SAN FRANCISCO – When the Warriors gather for training camp on Sept. 30, the burden of great expectations will have vanished, replaced by the seductive mystery of what might be possible.
After five consecutive trips to The Finals yielded three championships, the dawn of the 2019-20 season will feature some degree of newness at every level.
Only three players, Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Kevon Looney, will be in a role similar to recent seasons. Only two coaches, Steve Kerr and Mike Brown, will have the same duties for the third consecutive season.
“Different, right? Different in that going into (the last few seasons) we kind of knew what we had,” general manager Bob Myers told NBC Sports Bay Area on Tuesday. “What it would be, I don’t know.
“But there was also a weight to feeling like we’ve got to win. That’s it. We have to win the championship. We’re supposed to win. With this team, you’re going to win. That was nice, I suppose; I’m not complaining about that. But you realize it can’t last forever. There has to be change. You don’t know how change is going to come. So now we have it."
Change came because All-Star guard Klay Thompson sustained a torn ACL expected to keep him out until at least February and superstar forward Kevin Durant opted out of his contract, triggering a cascade of activity that led to the addition of D’Angelo Russell and the loss of wily veterans Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.
“When you have guys like that, that are respected around the NBA, on and off the court, it provides a different respect level,” Looney told NBC Sports Bay Area. “We’re going to miss having that.
“But we have the new old guys now, with Draymond and Steph. They are the new old people on the team. They’ve been great leaders and great mentors the whole time, but Shaun and Andre are tough shoes to fill.”
Don’t look now, Loon, but you, at 23 years old, with 204 NBA games on your resume, suddenly must become a leader.
Russell, 17 days younger than Looney and with zero games as a Warrior, suddenly is essential to any chance of the team having early success.
“Walking into the locker room and seeing Andre and Shaun, and those guys that have been there for so long, it was comforting to know that whatever was coming our way, we had people that have dealt with it, or could,” Myers said.
“Now, you’re look around and I’m more or less hoping. Can some of our new guys be those guys? Steph, Klay, Draymond and Kevon are going to have to take on more of that role.”
Curry and Green have indeed been tone-setters for at least five seasons -- Curry leading mostly with humor and by example, Green opting for a more clinical route, punctuated by a blowtorch. Thompson leads mostly by embodying a commitment level his teammates aspire to reach.
After adding three rookies with varying levels of experience and different skills, the Warriors consider camp and the first two months of the season a training ground for guard Jordan Poole (20 years old, a capable scorer), forward Alen Smailagic (19 years old, NBA readiness still in question) and forward Eric Paschall (22, considered the team’s most NBA-ready rookie).
“What can they do?” Myers wondered. “Are they better than we thought? Are they worse? Are these young guys evolving? How do they fit together? Will we play the same style? This imposes a lot of new questions.
“It’s a new movie, it’s new actors. But the stars of the show are some of the same guys.”
The hearts of Curry and Green are warmed by the team’s new underdog status and tend to thrive under those circumstances. Thompson also embraces it. The guess here is that Russell, back in California two years after the Lakers traded to Brooklyn, also wants to make a statement.
Though no one can replace Durant, Russell gives them a shooter they’ll need while Thompson is rehabbing. Poole is showing he’s yet another shooter. Once Thompson returns, he can expect plenty of minutes at small forward, with Curry and Russell manning the guard spots.
The Warriors have spent this summer reloading on the sly. The success of the reload is in question, as are all such undertakings, but the internal excitement about it is real.
Should that excitement continue after seeing the “new” Warriors play defense, they’ll really be onto something.