Warriors know they should savor 2019 NBA Finals with uncertain futures

Warriors know they should savor 2019 NBA Finals with uncertain futures

OAKLAND – They all want to “stay in the moment” and take it “game by game.” Such phrases are typical of any NBA player fortunate enough to reach the playoffs, but they are particularly true and poignant for the Warriors in 2019.

And not only because everyone in the building is bracing for the exit of Kevin Durant.

Or because Klay Thompson is weeks away from free agency.

Or because Draymond Green, with one year remaining on his contract, would like an extension.

It’s bigger than one person, or even three people. As the Warriors approach the NBA Finals for the fifth consecutive year – a feat not achieved since the 1960s Celtics – they seem acutely aware that this cannot last forever. They may contend for years to come, but no franchise dominates indefinitely.

No matter how clever the plan or how wise the leaders or how great the talent, the law of averages always comes knocking.

“We’ve set the bar incredibly high,” Warriors veteran guard Shaun Livingston tells NBC Sports Bay Area. “I believe what happens here over the next five years is going to be very interesting.”

Winning it all is hard. Winning it all repeatedly is unrealistic. Ask the Lakers, once the NBA’s gold standard. Ask the Bulls, who once ruled. Ask the folks in Detroit or Miami or, well, you get the picture. Even the Spurs, always successful but never a dynasty, are showing signs of slippage.

The posse is coming for the Warriors.

“The posse has been there for three years,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said to NBC Sports Bay Area. “That’s been happening. It’s part of what makes it so difficult. The climb is the most fun part of it. And then staying on top of the mountain is the most difficult. We’ve been fighting off challengers now for the last three or four years. It feels to me that so many teams are planning for us or changing their styles.

“We’ve had games the past year or two that would have resulted in 30-point blowouts for us four years ago. But because people have adapted to what we do . . . that same game isn’t a blowout any more. It’s a close game, because the other team is not turning it over and they’ve made 16 or 18 3s.”

The regular-season win totals have declined in each of the last four seasons, from 73 to 67 to 58 and 57. When the Warriors take the floor for Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, it will be their 99th game of the season. They are assured of playing at least 102 games, bringing their five-year total to 513.

The Lakers, to cite one example, have played 410 games during that span.

Steph Curry was 26 when this run began. Green and Thompson were 24. Five years later, they are six years older. We watched them grow from the frisky pups of 2015, riding talent and hubris to a championship, to seasoned veterans more familiar than any other team with the treachery of an extended postseason. Experience is the edge they bring into The Finals, and it is their shield against any and everything the Raptors will try.

“I like this situation a lot better, for sure,” Curry says. “There’s just a confidence that you’ve done it before. You know what it feels like, you know the adrenaline rush, the nervousness, the sense of urgency in the moment. That accounts for something.”

That experience is an asset for now. It worked wonders in the Western Conference finals against Portland, with the Warriors wiping out double-digit deficits in Games 2, 3 and 4 to sweep the series.

At some point, if the Warriors are unlucky or not careful, that experience crutch will be in danger of snapping. Thin is the line between an experienced team and one that is too old.

“That’s the tradeoff,” Kerr says of the team’s evolution. “It’s not new anymore. But it’s habitual, in a good way. It may not be as exciting, but we have far greater confidence in what we’re doing. Even though we got blown out a few times at home, that’s just because guys are tired from the journey and you can’t expect them to play at that level through five long years.

“But when you get to the playoffs, and you’ve been there and you’ve won championships, there’s a deep level of confidence and know-how that was missing the first couple years.”

The Warriors opened this season as the seventh-oldest team in the league. The Denver Nuggets were the youngest, with the Portland Trail Blazers second youngest. Both teams are members of the posse stalking the Warriors.

There is no knowing what the Warriors will look like when Chase Center opens later this year, much less who will be on the roster in 2021-22, when Curry is 34 and again becomes an unrestricted free agent,

“Each year has been a little different, with tweaks here and there,” Livingston says. “But next year, it may look a lot different.”

Durant may leave. DeMarcus Cousins is expected to leave. Thompson is expected to re-sign, but the possibility of leaving has been floated. Green will be under contract, but would like some clarity regarding his future. Though Andre Iguodala has one more year on his deal and will return, Livingston is pondering retirement.

Kevon Looney and Jonas Jerebko will be unrestricted free agents, Quinn Cook and Jordan Bell restricted free agents.

“We understand it could be a possibility – a major possibility,” Livingston says of the roster shakeup sure to follow if Durant leaves. “So, let’s focus and lock in and enjoy this moment.”

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The Warriors, even as they pursue a third consecutive championship, can’t fully ignore their uncertain future. The reminders keep bobbing to the surface. They know enough, however, to realize it’s going to be different than the present.

“After five years, there’s no getting around the fact that the haul is a long one,” Kerr says. “Guys get older. Guys get more expensive. So, there’s a sense that we should make the most of this because who the hell knows what’s coming next.”

Kobe Bryant memorial service has Warriors prepping for emotional day

Kobe Bryant memorial service has Warriors prepping for emotional day

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Warriors exited Chase Center on Sunday after adding another defeat to their tally, this time against the New Orleans Pelicans. But Golden State, along with the remainder of the NBA, is preparing to reckon with its toughest loss in years.

The league momentarily will come to a standstill Monday, when all eyes will fixate on Staples Center in Los Angeles for the memorial service of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who died last month -- along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others -- in a helicopter crash.

Golden State pillars Draymond Green, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are expected to attend the service, along with general manager Bob Myers. But the other Warriors, armed with memories of their hero, will be left to reconcile his death in the confines of practice and search for closure in a familiar setting.

"It's going to be emotional," Warriors big man Marquese Chriss told NBC Sports Bay Area on Sunday. "I think it's going to bring back up a lot of emotions that everybody was feeling on the day that it happened. I think people aren't going to know how to feel. It's going to make it real."

The practice court serves as a unique reminder of Bryant's death. That's where the team received the news five weeks ago, just as it began pre-practice workouts.

An assistant coach relayed the initial message, and practice soon was stopped as Warriors players and staff gathered their thoughts.

"You could hear a pin drop in there," rookie forward Eric Paschall said. "It was stopped."

From the bowels of the billion-dollar basketball facility, Warriors assistant Jarron Collins walked through the adjoining weight room, up the steps and down a corridor to Chase Center's main court to tell Chriss the news. Chriss, then on a two-way contract and away from the team as to not burn his NBA service time, was floored when he heard it.

Chriss and Bryant once shared an agent, Rob Pelinka, who represented them both before he became the Lakers' general manager in 2017. The legendary Lakers guard even stopped by Chriss' college pro day at an LA-area high school ahead of the 2016 NBA Draft, bringing a buzz with him into the gym.

"It was dope to see his energy," Chriss said. "He walked into the gym, and the energy in the gym changed. He had a presence about him. Everybody wanted to talk to him, kind of pick his brain and be around him."

Similar stories are told throughout Golden State's locker room. Thompson -- whose father, Mychal, still calls Lakers games for the local radio affiliate -- met Bryant when he was a child, and he occasionally worked out with him at UC Irvine.

“He was obviously the best player in the world at the time," Thompson remembered after Bryant's final game at Oracle Arena in 2016. "I just remember watching him work out, how methodical [he was] and attention to detail he gave to every drill. It inspired me a lot.”

When Thompson was charged with marijuana possession during his junior year at Washington State, Bryant sent him an expletive-filled text.

“He said, 'Forget about that,' said it with a couple expletives and, 'Just go out there and kill,' " Thompson recounted.

“I have a potty mouth,” Bryant added that evening when asked about the exchange. “I just told him, 'Listen, man, we all make mistakes. You can’t worry about that stuff. Just keep your focus on basketball, and everything will work itself out.' "

While Thompson personally knew Bryant for much of his life, Green admired the five-time NBA champion from afar as a kid. Nonetheless, he still finds himself reconciling the loss of his idol.

"I think I'm still at the point where every time you see it, you're like, 'Damn.' Like is it a real thing?" Green said Sunday. "I don't know. Maybe tomorrow brings closure. Maybe it don't."

The topic of Bryant's memorial brought Green back to the first time he played against the guard at Oracle, which forced the forward out of his routine.

"I'm never really a guy to get star-struck," Green said. "There's two people that I've ever been star-struck by in this league, and that's Kobe and Grant Hill."

"I was finishing my pregame shooting, and Kobe was coming out," Green added. "And you have your stuff you have to do in the back when you're done shooting, and so I finished my shooting and Kobe was coming out, and I just sat on the end of the bench, and before I knew it, 20, 25 minutes had passed, and I was late as hell to finish my pregame prep, but that was just a moment for me where I was stuck like, 'Wow, I just saw Kobe work out.' "

When Green wasn't in awe of Bryant, he wanted counsel from him. Four years ago, following Green's suspension for Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals, he sought Bryant's advice in the wake of criticism during a time Green called "the lowest point" of his career. After hearing Green vent, Bryant responded with a message: "You’re chasing something so much bigger. How do you ever expect anyone to understand you?"

Green keeps the advice close to this day. 

"It helped me a lot," he said. "Because you kind of deal with things a certain way, and when you're dealing with things a certain way, you can only do what you think is best at the end of the day. But when you get reassurance from someone who's been through it at the highest level that the way you're dealing with something is like OK, it gives you that confidence to carry out whatever it is in the way you think it was right. It gives you that green light, like it's cool."

[RELATED: Steph looks sharp before Dubs-Pelicans as return nears]

Now, as his Warriors teammates say one last goodbye Monday, each will try to follow Green's credo in carrying on Bryant's legacy.

"The way you approach this game," Green said. "I think if there was anything he could ask for, that's what he would ask for. That he gave everything he had to it."

Watch Steph Curry impress in sharp pre-game warm-up as return nears

Watch Steph Curry impress in sharp pre-game warm-up as return nears

Steph Curry didn't take the floor during the Warriors' loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday. 

The injured Golden State star did beforehand, however, looking game-ready as he went through a pre-game workout. 

Curry hasn't played since breaking his left hand on Oct. 30. He was cleared for contact in practices Saturday, scrimmaging with his teammates for the first time since picking up the injury and subsequently undergoing two surgeries. The 31-year-old said Saturday that lingering nerve damage in his left hand has taken some getting used to, but that he is targeting a March 1 return

Former Warriors Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin dealt with the same injury during their NBA careers. Mullin had three separate hand surgeries during his, and he said Curry's biggest adjustment will come from playing with his teammates again.

"He practices at game pace," Mullin said of Curry on Sunday during Warriors Pregame Live. "He takes game shots all the time. His fitness will be there. It's (about) getting acclimated to the players around him, finding the spacing and the timing."

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Though Curry didn't injure his dominant hand, he relies on his left a lot to pass and when he finishes at the rim. He won't lose trust in his shot, but Richmond thinks the two-time MVP has to ensure  

"I went through that same injury [and so did] Mully," Richmond said Sunday. "It's all about confidence when you come back. ... I think, for him, he wants to find that confidence that it can be hit, and then he can come back from it." 

The Warriors owned the NBA's worst record after Sunday's loss, which clinched their third losing streak of six games or more. Curry's return won't lift Golden State out of the league's cellar, but it undoubtedly will lift his teammates' spirits in an otherwise dreary season.