NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Warriors ready to get back to work — Last season, in Steve Kerr‘s first year as a head coach, the Golden State Warriors struck gold, winning the franchise’s first NBA championship in four decades, thanks largely to the play of NBA MVP Stephen Curry. After winning the NBA Finals, the Warriors clearly enjoyed the offseason, as members of the team popped up all over the media landscape, often with the Larry O’Brien Trophy in tow. But as our own Scott Howard-Cooper writes, at media day yesterday the Warriors reconvened in the Bay Area ready to get back to work defending their chip…
Day 1 of the new season as defending champion and reigning MVP, and Curry already has a challenge: Show he got enough down in the alleged offseason to be ready to again drive the Warriors into June.
Teammate Andrew Bogut, noting the Golden State whirlwind since beating the Cavaliers in the Finals, said, “It feels like the championship parade was last Tuesday.” And he played for Australia in a tournament to qualify for the Olympics but mostly got to recharge. Imagine how fast the summer streaked by for Curry. He played in a POTUS foursome — Curry shot a 76 — had another daughter, hit China, the Philippines and Japan to promote Under Armour, and chatted with Jimmy Fallon in L.A. and Jimmy Kimmel in New York. And there were more talk shows, more appearances to help open the practice facility at Davidson, his alma mater, more other long days.
“All that stuff is fun, but at the end of the day I’m still the same person, still do the same stuff in my spare time that keeps me grounded, keeps me normal,” Curry said Monday as the Warriors officially reconvened for media day in advance of opening camp Tuesday at their practice facility. “Me and my family had an opportunity to get away and spend time with ourselves and just try to be as normal as possible. It’s obviously been different, especially here in the Bay Area. Going out and doing things, you get recognized a lot more. The world’s kind of gotten smaller. But for the most part, the way that we kind of live and do our daily routine, we find time to get away from the game and the noise. That’s helpful to handle all the good that’s gone on on the court and everything we’ve been able to accomplish.”
This now becomes about all the Warriors figuring out how to handle the champion’s spotlight, but no one more than Curry and his new status of superstar-in-demand. There are the many reasons to feel good around Warriors Ground. He is a tireless worker who puts a priority on being ready to play. He is 27, young enough to have the recovery powers that will eventually elude him. He has a coach, Steve Kerr, with a firm understanding of finding opportunities to cut back on players’ minutes. And Curry is mature enough — thanks in part to a father who lasted 16 NBA seasons — to understand the importance of rest.
Except that it doesn’t matter how Curry felt Monday. April matters, and there is no way to predict how his summer in a shrinking world will hit him when the next playoffs begin. (A lot will depend on the other Warriors. They recorded so many blowouts last season, becoming just the eighth team in league history to outscore the opposition by an average of double digits, that Curry was able to rest a lot of fourth quarters. That undoubtedly made a difference in the 2015 postseason.)
No. 2: Kobe has more questions than answers — Kobe Bryant is in the final year of his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, but as he prepares for his 20th NBA season, there seem to be more questions than answers. For many months now, it has been assumed that this will be Kobe’s final season in the NBA. But now, on the even of training camp, as our own Shaun Powell writes, despite reports that Kobe plans to finish his career as a Laker, Kobe is either playing coy, or perhaps he honestly doesn’t know what the future holds…
Here’s what we can surmise about Kobe at this very moment: His bread and butter move isn’t a step-back jumper or a floater in the lane or a 25-footer with a hand in his grill. His signature move is a shrug.
“Not sure,” he said. “Big question mark.”
That’s his stock answer right now to the most pressing training camp questions involving him and, to a lesser extent, the short-range view of the Lakers, who did not and could not surround him with enough championship-level talent here in what could be his walk-away season. Once again, then, Kobe is one of the league’s most fascinating players even if he isn’t the best or among the best anymore.
Maybe it’s just Kobe being coy, or maybe, as he insisted, he’s as stumped as ever.
“I’m as excited for this season as I’ve been any season,” he said, before adding that it’s also the most unsure he’s ever felt in an NBA uniform. He has played only 41 games the last two seasons mainly due to a repaired Achilles and suddenly, the most durable of stars appears vulnerable. He’s also on the final year of his contract which, of course, invites heavy speculation about retirement next spring.
“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t,” he said.
Or maybe you can go another route, as his former coach Phil Jackson did when he volunteered to throw a log on the fire by suggesting Kobe could play in another uniform next season.
“Everybody’s going to have an opinion,” Kobe said. “That’s his opinion.”
And Kobe’s opinion?
“Hell if I know.”
No. 3: Hawks back to chasing the process — Last season the Atlanta Hawks caught the NBA by surprise, reeling off 60 wins and taking the regular season Eastern Conference crown. This season they return with not only the element of surprise removed from their arsenal, but with their style of pace and space basketball exposed for the rest of the NBA to scheme against. As our own Sekou Smith writes, the Hawks understand last season was only a step in the pursuit of a larger goal…
A historical season, for the franchise and the city of Atlanta, is just history now. There will be no chasing the ghosts of the recent past and no measuring this season by the last, at least not around here, where the Hawks are as married to the process of the present as any team in the NBA.
“Last season was just a step,” All-Star shooting guard Kyle Korver said Monday during the Hawks’ Media Day session at Philips Arena. “It was a giant step, a huge step and great for this franchise and the city, but just a step. We didn’t win a championship, so it’s not like we accomplished our ultimate goal.”
Winning it all would have been considered crazy talk around here before last season. Yes, the Hawks have been an Eastern Conference playoff staple for years but never a serious contender.
But one season, one colossal season where seemingly everything fits into place, can change wild expectations into a reality at the tip of your fingers.
“We don’t have any doubts about who and what we are,” All-Star point guard Jeff Teague said. “We’ve worked hard as a group the past few years and this is the result of that hard work. We know who we are and what we’re capable of. We’ve shown what we can do. And now it’s about consistency.”
The Hawks return four All-Stars — Korver, Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Teague — and other members of their core group that are entering their third training camp under Mike Budenholzer, who added the permanent title of President of Basketball Operations to his official title during offseason that saw the Hawks get a new ownership group.
The departure of defensive ace and emotional leader DeMarre Carroll (Toronto via free agency) is the only significant departure the Hawks will have to deal with heading into the start of training camp Tuesday at the University of Georgia. And even that comes with the added boost of producing some competitive fire from the players vying to replace him, a group that includes Thabo Sefolosha, Kent Bazemore and Tim Hardaway Jr.
It’s just the sort of training camp wrinkle Budenholzer is looking for to shake things up for a group that is confident in the body of work produced in his first two seasons, but still hungry for bigger and better things going forward.
“I think there is going to be a team effort to bring the energy and the competitiveness and the edge that a guy like DeMarre Carroll brings,” Budenholzer said of replacing Carroll. “So I don’t know that there is going to be any one individual who does that. But I think there are guys on our team, the core group that’s been here, they are probably going to raise their level of energy and intensity. But when you have Thabo and Kent who have both been here and I think are both elite wing defenders and have have proven that in the NBA, it may look and feel a little bit different, but I think their ability to have a similar impact is something that gives us a lot of confidence.”
No. 4: Knicks and Anthony return, with expectations low — Carmelo Anthony missed more than half of last season after knee surgery, which was a major reason the Knicks finished with a franchise-low 17 wins. Now Anthony is healthy, and Knicks team president Phil Jackson has made several moves to fortify the roster, as the Knicks’ rebuilding project begins the task of actually getting off the ground. How long will it take Anthony and rookie Kristaps Porzingis to help mold the Knicks into a team with more wins than losses? As our own Lang Whitaker writes, at media day yesterday Anthony was quick to point out that it’s too early to have expectations at this point…
“It’s going to take some time to kind of figure out what our expectations are,” says Anthony. “It’s good not to have any expectations at this time. It gives us a chance to kind of have a fresh start, and get our identity and where we want to end up. It starts tomorrow. I don’t think you’ll be hearing about expectations from any of the guys right now. It’s too early at this point.”
This isn’t to say Anthony thinks the Knicks shouldn’t have any aspirations whatsoever. As he enters his 13th season, the 31-year-old Anthony has been to the Conference Finals just once (in 2009 with the Nuggets), and still hopes to change the narrative advanced by some that while he’s clearly a gifted scorer — averaging 25.2 points over his career — he’s not much more than just a bucket collector. With Anthony under contract with the Knicks for at least three more seasons, the clock is ticking louder and louder on the prime of his career.
“My window is open,” he says. “I don’t think it’s closing. For the most part, coming into this year, I think we get a chance to write our own destiny right now. That’s a good thing — we can start off fresh, start off with a clean slate. We can write whatever story we want to write, whether good or bad. I think guys are excited about that, to have a chance to start off fresh, to put the past behind us and move forward.”
A large part of New York’s future looks to rest in the hands of first round draft pick Kristaps Porzingis, the 19-year-old seven-footer from Latvia that the Knicks drafted fourth overall. Porzingis has clearly learned how to appeal to area fans, with several vague but laudatory maxims down cold: “Best city in the world,” Porzingis notes. “No better place to win.”
According to Porzingis, he and Anthony played one-on-one, “for like a week straight, every day. As I played against him, he was showing me all his moves, and I was just trying to learn from him, asking him how he did this, how he did that, how he moves his feet, all that kind of stuff.”
(By the way, rookie, who won the bulk of these games? “Melo is Melo. He beat me more than I beat him.”)
After being selected 4th overall by the Knicks in the 2015 Draft, Kristaps Porzingis got off to a solid start in the Las Vegas Summer League.
Anthony said he hopes to be a “big brother” to Porzingis, and he clearly sees some similarities in his own journey to the NBA: Anthony entered the league as a 19-year-old in 2003 after being the third overall pick.
“I’ve showed everybody I support Porzingis,” Anthony says. “As long as me and KP know our relationship, that’s all that really matters, and it doesn’t matter what somebody might speculate out there. As far as him coming into this season, I kind of feel bad for him, because there’s so much pressure on him at this point, and this guy hasn’t played not even one minute in the NBA… I don’t think he knows what he’s about to get himself into. So I’ve got to kind of be that wall for him.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: When LeBron James and his Cavs teammates met up in Miami this summer, they used the informal workout as a motivating session … Kevin Garnett still hates playing center … Jimmy Butler says the Bulls belong to everyone … How the Clippers ended up signing Josh Smith … The Orlando Magic and Evan Fournier have reportedly had initial discussions about a contract extension … The Lakers have hired James Worthy to help coach their big men … Steven Adams can’t wear a headband …