After a season that saw the Golden State Warriors eclipse the 50-win mark for the first time in 20 years, the bar has officially been set. A new coach was brought in, the offseason was fruitful, and the taste of success is still fresh.
Anything short of improving on the 51 wins from the past campaign would be a disappointment in Golden State.
When the Warriors brought in Mark Jackson three years ago, he guaranteed they would make the playoffs that season. That was uncharted territory for Golden State. Aside from the unexpected 2007 "We Believe" squad, the lottery was like a second home.
Jackson came up just short in his prediction, as the Warriors failed to reach the postseason upon his arrival. They did, however, make it the next season and the season after that. Back-to-back trips to the playoffs had not been seen in over 20 years in the Bay Area.
The Warriors responded by canning Jackson and turning the team over to first-time head coach Steve Kerr.
There's no sugarcoating it -- it was a weird, expedited situation that we didn't see coming. And guys are human. You have to be able to adjust to it and have some time to respond. That's kind of what happened. I think we'll be fine once we have a clear picture of what's going on next year.
Still, in the same interview, Curry also publicly backed his new coach, showing his support and belief in the front office:
One thing I can say about this organization, they want to win. Each decision is geared toward winning. That's something that flies well with a lot of players -- that they're going to try to put us in the best position to win. Obviously, I had a certain opinion of Coach Jackson that they made a decision otherwise, and I heard the reasons, but I won't dwell on it.
As long as we're focused on winning and taking advantage of the roster we have and the opportunity we have with this window to try to continue to get better, I'm just looking forward to next year and getting back to making that happen. I haven't lost faith in that at all. As much as I supported Coach Jackson and loved everything about playing for him, I think they're about winning.
His support is not unfounded. Despite never coaching before, Kerr has a strong track record in all aspects of the game. Whether it be as a player, general manager or broadcaster, Kerr has excelled in all of his endeavors. He brings an X's-and-O's aspect of coaching that was virtually nonexistent when Jackson was in charge.
Armed with a superb coaching staff, Kerr will not only get the best out of his players but will push them to new heights as well.
It wasn't just the Kerr signing that has the Warriors optimistic, though. Smartly navigating free agency and emerging with talented players will also play a big role in meeting lofty expectations.
The Warriors won 51 games not because of having a great roster, but rather in spite of having a flawed one. Outside of Curry and Klay Thompson, the guard situation in Golden State was a disaster throughout the season. Thanks to the signings of Shaun Livingston and Brandon Rush, that is no more.
In fact, the guard rotation is a strength now.
Livingston is a starting-caliber point guard who will spend his time backing up both Curry and Thompson. He can fit in flawlessly with either player, the type of guard who is content with running an offense and not dominating it.
His size makes him one of the most unique talents in the NBA, and under Kerr and alongside a loaded Warriors roster, he will excel.
Rush is also a tremendous addition, as his superb three-point shooting—over 40 percent for his career—and tenacious defense ensures minimal drop-off when he comes in for Thompson or Andre Iguodala.
The Warriors fixed the one big hole they had in their roster, so not only should they be able to meet expectations, they may very well exceed them.
The biggest issue facing the Warriors is not anything within the team, but rather the loaded rosters facing them. The Western Conference is a cruel gauntlet, a road littered with daunting tests throughout.
Take for example the Dallas Mavericks. They finished the season at 49-33, a mark that would have seen them finish in third in the Eastern Conference. In the West, they were the eighth seed. With the return of Tyson Chandler and the addition of Chandler Parsons, they have some lofty expectations themselves.
Within Golden State's division alone are the Los Angeles Clippers, who knocked them out of the playoffs last season, and the Phoenix Suns, who missed the postseason despite winning 48 games. It's a murderers' row to say the least.
Those are the breaks, however, and if the Warriors want to seriously be considered among the elites, they will have to navigate the deadly conference. With Curry running the offense and Andrew Bogut anchoring the defense, they are equipped to do so.
It would be foolish to believe that they will knock the San Antonio Spurs off their perch, and besting the Oklahoma City Thunder seems like a tall task as well. The rest of the Western Conference, though? Well, it's all fair game.
The Warriors will not only improve on their 51-31 record, but they will move up in the standings as well.
Prediction: 54-28, fourth seed in the West