Golden State Warriors' Blueprint to a Championship Repeat
Let Stephen Curry do his best impression of a video-game glitch. Have Kevin Durant remind everyone of his impossible combination of size and skill. Count on Klay Thompson for deadly long-distance sniping and the occasional unbelievable scoring outburst. Get Draymond Green to seal off the defensive end and fill in any cracks on the other.
You know, rinse and repeat.
Well, it's a little more complicated than that. Despite astronomical odds suggesting otherwise, the Warriors won't be rewarded with a championship just for showing up to the 2017-18 campaign.
There are several steps to be taken between now and June to give this franchise its first repeat. But if the following five boxes are checked off, Golden State should have a second straight summer celebration.
Flex Strength-In-Numbers Muscle
Steve Kerr inherited some incredible individual parts when he grabbed the reins in 2014, and the front office has added a host of others along the way. But the skipper has managed to always keep the whole as greater than the sum in a way that would make his former coach, Gregg Popovich, proud.
Kerr's philosophy breaks down to a three-word mantra—strength in numbers. And the way he sees it, Golden State has never possessed more power.
"I think we'll be better this year," Kerr said, per ESPN.com's Chris Haynes. "We're deeper."
Twelve players have at least one year in Kerr's system. The other three all look superior to their predecessors—Nick Young over Ian Clark, Omri Casspi over Matt Barnes and rookie Jordan Bell over James Michael McAdoo. On paper, this should be a stronger squad than last year's 67-win, championship banner-raising bunch.
Kerr just needs to maximize those numbers. Perhaps the most important element of that is keeping his four All-Stars at that level, since no other team can match that star power. That means managing the playbook in a way that benefits the quartet, plus using the second-team upgrades to keep the first unit (along with elder statesmen like Andre Iguodala) fresh.
Under Kerr, the Warriors have never had a player finish among the top 20 in per-game minutes. Barring injury, there's no reason for that streak to snap now.
Kerr's other critical task is to find the right fit for all his complementary pieces. The incumbents should already be comfortable—Golden State's reserves had the second-highest net efficiency rating last season—so it's a matter of getting the new guys going. If Kerr gives Young the liberty to freelance, finds spot-up and cutting chances for Casspi and allows Bell to discover his niche, this machine should be fully operational.
Avoid Unnecessary Distractions
Maybe it's an inevitability for superteams, but Dub Nation has become a land of distractions.
There was Durant's strange jab at Under Armour, which counts Curry as one of its top endorsers. There was the withdrawn invitation to visit the White House. There was Durant's Twitter blunder in which he tried to anonymously throw his former coach, Billy Donovan, and ex-teammates under the bus—one of several instances in which he let everyone know the Oklahoma City Thunder remain very much on his mind.
Given the mental grind that is attempting to defend an NBA title, Golden State has seen some bizarre challenges to keeping its composure.
"Many in Golden State, team officials and players alike, have taken note of Durant's oddball offseason and are perplexed by it," The Vertical's Chris Mannix wrote. "They see a bright future for Durant in Oakland...and are bewildered as to why he is still addressing his past."
The Warriors say they aren't bothered by Durant's social-media missteps, but the fact they've been forced to address them suggests the former MVP might want to let his Twitter fingers rest for a bit.
Of course, even if he does, the Dubs could be far from done dealing with distractions. Maybe Green's emotions get the best of him during a confrontation with officials or his head coach. Or perhaps their redemptive powers will wear off JaVale McGee or fail to focus Young. Maybe the dreaded disease of more tears at the framework of this franchise.
Given the wealth of media and fan attention the Warriors receive, non-stories can become stories and actual stories can be bombshells. Golden State must do what it can to keep the focus positive and on-court as much as possible.
Catch Requisite Health Breaks
Sure, health is an X-factor for all teams in all sports. And given the Warriors' aforementioned depth, they're better equipped to handle injury absences than most.
Still, they aren't immune to injury-bug attacks. In fact, some might think they're overdue.
They lost some of the Association's fewest games to injuries in both 2014-15 and 2016-17, per InStreetClothes.com. They were near the middle of the pack in 2015-16, but they got 79-plus games out of Curry, Thompson and Green.
Given Durant's recent troubles (85 games missed over the last three seasons) and Curry's never-forgotten ones, the Dubs don't seem like the scratch-resistant group they've largely become.
But Golden State has received mostly positive marks on the health front, save for Kerr's ongoing issues tied to complications from a 2015 back procedure. Even those are looking up at the moment.
"I feel better," Kerr said at media day, per NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper. "I'm not 100 percent, but I'm on a good path and I'm confident that I will be 100 percent at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later."
Could the Warriors hold the fort if Kerr needed a leave of absence? They have twice before—the start of 2015-16, the middle of the 2017 postseason. Would losing a star player be any different? Not necessarily, as they were 18-4 without Durant last year (including the playoffs).
But they are at their best when they are whole. And with the Western Conference loading up on All-Stars behind them, they might need more of their best to make it three 'ships in four years.
Have an MVP Finalist
Sacrifice has quickly become a defining measure of the Dubs.
Over the past 12 months, Durant has seen his field-goal attempts average increase by nearly three a night (from 19.2 to 16.5) and left nearly $10 million on the table in free agency. Curry secured his overdue pay raise, but not before parting with almost two shots per game (20.2 to 18.3).
Individual forces in their own right, they banked on becoming unbeatable together. Then, they thrashed opponents by 19.2 points per 100 possessions over 1,524 minutes together.
"They understand the power they possess together, and I think that's an important dynamic," Kerr said, per Jarrett Bell of USA Today. "It's not about one or the other; it's about both of them."
Beyond that, it's about both of them blending their total talents alongside one another. That didn't really happen until last year's playoffs, when they averaged 56.6 points on 51.7 percent shooting. Their regular-season output of 50.4 points on 49.7 percent wasn't enough to vault either into the MVP voting's top five—Curry was sixth, Durant was tied for ninth—although the latter would have likely made the cut had he stayed healthy.
This season, at least one should be an MVP finalist. Even if some feel the Dubs' depth works against them, they'll have absurdly high marks in efficiency and team success. Besides, Curry wasn't his squad's solo All-Star for either MVP, and LeBron James twice earned the honors alongside future Hall of Famers Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Golden State's ideal offensive system accentuates both Curry and Durant. If they play at their typical levels and avoid major injury, they'll be serious threats for the most coveted regular-season hardware and the driving forces behind yet another title march.
The Warriors are so loaded that even their elephant in the room is more extravagant than everyone else's.
It's colored Larry O'Brien Trophy-gold and adorned with two championship rings. Its confidence is overflowing after tallying 24 more victories than any other team the last three seasons and at least 46 more than those located outside of San Antonio.
It's also the primary threat to derail a successful title defense.
"The biggest challenge is complacency," Kerr told Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic. "We've been to the Finals three years in a row. And for our core group ... that's a long haul, and you just cannot lose your edge in this league."
Cruise control could probably carry Golden State through the regular season as the West's No. 1 seed. Considering most of this roster skated through its half of the playoff bracket last year with an unblemished 12-0 record, full throttle might not be needed to reach the championship round.
But the more the Warriors relax, the smaller their lead over the rest of the pack becomes. Play loose, and this undersized defense loses its ability to suffocate attacks while the offense builds a blooper reel of unnecessary flair and crippling carelessness.
There is no sleepwalking to the throne. Not even for arguably the greatest team ever assembled.
Golden State must convince itself that legitimate threats exist in both conferences and only its maximum effort is good enough to go parading through the Bay Area streets again next summer. That might not be true, but accepting that it isn't could be a crushing self-inflicted wound.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.