OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The parade is not until Friday. The Golden State Warriors are already looking ahead to what could be a promising future.
And with their young core under contract and MVP Stephen Curry just entering his prime, the Warriors believe their first NBA championship in 40 years could be the start of many more.
“There’s potential for us to build this long-term,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Thursday.
The Warriors rolled to a franchise-record 67 wins during the regular season before dispatching New Orleans, Memphis and Houston in the Western Conference playoffs. They won their first title since 1975 on Tuesday night when they finished off LeBron James and the depleted Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
The victory capped off a 2014-15 campaign that wasn’t just a drought-breaker — it was historic.
The Warriors totaled 83 wins in all, the third-highest ever. Only the 1995-96 and 1996-97 Chicago Bulls won more, and Kerr played on both of those teams.
“It’s ironic, but the unexpected thing is everything went exactly as we hoped. That never happens,” Kerr said.
Along with hearing from President Barack Obama, Kerr has received congratulations from former teammates and coaches. Some even teased him for winning as a rookie coach.
“It’s that easy huh?” Kerr said former Spurs teammate Tim Duncan texted.
General manager Bob Myers, the NBA Executive of the Year, is hoping to capitalize on the roster flexibility he has masterfully made happen and give the Warriors a chance to hang more championship banners soon.
Nearly every key contributor — Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, Shaun Livingston and Festus Ezeli — is locked up through at least next season.
Draymond Green is a rare exception. The versatile forward is set to become a restricted free agent, meaning the Warriors can match any offer he receives.
Green expects to be back and the team intends to pay whatever salary he commands, even if that means going into the league’s luxury tax, which Myers said he has been given authority to do from owner Joe Lacob.
“I always said, ‘Players that help you win and certainly win at the level we won at, you want to keep,'” Myers said. “And we’ll do everything we can to keep him. Thankfully, the rules are in our favor.”
Green, the runner-up for defensive player of the year, got his shot this season after starter David Lee injured his left hamstring in the final preseason game. Lee, who is owed $15.4 million next season in the final year of his deal, will likely be on the way out to limit the team’s tax hit.
The Warriors will need to make a decision on reserve forward Marreese Speights, who has a $3.8 million team option next season. Reserve guard Leandro Barbosa, who played for the $1.4 million veteran minimum this season, will be a free agent. And Barnes and Ezeli, part of the franchise’s acclaimed 2012 draft class with Green, are eligible for contract extensions.
Myers said it’s too early to tell what will happen this offseason but he feels good about the team’s ability to remain a contender.
“When you have the success that we had, you’d like to keep it together as much as possible,” Myers said.
A move also will need to be made on Kerr’s staff.
Kerr will need to find a new lead assistant as associate head coach and offensive guru Alvin Gentry is leaving to become the head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans. Kerr could promote assistant Luke Walton or try to attract a more experienced coach such as Brian Shaw or Mike D’Antoni.
Kerr said Walton could be a head coach someday, but he has just begun to think about replacing Gentry and whether Walton is ready for that role. First, he wants to enjoy the championship parade through downtown Oakland and bask in the storybook season.
Of course, there’s little down time for a title-winning team.
The NBA draft is next week (the Warriors have the last pick in the first round), free agency talks start July 1 and then it’s a matter of weeks before training camp when the Warriors try to do what the franchise has never done: repeat as champions.
Kerr said the challenge is balancing the burden that has been lifted off players’ shoulders and keeping the same edge that won them a championship.
“There’s a freedom that comes with winning the first one,” Kerr said, “but you can’t let that freedom erode in terms of the fabric of the daily work that you put in.”
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP
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