Warriors embracing role of favorite as new season begins
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Sure, raising the championship banner and receiving those glittery NBA championship rings will provide a sweet moment leading into a new season of expectations for the Golden State Warriors.
Then, as soon as the celebration is over, NBA MVP Stephen Curry and Co. will get back to business in a hurry.
''Honestly, I don't think that's really anybody's focus,'' forward Draymond Green said Monday. ''Obviously that will be cool, it'll be good to get the rings and see the rings, but we're focused on the task at hand, which is a completely different task.''
These defending champion Warriors, with nearly the entire group back that won the franchise's first title in 40 years, want to show they have what it takes to be regular contenders and that last season was no fluke despite all the critics suggesting it.
Golden State will raise the banner Tuesday night at Oracle Arena with coach Steve Kerr in attendance before he leaves to rest his surgically repaired back, which has forced him to the sidelines since he experienced problems the first week of training camp.
Interim coach Luke Walton will lead the way for the opener, with Kerr's timetable for returning still unclear. He was at practice Monday, taking a seat at the end.
Representatives of the three other Warriors championship teams will be in attendance - Rick Barry for 1975, Walt Davis of the '56 Philadelphia Warriors and Howie Dallmar Jr., son of the late 1947 titlist Howie Dallmar.
''It's a night these guys will remember the rest of their lives,'' Walton said. ''We're hopeful that we'll get our rings and be happy then we'll be able to transition our mindset to beat the Pelicans.''
The Warriors also have invited Sacramento-based U.S. airman Spencer Stone, who along with two friends helped thwart a suspected terrorist attack on a train in France in August.
While Golden State made few changes this offseason aside from David Lee's departure to Boston and bringing in Jason Thompson to replace him as backup power forward, the teams chasing the Warriors in the West added fresh faces.
''We have the same guys that we've grown together, and we've really brought the best out of each other,'' Curry said. ''When you have that rollover from year to year where you know exactly what to expect from your teammates and how you're going to challenge each other and just the feel in the locker room, that's what I kind of rely on to give me that confidence.''
San Antonio added power forwards LaMarcus Aldridge and David West, while the Rockets traded for Ty Lawson from Denver, and the Clippers feature a trio of newcomers in Paul Pierce, Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson.
Golden State will face Western Conference playoff teams in each of its first five games.
''We've got a tough schedule to start off,'' Green said. ''One of the things that was great for us last year is we got off to a phenomenal start and for the rest of the year everybody else was playing catch up.''
There might be some added fuel, too, given all the critics of Golden State's title run.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers recently told Grantland: ''You need luck in the West. Look at Golden State. They didn't have to play us or the Spurs.''
''I'm surprised at some of their comments, yeah,'' Walton, who won two titles with the Lakers as a player, said Monday. ''I've been around the NBA long enough, the best team wins the NBA championship, that's just the way it is. It's the way it's set up with the seven-game series. To go that far and win all the series, you're the best team in the NBA, and last year we were. And we're going to try to be again this year.''
And it just so happens former Warriors associate head coach Alvin Gentry will be part of the celebration as he is now the first-year coach of New Orleans - almost as if he never left. Well, until he goes to the visitor's bench following all the pregame fanfare.
''It'll be two teams knowing each other very well,'' Green said. ''That moment isn't about talking smack. We accomplished something special, and we're going to try to enjoy that moment, then he's got to get the boot.''
The Warriors know full well they will get every team's best wherever they go, with visiting arenas poised to fill the seats for the defending champs' visit to town.
After all the years of futility, Golden State's players are embracing this newfound position.
''That's what you play for at the end of the day,'' Green said. ''If you're always the one hunting, that ain't good.''