SHANGHAI, China – The plan was to play the Lakers on Friday night, leave Mercedes-Benz Arena, bus to the airport, take off 1 a.m. Saturday, stop in Anchorage, Alaska, to refuel and land in Oakland at 1 a.m. Saturday. Depart from one continent and arrive in another at the same hour.
The Warriors are into pulling off some tricks lately, ending their two-game series with the Lakers in China (a 115-89 Golden State victory Friday morning before 17,482 here) while trying to replicate the chemistry of last season with a new-look roster.
The most important personalities from last season’s promising finish are back. Stephen Curry and David Lee, emerging as leaders, and Andrew Bogut leading with a chip on his shoulder to offset the team’s nice-guy image, are all here. Coach Mark Jackson, a commanding presence in that room, returns to force feed so much positive reinforcement that players have no choice but to believe.
But two of the key veteran presences, Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, left as free agents. Although one of the newcomers, Andre Iguodala, is expected to fit in without difficulty, his arrival will likely trigger a lineup shuffle that will send either Harrison Barnes or Klay Thompson, both starters a year ago, to the bench, which could disrupt things.
“That was, I would say, the biggest factor in what happened last year with us and how we got the most out of our talent,” said Lee, the All-Star power forward. “Everybody was on the same page. We never had any issues within the team. This year, it usually takes until a little way through the regular season for that to come together. It’s not something that can be rushed. It’s just kind of something that happens. I think we’ve done a very good job of integrating everybody and getting everybody on the same page on the court and off the court.”
It’s all worked out, so far. The trip to China played a big part in it.
The Warriors were forced into close quarters with a schedule of appearances in Beijing and Shanghai. Significant others were on the trip, from the plane ride that left Oakland last Friday to some activities to the team hotels to the same long ride back. Teams often overstate the bonding effect of long trips, but there may have been real value for a team that relied so heavily on camaraderie last year.
“Probably the thing that you forget is that it forces you to spend time together and, moreso, with your significant other. There’s guys that brought girlfriends or wives, and we’re around them. They get to see me or their teammates as people,” Jackson said. “Valuable time. Not, ‘That’s the shooting guard’ or ‘That’s the center’ or ‘That’s the coach.’
“I’m not going to minimize the impact that those guys last year [who have left the team] had in the locker room, on the plane, on the bus, on the court. I don’t take it for granted. I have total appreciation for them and what they did. I’m confident that this group will develop chemistry. Jarrett Jack had a voice. Carl Landry had a voice. Those guys had a voice. They played a role. It takes time to develop that, but I’m very confident that these guys will be tied together and we’ll move forward.”
The Warriors are down to two exhibition games, a back-to-back in Sacramento and at-home against the Trail Blazers, before opening the regular season Oct. 30. Then, they’ll face the expectation, not the hope, of playing into May.
The quicker they can prove that this group can mesh as well as the last — and it may not happen for a while — the quicker they will take their next step forward. They’re already on their way.