Midway through the first quarter of every game, Andre Iguodala would rise from the Warriors bench, walk toward the scorer’s table and take the floor, energizing the defense and lubricating the offense. You could set your watch to it.
When it was time for Stephen Curry’s rest period, typically the first half of the second and fourth quarters, the call went to Shaun Livingston or Quinn Cook.
When Zaza Pachulia went out, Kevon Looney generally entered to finish the first and third quarters, with David West summoned to open the second and fourth.
And blowouts aside, almost never were starting guards Klay Thompson and Curry on the bench at the same time.
The Warriors during their championship years were, game after game, perhaps the closest thing to a push-button operation in the NBA. Everyone on the bench, from coach Steve Kerr to the 13th man, knew the rotations. Moreover, they knew the reasons behind them.
“Training camp before was kind of just getting in shape,” Curry said this week. “Now, it's more so that we’ve got to do that, and we’ve got to figure out who needs to be where, what sets are going to be our bread-and-butter, defensive chemistry and communication – everything that makes the team great. There’s a sense of urgency to it.”
Indeed. With the preseason opener four days away and the regular-season two weeks away, finding roles are a high priority during this truncated training camp. The goal is to discover find a workable concept despite dips in experience and quality.
“That's going to be a big theme this year,” Kerr said Tuesday after practice. “With Klay's injury, it changes that look. That's part of what training camp will be about, is trying to figure out what but that rotation looks like.”
We know Brad Wanamaker, coming over from the Celtics, will be the primary backup behind Curry at point guard. We know that centers Marquese Chriss, James Wiseman and Looney will be utilized most every night. We can safely assume that either Kelly Oubre Jr. or Andrew Wiggins – if not both – will be on the floor when Curry sits.
Aside from that, it’s mostly exploration for the next few weeks.
“The freshness of it is kind of cool because there is so much unknown,” Curry said. “There's going to be an opportunity for guys to really assert themselves in these different roles. The competitiveness across the board and up and down the depth chart is going to be solid.”
Kent Bazemore and Damion Lee and Jordan Poole and Mychal Mulder will try to make their way into the backcourt rotation, though Bazemore could slide onto the wing. Eric Paschall, Alen Smailagic and Juan Toscano-Anderson will search for a place in the frontcourt.
Of this group, only Bazemore and Lee are veterans, with Lee the most experienced under this coaching staff.
“A good thing is we've got a couple guys in Andrew and Kelly who can put the ball on the floor, break the defense down and force a reaction,” Kerr said. “We can open up the floor that way and generate some offense.
“There's a good chance you’ll see both of those guys in the second unit. Maybe just one of them. We'll see. We have to mix and match with all this and find the right the right lineup combinations.”
For Curry, it’s a step back in time. There was a lot of uncertainty and instability in his first three seasons. Not until Mark Jackson’s second season, as roles were being defined, was it apparent that a foundation was being built.
“You can win a lot of different ways and we've had a lot of different experiences, from the early days to that five-year window to now,” Curry said. “That’s part of the beauty of the NBA, being in all of those different (situations) and still trying to win. I'm excited about, again, the freshness of what that looks like.”
If you’re wondering why the Warriors are such underdogs, with a growing number of NBA observers counting them out of the playoffs, start with the rotations and reserves.
Curry is a certified superstar facing questions about his ability to produce as defenses place an even greater emphasis on stopping him. Draymond Green is a three-time All-Star whose status who some believe is declining. Oubre Jr. is perceived as a talent in need of polish. Wiggins’ reputation is of someone less than determined to maximize his gifts.
No matter what those four players bring over the course of the season, the Warriors can only rise so high without finding ways to be effective down the roster.
If they’re going to the slightest chance of competing for a top-four playoff berth in the West, the bench will have to bring some pleasant surprises. And fast, because this is a season in which time is at a premium.