and who's to say if Miami would've remained on its Eastern Conference perch much longer than that.

Leaving Cleveland also indirectly ensured the Cavaliers wouldn't win more than one championship during James' second stint in Ohio. James' decision led to backlash in the league's front offices, too, ensuring the institution of a harsher luxury tax. The Oklahoma City Thunder ultimately justified trading James Harden because of said luxury tax, as Tim Bontemps noted while writing for The Washington Post in 2016, which surely contributed to Kevin Durant's eventual departure for the Warriors. James' decision also showed superstars that they could control their own destinies, narratives be damned.

[RELATED: Wild stats from Steph's first game vs. LeBron's Heat team]

If the Heat's Big 3 never forms, does the NBA's next collective bargaining agreement even include a provision designed to stop free agents from forming super-teams? If the Thunder never break up, do the Warriors ever get past a team led by Durant, Harden and Russell Westbrook? If James stays in Cleveland, is a player of Durant's caliber even willing to leave OKC in the first place?

When James said those infamous seven words 10 years ago, nobody could've known he was charting a path that inevitably would intertwine with the Warriors' own. Had James' decade-old decision gone differently, the Warriors' recent past would look unquestionably unrecognizable.