Here is a link to my column previewing the Warriors opener. The full text runs below:
The grownup who, from afar, looks like a kid was sitting at the edge of the practice court. The world-champ Golden State Warriors were shooting and practicing moves to the hoop, and the kid-adult, wearing a T-shirt, looked on.
He had a smile on his face. He usually wears a smile, but he should have been on the court. In charge. He is Steve Kerr, who won the league championship as a rookie coach. As you know, he is not coaching. He is watching.
He had a serious back injury and surgery and leaking spinal fluid and headaches. He is getting better. That’s what the team says, although not well enough to coach, to endure the rigors of practice and games and winning and losing.
He will be back sooner rather than later. The team says that, too. It is a hopeful message in a vague way. And while he sits and while he waits and while he heals, remember this. The kid-adult is one hell of a coach. Ditto as a person. Integrity personified. Smart. Funny. Laughs at himself. And a will strong as titanium.
After the Warriors lost Kerr — for however long they lose him — and after the Warriors lost assistant coach Alvin Gentry, now head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, the Warriors’ opening-night opponent — well, after they lost those two, the Warriors are down two coaches. Some way to start a season.
Luke Walton, pretty much a beginner, is subbing for Kerr. Walton is the acting head coach. He also has taken over Gentry’s role as offensive smart guy. People in the Warriors organization say Walton is not “in charge” of offense, but spends more time thinking about that than defense.
Any way you parse it, Walton is taking over two roles — head coach and offensive leader. Which means he’s two coaches in one. Which means he has lots to do. Lots to prove. Gentry is one of the best offensive minds in the NBA. Maybe the best. No one knows where Walton ranks. We’ll find out.
At Walton’s media session after Monday’s practice I asked, “Where is Steve going to be tomorrow night?”
“I have no idea,” Walton said. “He’s coming to the (pregame championship) ring ceremony. From there, I don’t know if he’s going home, if he’s staying in the back.”
“Do you feel like the real coach?” I asked.
“I feel like the real coach right now, yeah,” Walton said. “It has to be that way. The players have to look at me as the real coach, and I have to act as if I’m the real coach. That’s the only way to get things done that need to get done in this situation that we’re in.”
An unusual situation. An unprecedented situation.
I’ll tell you something else unprecedented. The Warriors are the champs and, although they won the championship before, it was long ago. This team has to deal with repeating. Challenges present themselves. Like this one:
“Whether a team is 10 games under .500 or in the playoff race, it makes their season to try and beat you,” Walton said. “Every single night, we’re going to get that team’s best shot. And that’s where the challenge comes in.”
Well, other challenges intrude. The other teams are jealous of the Warriors. There has been nasty talk. The Warriors weren’t the best team. Had an easy road through the playoffs. Got lucky. The full sour-grapes litany.
Walton: “I’ve been around the NBA long enough. The best team wins the NBA championship. That’s just the way it is.”
How does Walton feel about the negative quotes from other teams?
“It doesn’t make any difference, but I think our guys will use it. They like a little trash talk. They play better when they’re on edge.”
The league wants the Warriors on edge. Jittery. Combustible. In a mere preseason game, the L.A. Clippers got tough, hit the Warriors, got called for five technical fouls. Chris Paul got tossed from the game.
What did all this mean?
The Clippers need to beat the Warriors, need to find a way. Their way is to beat them up. To play dirty. To divert the Warriors’ attention from basketball to boxing. As long as the Clips get away with nastiness, good for them. Warriors reserve guard Shaun Livingston complained about the Clips’ tactics after the game. So, L.A. got right into his head. He invited the Clips into his head. Better to keep quiet, Shaun. Ignore the Clippers’ tough guys. Do your talking with your play.
You can imagine the Houston Rockets doing the same thing. Playing hard. Hitting, if they can get away with it. Point guard Patrick Beverley did not play in the postseason against the Warriors. He’s back. He will try to hit Stephen Curry and irritate him, take Curry out of his game. It’s how Beverley plays. It’s what he should do.
How will the Warriors respond when teams get tough?
Other teams will find different antidotes to the Warriors. Some will go small. Some will go big. Anything to beat the best team — and the Warriors are the best team. Anything to find an answer, if there even is an answer.
Someone asked Draymond Green what it’s like to be the hunted this season. He leaned back in his big chair at the side of the court. A wicked smile took hold of his face. “That’s what you play for,” he said. “If you’re always the one hunting, that ain’t good.”
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.