By TIM REYNOLDS, AP Basketball Writer
The goal was huge: to return to the top of the NBA.
And now that that monumental task is complete, NBA champion Golden State Warriors already have a new goal: to stay up there for a while.
The cigars of victory had not been extinguished after the decisive victory in Boston, the last festive bottles of Moët & Chandon had not been emptied, and the subject – can the Warriors win again next season? – was already happening. They’ve been installed by FanDuel Sportsbook as favorites for the 2023 NBA title, and with Finals MVP Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green all back, it would be foolish to think their chance at a fifth championship in nine years is n is not very real.
“It still hasn’t been proven that when we’re whole anyone can stop it,” Green said.
It’s true, and that’s why it makes sense for the Warriors to carry the burden of being favorites next season. They know what it takes; they have as many championships over the past eight seasons – four – as the rest of the league combined. The last run that was better than this was hosted by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, winning six in eight years in the 1990s.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr — now a nine-time champion — played for the Bulls for part of that run and led Golden State to those four titles.
“They are all unique. They’re all special,” Kerr said. “I think this one has perhaps been the most unlikely from the perspective of where we’ve been for the last two years. Lots of unknowns.”
Indeed, there were questions.
The Warriors responded to all. No, the kernel wasn’t too old. Yes, Thompson would return from over 900 days on the sidelines with injuries. And absolutely, Curry can still be unstoppable in the biggest moments.
They took that core and bolstered it with a new set of talents. Among those on that list: 27-year-old Andrew Wiggins, the 2014 No. 1 pick who came out on top and was nothing short of an NBA Finals star; Jordan Poole, who turns 23 this weekend and celebrates as a champion who blossomed after facing Curry in training the whole time; and Jonathan Kuminga, the 19-year-old who has played 86 games and is praised by his teammates.
“And we’re not done,” Thompson said early Friday during an appearance on Green’s podcast, The Draymond Green Show. “That’s the beautiful thing about it. We’ve got those young bucks behind us and we’ve got the same team coming back? for the NBA.”
Green agreed. “It’s very scary,” he said.
They earned that championship moment, after suffering a 2019 NBA Finals loss to Toronto, then two seasons with a combined 54-83 record, a million miles from being the team the Warriors demand. let them be.
The Warriors had the NBA’s worst record in 2019-20 largely due to roster turnover – Kevin Durant, who was out all season while recovering from Achilles surgery, had just left for Brooklyn – and injuries. Thompson hasn’t played this season due to a knee injury sustained in the final game of the 2019 Finals. Curry has only played five games. It was the year of the reset.
The rebound was supposed to happen last season, but Thompson had to sit out again, this time due to a torn Achilles. The Warriors lost in the play-in tournament. But seeds have been planted for something big; at which point, even Golden State wasn’t sure, but Curry insisted something was brewing.
“You don’t want to see us next year,” Curry said at the end of the 2020-21 season.
Thompson returned in January and Golden State’s goal was clear – to win it all, again. The Warriors have made 24 playoff appearances with Curry, Thompson and Green together over the past eight years. They won 22; the exceptions being the 2016 and 2019 finals, when injuries took their toll.
This time, nothing stopped the Dubs.
“I saw it at the start of the season,” Thompson said. “People called me crazy. I said ‘Championship or bust’ because I saw how we came out of the gate, 18-2. And just playing that brand of Warriors basketball that we made such a success, and then knowing that I was going to be inserted in there, I knew that we had a chance to do something special, and here we are. It’s so amazing. Wow.”
Training camp is only three months away, so the process of getting started for next season will begin sooner rather than later. The Warriors know they’ll be back in the NBA spotlight, playing tons of nationally televised games, getting the best shot out of every opponent, garnering massive attention wherever they go again.
It will be like the good old days. For many Warriors, this will be a first. For the old guard, the core of four-time champions like Curry, Green and Thompson – plus Andre Iguodala, should he decide to postpone retirement for another year – it will be familiar territory.
“I think this one is definitely different because of the three years of baggage we took from coming out of that Game 6 in 2019,” Curry said. “I can say it now: I don’t know how many teams could wear this as long as we have the hope of comparing ourselves now to the teams of the past and getting back to the top of the mountain.”
And next year they will try to do it again.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.