Kurt Helin

51 Questions: Three things Golden State must do to repeat as champs

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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

What do the Warriors need to do to repeat as champs?

Say the Warriors got lucky to win the franchise’s first title in 40 years and they take umbrage. Stephen Curry gets sarcastic, Draymond Green gets testy, and as a team you can see the Warriors have a little chip on their shoulder. Which is a good thing if they are going to repeat as champs — they will need that fire.

Make no mistake, the Warriors certainly can repeat. They should be the favorite.

But if I had to bet on the Warriors or the field in a brutal Western Conference, I’ll take the field. There are just so many things that have to go right in a chase for a title, and in this West there is little margin for error.

What has to go right for the Warriors to win it all again?

1. Stay Healthy.

Sorry Warriors, but you were lucky last season. That’s not a slight — not even Michael Jordan won an NBA title without some luck on the health front — it’s just a fact. The Warriors stayed healthier than any other contender, and that was part of their success.

Now they just have to do it again.

On this front, the Warriors have an advantage over some other contenders (hello San Antonio) in that much of their core is young — Curry is 27, Green and Klay Thompson are 25, Harrison Barnes is 23. But still this team needs to avoid a freak injury to those young players while keeping older guys like Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala rested for the playoffs. The Warriors can survive a regular season injury to anyone and still make the playoffs, but once the postseason arrives they will need all hands on deck to repeat.

2. Keep on sacrificing.

Pat Riley calls it the “disease of more” — where individual players start putting themselves ahead of the team after winning a title — and it tears apart championship teams in every sport. Look at the Seattle Seahawks this season, who had to get their quarterback a new contract, had Kam Chancellor holding out, have had trouble fitting in new pieces, plus the distraction that is Marshawn Lynch’s mother — and they are 2-3 to start the season.

Is Iguodala going to remain happy coming off the bench? Will Barnes’ contract extension talks become a distraction? Will the fact that Curry is the fifth highest paid player on this team become an issue? Does Green try to do too much to live up to his $82 million contract? Will Jason Thompson fit in?

Maybe none of this slows the team down. It is very possible everyone keeps buying in and willingly making sacrifices for the betterment of the whole. Steve Kerr knows how to guide them through these pitfalls. But if the Warriors stumble, they would not be the first team to be undone by the disease of more.

3. Avoid complacency.

So far through the preseason, the Warriors have looked disinterested and a little sloppy. It’s preseason, so nobody should read much into that. The problem is that after the euphoric highs of winning an NBA title the slog of an 82-game regular season can seem even more dreary, and teams get complacent. They lose focus. They stop building good habits during the regular season, thinking they can flip the switch. Then they can’t.

When I asked Curry about staying hungry this coming season, he almost blew the question off.

“That’s going to be easy,” Curry said. “We’re all competitors, we’re all proud of what we did last season, but once you enter a new year, we’ll get our rings on opening night, and that’s the end of the celebrating of what happened and you look forward to the next journey, the next goal, which is to win another one.

“I’m hopefully going to lead that charge, and we have such a great core of guys that are young and hungry and want to relive that intoxicating feeling of winning a championship. You look at the history of the league, you understand how hard it is to win one, but the challenge of winning multiple is something that I’m happy to be gunning for now, that I’ve got one under my belt. But that’s the mission.”

Going from the hunter to the hunted is a transition that trips a lot of teams up.

Maybe the Warriors are the exception ready for every one of these challenges. But it will be harder than they realize. They don’t need just to be as good as last season, they will need to be a little better — because the Spurs, Clippers, Rockets and Thunder are all better than a season ago (at least on paper).

There is no margin for error in the Western Conference. The Warriors need to pick up speed, not just make sure they didn’t lose any.

Steve Kerr to travel on Warrior’s road trip, appears near return

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On Friday, the Golden State Warriors will board their charter plane for Southern California, where they will take on the Lakers twice (once in San Diego, once in Anaheim) and the Clippers once (at Staples Center).

Steve Kerr will be joining them, reports Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com. That does not mean he’ll return to the bench after time off to recover from back surgeries, but he’s getting close.

“I think it’s great,” (interim coach Luke) Walton said prior to the Warriors-Rockets game at Oracle Arena. “Obviously, Steve is one of those guys that just having him around makes everything better. He wouldn’t be coming down with us at all if he was still as bad as he was. So I think it shows signs of improvement….

““I don’t think it means he’ll be back in the next two days,” Walton said, “but all we can ask for is that he keeps getting better.”

 

 

Kerr has shown up at a few practices at the Warriors’ practice facility before, he’s not exactly been exiled to Elba.

Remember that Kerr has a home in San Diego, so making this trip with the team isn’t going to be that taxing on him. Still, this is a sign he will be back sooner rather than later, and that’s going to matter because (with all due respect to Walton) Kerr understands this team and knows when to push what button.

Also, Poole notes that Southern California-based Steve Kerr will likely spend some time working with the team while they are on this road trip.

PBT Extra bold prediction preview: Can Hawks even win 50 games?

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Last season the Atlanta Hawks were the league’s biggest surprise — sharp ball movement, smart use of players and everybody buying into the system got them off to a fast start and eventually 60 wins.

This season, now without DeMarre Carroll, the conventional wisdom is they will take a step back. The question is how big? That’s what we cover in this latest PBT Extra with Jenna Corrado.

I expect it to be more than 10 games, I see this as a high 40s win team.

51 Questions: Is this the final year of the Tim Duncan Spurs?

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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Is this the final season of the Duncan era Spurs?

Tim Duncan will turn 40 during this season, his 19th.

That’s a lot of miles on his legs.

The past couple summers, after the Spurs’ season ended, Duncan would take some time off — likely to hang out at an auto shop — and collect his thoughts. He considered walking out on top after 2014. He thought about it again after the Clippers bounced the Spurs in the first round last spring. Both times he chose to return.

Will it be different this time? Is this the final season of the legendary Tim Duncan era Spurs?

Probably. But it’s not like Duncan is tipping his hand.

If this is it, like Gregg Popovich himself, we will all be a little sad.

But nobody knows if this is it — not even Duncan. He may have a sense of what he wants to do, but he is going to see how this season plays out, how he feels next spring, then make a decision. Last season he was so consistent, was given enough rest, and the Spurs were still contenders, so he felt he could keep going — and more importantly keep contributing at a high level.

It’s not just Duncan, if he walks away Manu Ginobili likely steps away. Ginobili is physically fading faster; this is likely his last season regardless.

Duncan’s career stats are mind-boggling. He has played 18 seasons and never once missed the playoffs. The Spurs have won at least 50 games every one of those seasons except for the lockout 1998-99 season when they only played 50 games — that season they won 37 (a 60-win pace in a normal season) and won the NBA title. Duncan has won five championships, two MVPs and three Finals MVPs. He’s a 15-time All-Star and 15-time All-NBA team member.

He will go down as the greatest power forward to ever play the game when he steps away (with all due respect to Karl Malone, Kevin McHale, and whoever else you want to throw in the conversation). His legacy is set.

This is a transition year, as the Spurs evolve from the Tim Duncan/Tony Parker/Manu Ginobili Spurs to the Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge’s version. Duncan can hang up his sneakers after an unprecedented run of success and know that the Spurs winning tradition will continue (especially since Gregg Popovich says he will continue to coach beyond when Duncan retires).

But Duncan isn’t going to decide until the Spurs season ends — he hopes in mid-June after another boat parade down the Riverwalk. Whenever he decides, the Spurs will likely announce it in a press release and Duncan will try to avoid any fanfare around it.

But that’s how we’ll all find out.

Blatt, Cavaliers may shut down LeBron James for rest of preseason

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LeBron James is sitting out the Cavaliers’ Thursday night preseason game against the Pacers. That much is certain.

But as LeBron has said he feels like he could use more rest, the Cavaliers may shut him down for the remainder of the preseason. That from coach David Blatt, via Jason Lloyd at the Akron Beacon Journal.

He isn’t hurt, the Cavs are just trying to limit his minutes.

“We’ll see what happens at the beginning of next week,” Blatt said, referring to games at the Toronto Raptors on Sunday and home against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday to conclude the preseason. “I certainly don’t expect him to play both games and I don’t know if he’ll even play one. We’ll see.”

This makes sense, and it’s why LeBron has only played in two of the Cavaliers’ preseason games so far. There’s no question LeBron showed up to camp in shape, and his skill set is plenty sharp. They are going to get him rest during the season, too, but there is no reason to run him much in the preseason either.

It’s all about the big picture, and the little things that Blatt and the Cavaliers do now can help lay a foundation for that.