By all accounts, 2014-15 was a magical year for the Golden State Warriors.
Stephen Curry won the MVP, the team had 67 wins, and to top it off, they dominated LeBron James‘ Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals to win their first championship since 1975. Throughout the year, a unique sort of buzz followed the team as they made their run, turning the casual NBA fan into one who would make the effort to catch Warriors games on television, and turning diehard NBA fans into grown men and women who would literally get giddy with excitement when they saw Warriors highlights on their Twitter feeds.
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But as magical as last year was, Golden State is going to be in for a much different ride on the road to a repeat. Though the Warriors certainly endeared themselves to basketball fans all over America, they also gained plenty of haters within the Association, which makes taking the league by surprise a little bit harder the second time around.
Some players (like James Harden), don’t think that Stephen Curry deserved the MVP trophy. Some coaches (like Doc Rivers), feel that the Warriors lucked their way to a title because they didn’t have to play either the Clippers or Spurs. And some teams in general (like the Clippers) have developed a legitimate hatred for the Warriors, because no matter what, Golden State always seems to have their number.
Keeping the Larry O’Brien Trophy in Oakland is going to prove to be a tall task for these Warriors.
But one of the biggest challenges Golden State is going to face won’t be on the court — it’ll be in their heads. Repeating as champions in any sport is difficult, but because of the length and intensity of the basketball season, it’s doubly true in the NBA. Though the shorter off-season may leave players a bit more fatigued than they’re used to start the year, the hardest part about trying to win a second straight title is finding the motivation.
Every year, players tell the media how motivation won’t be an issue, and how winning a title won’t impact their commitment to the small details that got them there in the first place. But almost every year, there’s a new NBA champion crowned in mid-June, indicating that maybe staying motivated isn’t as easy as players think.
Pat Riley, who is undeniably one of the greatest coaches and motivators in the history of the NBA agrees with that sentiment. After winning the 1987 title as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, he had this to say:
"“In all the research that has been done, and all the talk about it, the difference between the first year and the second year is the team’s motivation.”"
But, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to motivate a team coming right off a championship. It just means that Luke Walton (and eventually Steve Kerr) is going to have to find more creative ways to do so. How they go about doing that is anybody’s guess, but if Golden State comes out even a little flat to start the year, the juggernaut that is the Western Conference won’t hesitate to leave them in the dust.Andre Iguodala
and the rest of the Warriors are going to need another strong start to the season. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
After a surprising first round exit, the San Antonio Spurs have added LaMarcus Aldridge and David West to their squad. Following a Western Conference Finals drubbing at the hands of the Warriors, the Houston Rockets added some depth at point guard with Ty Lawson. And the Los Angeles Clippers, who blew their 3-1 lead over Houston in the conference semifinals, added the ever savvy Paul Pierce, and the mercurial but talented Lance Stephenson.
While their competition brings in outside help however, Golden State has been focused on building upon what got them to the pinnacle of basketball last season. Though their play didn’t often reflect it, the Warriors certainly had growing pains in trying to adjust to Steve Kerr’s hybrid offense of Phil Jackson‘s triangle and Mike D’Antoni‘s famed Seven Seconds or Less offense. In practice, players have recounted times when they struggled so much trying to implement plays that Kerr gave up all together.
This year though, the coaching staff feels that the players have a much better grasp of the system and as a result, are devolving the decision-making duties largely to those on the floor, essentially removing the power from the row of suits on the sideline. It’s certainly an experiment, that if goes awry, could derail the Warriors chances of utter domination like last season. But if it succeeds, it could be the change that kicks an already potent Golden State team into hyper drive.
The NBA season is finally here, and nobody knows who’s going to be crowned king come next June. But the Warriors know that every other team wants what they have.
It’s up to Stephen Curry & Co. to be up to the challenge.