Are the Warriors just getting started?

ByEthan Sherwood Strauss ESPN logo
Wednesday, June 17, 2015

CLEVELAND -- "This is truly special," Stephen Curry said immediately after the Golden State Warriors won their first championship in 40 years. "Special" is the word you keep hearing about this team and around this team. It's a sappy sports clich. It also has the virtue of being true. And that's what the Warriors have been this season: A clich with a ring of verisimilitude, ending in championship rings.

This is a team exceptional enough to get you believing that winning can be fun. It's also a team exceptional enough to lend credibility to your father's hoary notions regarding character and chemistry. To beat LeBron James and the Cavaliers, they got a crucial contribution from Finals MVP Andre Iguodala. Before he guarded James (who shot 38.1 percent from the field with Iguodala on the floor), he had to deal with the first reserve role of his career. He did it well because he's a professional, surrounded by professionals, in a good workplace environment.

"It says a lot about what character and what chemistry in the NBA can mean," a champagne-soaked David Lee said after the 105-97 Game 6 win over Cleveland on Tuesday night. Of Golden State's front office, he continued, "They've gone out and they've gotten guys that get along, that are good people on and off the court and have found a way to play as a team and sacrifice."

Then Lee used that "S" word again.

"If we would have won it with a bunch of jerks, it would have been a great experience, but to win it with these guys has made it that much more special."

The Warriors are special in a way that feels almost too good to be true. Their ever-popular superstar is considered a model citizen. Their coaching staff is stacked with brains that are bigger than egos. Now they sit atop the NBA, with a larger contention window than almost anyone else. Can "special" sustain? Is it a fragile state?

Soon-to-be free agent Draymond Green described his team's ephemeral nature back in March, saying, "This team right here, this team will probably never be together again. That's just the nature of the business. One addition, one subtraction, this isn't together no more. So take advantage while you got it. Because I'm sure this team will never be together again."

He's right. It will never be quite the same. The nature of sports is change. But Green will almost certainly be back, meaning the team's core will likely remain. Assistant coach Alvin Gentry is off to New Orleans to lead a possible future Golden State rival with the Pelicans, but near everyone else should return.

Golden State assistant general manager Travis Schlenk described the future mission with concision: "Don't f--- it up," he told ESPN.

It's astounding that the Warriors went from league laughingstock to a team that must merely maintain the good times. They're well set up to do just that, too. Their upcoming contracts are staggered in a way that allows them to build as the salary cap goes up. In theory, the Warriors should be able to hang on to Green, Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeliand, yes, eventually Stephen Curry in 2017. Golden State's core is young, improving and probably not going anywhere.

Now the newest champions are the league's vanguard, pioneering a style of switch-heavy, versatile defense, combined with fast-paced offense that's predicated on, yes, jump shooting. Exiting the locker room, Gentry exalted, "Tell Mike D'Antoni he's vindicated! We just kicked everyone's ass playing the way everybody complained about!" Gentry coached for D'Antoni's Suns back when they revolutionized basketball. Those teams never won the title, leading many to see inherent flaws in their style. In 2015, the "jump shooting" Warriors proved doubters wrong, crushing the league with beautiful hoops.

So the Warriors are cutting edge but also owe an homage or two to the unsung past. After the game, rookie coach and champion coach Steve Kerr told ESPN, "I think Miami and San Antonio in many ways already vindicated [Mike D'Antoni's] style. Their personnel is different, but they both space the floor."

He continued, "What Mike did was change the way the league thought, change the way coaches thought. It's evolved since then, but what you're getting is teams like Miami, San Antonio, teams like us that opened up the floor and have the personnel to defend like crazy, too. That's the key."

That's the key, indeed. Golden State married the game-changing offense of the recent past with a defense that feels futuristic. They did it with a skinny point guard who thrills national audiences lofting 30-footers over 7-footers. They did the unexpected with an unconventional approach. Now the league takes their lead, chasing after their spot. What have the Warriors started? What have they continued? Maybe Golden State won't be as "special" next season, but they've got talent and they've got time. They just might keep showing us the way.

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