OAKLAND, Calif. — The Golden State Warriors come into Thursday night’s showdown against the Toronto Raptors having won three straight games, with Kevin Durant racking up consecutive 40-point games for the first time in his Warriors career. They are expected to get Stephen Curry back Saturday after the point guard missed nearly a month because of a strained left groin. Draymond Green is also expected back soon as he continues to rehab a toe injury that has been bothering him for several weeks.
The fact that all of these positive things are coming after the Warriors dropped four straight for the first time since 2013 — amid questions about the stability of the locker room — isn’t lost on anyone in the organization.
Despite the uncharacteristic losses on the floor and inner turmoil off of it, Warriors coach Steve Kerr remained unfazed. The basketball lifer has seen every possible angle the game can offer, so as he watched the rest of the world question the health of his team and its future, Kerr seemed more bemused than concerned.
“I’m fine,” Kerr recently told ESPN. “It’s just coaching. I’m sleeping fine. I don’t even know how to answer that. My comment the other day after the [San Antonio] game was, ‘Well, we’re in the real NBA now.’ That was kind of for you guys [the media], too. It was like, ‘Guys, we’re going to lose some games. We’re going to go through some tough times.'”
To those outside the organization, the toughest of those “tough times” appeared to be the blow-up between Durant and Green that led the Warriors to suspend Green one game for “conduct detrimental to the team.” However, the Warriors themselves insist the endless attention that followed was worse than the confrontation itself. For a group that prides itself on being both accessible to the public and being able to close ranks when needed, the episode in Los Angeles and ensuing aftermath reinforced that the Warriors don’t exist in a utopian basketball universe. They have issues just like everybody else.
But as the Warriors begin this five-game road trip Thursday against the Raptors, they have a trump card no other team can play: Curry. Not only will he take on-court pressure off Durant and Klay Thompson‘s shoulders when he returns for the final four games of the road trip, he will also continue to serve as a sounding board for the locker room if and when times get tough again.
“His spirit is great,” Thompson told ESPN. “It’s always unwavering. He doesn’t really ever let missed shots affect him, turnovers, whatever it is. He just continues to play with heart and grit, skill, and I think that rubs off on everybody on this team.”
With Curry back soon, and Green likely to follow shortly thereafter, the Warriors will be getting back to something resembling “normal.” However, the question remains as to whether the the animosity that rose to the surface two and a half weeks ago in Los Angeles will linger throughout the season.
“That’s a good question,” said Andre Iguodala, a 14-year vet who is now the Warriors’ oldest and most experienced player. “Because of so many different personalities. Different people respond to different things. It’s very precious because you got to be really careful with everything. It’s like life, in general and relationships. It’s very fragile. And when you have something special you try to keep it intact.”
When Curry was absent that night in Los Angeles as tempers flared between Durant and Green, Thompson was the one forced to step into Curry’s usual role as team stabilizer, trying to be the voice of reason and keep those fragile relationships together.
“Kind of just reflect on what we’ve done and what a special run this has been,” Thompson said of his message. “I mean, guys would trade in their accolades or statistics to come do what we do in a heartbeat. I know it. Guys have told me that before. Not just me but everyone tries to remind each other of that. This time does not last forever.”
The usually reserved All-Star swingman has provided the blueprint for dealing with the Warriors’ self-created issues to start the season. After struggling to find his shot early on, Thompson comes into Thursday’s game averaging 28.6 points over his past five games. In his own way, he has provided the kind of stability on and off the floor that the Warriors needed with Curry and Green out.
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“Our problems with the Warriors are so minute compared to what a real average person has to go through in their profession or in their life,” Thompson said. “If we have a little drama because a couple guys got in an argument, that’s nothing compared to what people got to go through every day — through everyday life.
“Same with us too,” he continued. “You don’t know what’s happening at home, if a family member’s sick, you’re not feeling well. Anything it could be, so some unfortunate media coverage that doesn’t go in our favor will never, never alter how I feel just because it’s so easy to literally turn that off. All you got to do is turn off your TV.”
Of course, as Thompson admits, sometimes the TV isn’t the piece of technology causing the problem.
“The phone — man. Smartphone addiction is bad. I got it. Everybody has it,” he said. “You just got to do things to combat that hobby-wise and socialize. Because there’s instant access to everything we do, how we play, how our team’s doing, inside the tip of our fingertips at any moment, so you have to have the fortitude to put your phone down, believe it or not.”
In the days following the confrontation with Green, Durant tried to block out the noise as much as possible, while acknowledging such a task is almost impossible given how much of a social-driven league the NBA has become.
“[The NBA has] grown so much that so many people want to cover it and be a part of it,” he said. “I’m not saying all the content is great, but it’s amazing that the game has grown so much to have so many eyes on it. With social media and the access to media it’s kind of hard to dodge that type of stuff, especially when you have a little bit of controversy.”
Kerr said he and his staff have tried to get their team — both experienced players like Durant and younger players who might not be used to the kind of scrutiny a championship-level team receives — to “dodge that type of stuff” as much as possible.
“It’s never been more difficult than it is today because of the attention on the league,” he said. “You try to keep perspective. Try to keep a good perspective on life and on your job. And keep everything in balance.”
Iguodala, like many in the Warriors organization, believes the blowup between Green and Durant and the fallout that followed will only make this group that much stronger moving forward.
“Kobe [Bryant] said something very interesting,” Iguodala said. “He said he was talking to this girl from UConn, had a bad game, she didn’t watch the championship game, or whatever game they lost she didn’t watch it last year. He was like, ‘Why not?’ It was like, those are the moments you live for is failing so you can relive ’em, so you can learn from it. And then hopefully you go through that same experience again and you’re ready for it. I was joking about you can’t climb a mountain or whatever, but that’s real. You have to go through turmoil in order to succeed, and it feels better when you get through those rocky times. It actually does.”
Kerr has made it a point to be even more outwardly positive in the wake of all the negativity surrounding his group. He understands that in the grand scheme of an NBA season, every team goes through bumps in the road. Even the Warriors.
“Find me a team that hasn’t gone through stuff like this,” Kerr said. “I’d like to go visit and talk to their coach.”