By: Benjamin Cruz
The Golden State Warriors met the media on Monday for their annual Media Day at the practice facility in downtown Oakland. For the players, it was their first time meeting the majority of the media as well as their chance to get their GQ-faces on and take pictures and record promos to be used during the season. While flashes were going off and interviews were being conducted, the main focus of the day remained on how the Warriors would do this upcoming season. The Warriors are quite an enigma. They possess one of the most dynamic backcourts in the NBA but one of the worst defenses in all of professional sports. They have a new head coach who has more broadcasting experience than coaching experience but a lead assistant coach who is thought to be one of the best in the league. The owners are preaching a commitment to winning but first need to shed the losing atmosphere that has surrounded this team for almost 2 decades. Uncertainties like these don’t usually lead to the best of results but there was still a sense of optimism pulsing through the gym (as well as the smell of a new paint job) which got me thinking: is this the year that the Warriors can start to build something towards relevancy in the NBA again?
As I walked around trying to figure out what to make of the team for this upcoming 66-game season, I noticed one common theme passing tables of interviews and talking to a few players myself: defense. Mark Jackson made it clear that when he signed on to be the Warriors head coach, this team would be better and be held accountable on the defensive side of the ball. He further strengthened that message by getting Mike Malone to be his lead assistant. Malone was the top assistant over in New Orleans last season and improved their defense drastically with arguably less talent than the Warriors possess now. The players seem to be buying into these promises more than last season when former head coach Keith Smart made similar vows. Perhaps the players knew deep down that Smart was just a decedent of the anti-defense lord himself, Don Nelson, and that defense was 4th on the list of priorities behind scoring, running and The Flying Dubs.
The message has been sent to every player on the team – from Monta Ellis down to the rookies. “That’s going to be the new mindset of this team – is defense first because that’s what’s going to win us ballgames” said rookie Klay Thompson. When asked how hard it would be for the team to accept Jackson’s defensive mentality, the rookie out of Washington State responded, “I think it’ll be easy ’cause I think, just from the feel of all the players, I think everyone’s up for it, you know. We’re all ready for that challenge. We’re all ready for that cultural change in Warriors basketball. It’ll be hard work but it’ll be easy to come in and work hard. You just have to have the right mindset for it and I think we all do.”
The Warriors and “defense” are 2 words that have rarely found their way into the same sentence. While coach Mark Jackson aims to change that (he started a “Defense!” chant last night at the Warriors Open Practice. At practice. We’re not talking about a game. We’re talking about – never mind), the doubters say that with such a short training camp and very few defensive personnel the chances of that change being seen this season are slim to none. Nonetheless, Jackson remains as confident as any coach in the league that his team will be in the playoffs and there’s no doubt that he hopes part of his confidence rubs off on his team. Whether or not that happens, the questions surrounding this team will continue to stack up. Can Curry and Ellis co-exist? Can the Warriors play defense AND be a running team on offense? Will newly signed Kwame Brown be the presence on the inside that they need him to be? Will Mark Jackson actually say, “Hand down, man down!”?
Come Christmas Day, they will be able to start answering those questions and can only hope that the majority of the answers are “Yes”.