Warriors

Warriors lost psychological edge, rest of NBA pouncing at title shot

Warriors lost psychological edge, rest of NBA pouncing at title shot

OAKLAND – Sixteen days shy of three years ago, the Warriors were charged with ruining the NBA. Upon adding Kevin Durant, you’d swear they committed a felony. They were littered with scorn.

The Warriors didn’t care. They’d lost the 2016 NBA Finals in most ignominious way, but they were holding the biggest NBA lottery jackpot since Miami won LeBron James in 2010.

In luring KD out of Oklahoma City and becoming prohibitive favorites for 2017 -- even posing with silver balloons spelling out “Super Villains” -- the Warriors had a message for the rest of the league: Try your slingshots against our heavy artillery.

"Just to be absolutely clear, I do not think that's ideal from the league standpoint," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said a few days after Durant signed with the Warriors.

Those were the days, eh? They are as gone as Anderson Varejao.

The rest of the NBA has been gaining a little bit at a time, eventually eliminating the awe factor that once allowed the Warriors to win merely by stepping onto the floor with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Durant and the minimum-salary center du jour.

Asked the other day if he thinks the rest of the NBA has gotten better over the past few seasons, Warriors CEO Joe Lacob didn’t hesitate.

“It did. I do believe that,” he said. “There are 29 other ownership groups and management teams and players that are all working to make themselves better. It gets harder every year.

“But that’s fun. That’s what the fun of it all is. It’s not meant to be. I don’t think we’re going to go out and win every year, although I’d like to and we will try to. But there are a lot of good teams, good players, good organizations and the chess pieces get moved around a little bit when you have the draft and free agency. And that’s all the exciting next few weeks.”

Lacob, who says he doesn’t do retrospection, knows what’s coming not only in 2019-20 -- when injured current Warriors Durant and Thompson will play little, if at all -- but beyond.

The Raptors, having dethroned the Warriors last week, will enter next season as favorite -- if they re-sign Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. If they lose Leonard, the Western Conference team that signs him -- Toronto is the only Eastern Conference team believed to have a chance -- will be, at worst, a title contender.

The Bucks are legitimate and will be better after dipping their toes into deep postseason waters. The 76ers are serious, as are the Celtics. Assuming none of the top four teams in the East undergoes dramatic retooling, they’ll all be threats.

And then there is the West, which is not as top-heavy as the East but surely is deeper. The young Nuggets will be better next April. The Trail Blazers are a quality forward away from being imposing. The Rockets will be back, even after the presumed remodel.

Care to imagine Kawhi and another star joining the Clippers, who went nose-to-nose with the Warriors in the playoffs?

The Lakers are committed to giving themselves more of a chance next season. After spending last summer renting veteran rejects and role players, surrounding LeBron James with young talent and cardboard cutouts, LA will add Anthony Davis. That’s threatening.

Most of the aforementioned opponents have experienced the joy of walloping the Warriors by 20 or more points over the past two seasons. They believed and they succeeded.

The past five years have taken a toll on the Warriors, particularly the 105 postseason games. They’ve averaged 103 games per season. That, combined with serious injuries to Durant and Thompson, is enough to embolden teams that once figured they had no reasonable chance.

[RELATED: Draymond denies report that he visited KD in New York]

When the Warriors take the court next season, they’ll do so with the wind in their faces instead of at their backs. The psychological edge is completely gone. They’re weakened, and everybody will believe they can get a piece.

When the Warriors last season often claimed to get “everybody’s best shot,” there was some truth to that. Not nearly as much as there will be next season.

NBA rumors: Warriors' Alec Burks to honor Kobe Bryant, change jersey number

NBA rumors: Warriors' Alec Burks to honor Kobe Bryant, change jersey number

Warriors guard Alec Burks reportedly is joining a growing list of NBA players who no longer will wear No. 8 or 24 after Kobe Bryant's tragic death on Sunday. 

Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reported Wednesday morning that Burks will switch his jersey from No. 8 to No. 20 going forward. 

Burks previously has worn No. 10 on the Utah Jazz and Cleveland Cavaliers and No. 13 with the Sacramento Kings. He also wore No. 10 in college at the University of Colorado. 

Bryant sported No. 10 on Team USA in the Olympics, but it's unknown if that played into Burks ever wearing the same jersey number. 

The Warriors played their first game since Bryant's death on Tuesday night, a 115-104 loss to the 76ers in Kobe's hometown of Philadelphia. Both the Warriors and Sixers paid tribute to Bryant throughout the night, and Golden State took a 24-second shot clock violation after Philadelphia gave them the ball from an eight-second backcourt violation to begin the game. 

[RELATED: Dubs' first game after Kobe's death doesn't ease pain]

"Beginning of the game was tough," Warriors forward Draymond Green told reporters in Philadelphia following the loss. "We all want to honor Kobe, and then you go into a basketball game. That's a switch you can't flip. Those are real emotions." 

The hurt, the emotions will continue to come. As will the deserved tributes such as Burks is doing to honor a legend.

Warriors' first game after Kobe Bryant's death doesn't ease their pain

Warriors' first game after Kobe Bryant's death doesn't ease their pain

NBA games in January typically come armed with enough mid-season monotony to garner "dog days" comparisons. The hour leading up to the Warriors' 115-109 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday mirrored that of a precession without a casket. 

Two days removed from Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant's sudden death, his hometown team honored him with familiar memories. Pregame introductions and hype videos were replaced by darkness. Both teams stood side by side during the national anthem, while the Sixers wore No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys as light shined on Bryant's No. 33 Lower Merion High School jersey midcourt.  

By the end of the evening, the night's most valuable player didn't don a jersey nor did he have a life left to live, leaving the players to reconcile a future without their hero.  

"Beginning of the game was tough," Warriors forward Draymond Green told reporters in Philadelphia following the loss. "We all want to honor Kobe, and then you go into a basketball game. That's a switch you can't flip. Those are real emotions." 

Green's emotions, like the rest of the league, originated Sunday morning, when news trickled out that Bryant, along with his daughter Gianna and seven other passengers, were killed in a helicopter crash while flying to a basketball tournament at Bryant's Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Bryant's death reverberated throughout the league, including in Los Angeles, where crowds flooded the streets around Staples Center -- a building Bryant arguably built -- in remembrance.

In response, the league postponed Tuesday's scheduled matchup between the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers. 

The Warriors got the news before Sunday's practice, prompting its cancellation ahead of the team's longest road trip of the season. By Tuesday morning, the team finally gathered enough strength to talk about Bryant.

In a team meeting, Warriors coach Steve Kerr spoke and Steph Curry followed, beginning a roundtable discussion. 

"Today was the first day I could really reflect a little bit and talk about it," Kerr told reporters. "But the last two days, I don't think anybody could even begin to reflect, just because of the pain of what just happened and the pain we know so many people are dealing with."

By game time, Bryant's influence was recognized throughout the arena. Perhaps no one on Golden State's active roster was affected more than Green. 

Nearly four years ago, the Bryant gave Green his game-worn pair of sneakers, writing "make history" along the toebox following Bryant's last game at Oracle Arena. Months later, Green's Warriors won a league-record 73 regular-season games.  

When Green was suspended for Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals, he sought Bryant's advice in the wake of criticism that became “probably the lowest point of my NBA career.” Bryant responded with a poignant message.

"Draymond, 99 percent of the world is OK with mediocrity -- or worse," Green recalled Bryant telling him in a conversation with reporters Monday night. "But, at best, mediocrity. You’re chasing something so much bigger. How do you ever expect anyone to understand you?" 

"That meant the world to me because Kobe said f--- everybody, so f--- everybody," Green said. "I was able to hold onto that and rally and keep going and build on it.”

The biggest sign of Bryant's importance to Green was seen pregame, on the forward's feet. Since 2016, Green has made a point not to wear the signature shoes of other players. The protest began after Green -- who wore LeBron James' signature Nike shoe -- faced James in The Finals.

On Tuesday, he broke the protest, donning Bryant's first signature sneaker with Nike, displaying the sentiment his peers throughout the league share. 

"There's an era in this league right now or an age group that Kobe was Michael Jordan," Green said Tuesday. "Some guys aren't old enough to remember Jordan, but they remember Kobe. That was our Jordan."

While Green admired Bryant as an opponent, Warriors guard D'Angelo Russell came into the league under Bryant's tutelage. As a Lakers rookie, Russell's first season in the league in 2015-16 coincided with Bryant's last, bringing Russell a unique perspective.

When Russell scored 23 points in a loss, including nine of his team's last 11 points in regulation, Bryant told the rookie 'you got this', providing a push in his young career. When Bryant scored 60 points in the final game of his career, Russell was among the players to congratulate the Lakers great, providing a surreal experience for the 23-year old. 

"I was just thrown into the movie almost. I got to see how people treated him," Russell said. "The power that he had around this league. I've seen conversations with my idols and how they would talk to him, it was almost like they were looking up to him. It was weird. It was something you always wanted and then being right next to him, you felt like if you touched him or tried to shake his hand, your hand would go through him. He wasn't a real person almost. But it was cool. I cherished every moment." 

Across the court, Bryant's influence exhibited in Sixers big man Joel Embiid. Ten years ago, Embiid -- who wore Bryant's No. 24 on Tuesday night -- watched Bryant's performance in the 2010 NBA Finals from his native Cameroon. Bryant won his fifth title, inspiring Embiid along the way. 

"If it weren't for Kobe, I would probably be playing volleyball somewhere, or be a doctor," Embiid told reporters in Philadelphia. "I wanted to be the president of my country. But if it weren't for Kobe, I wouldn't be here."

But it was Bryant's actions post-retirement that elicited the most praise from Green postgame. Since leaving the game, Bryant immersed himself into his children, coaching his 13-year old Gianna's AAU team. On Sunday, his helicopter was en route to Thousand Oaks for the Mamba Cup -- a tournament his daughter's team was playing in. Following Tuesday's game, Green said Bryant's presence in the crash left an indelible mark. 

"I think about Kobe," Green said." Like in that situation, especially the man that Kobe was, like Kobe will try to build a mountain, and there's no one in the world that will tell them that he can't lift that mountain up. And you think about him in this situation, which is extremely graphic to think about, he's right there with his daughter. And he's probably telling her that everything is OK and in his mind, he knows it's not. So for me, I just think of that and believing in my heart that, no, I was nowhere near that helicopter, but I know how he went out."

[RELATED: How story of Kobe warming up vs. Dubs defined his greatness]

By the end of the night, the Warriors and 76ers reconciled a new world without an NBA pillar, one that Golden State still is adjusting to. 

"It just doesn't seem real," Kerr said. "But it is real. And it's always going to feel just shocking."