BY MASON BISSADA
The Golden State Warriors held their first media day at the brand new Chase Center in the Mission Bay district of San Francisco on Monday, and the tone given from the players and the organization as a whole was that of cautious optimism.
Injuries potentially cost the Warriors another championship last season, and it seems they are continuing to haunt them as the 2019-20 season gets underway. General Manager Bob Myers confirmed during his press conference that All-Star shooting guard Klay Thompson will not return until after the All-Star break this season after recovering from an ACL tear suffered in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals.
“We’ll have another update on him probably around the All-Star break,” Myers said before taking any questions from the media. “Don’t construe that as if we think he’ll be back by the All-Star break, that just means we’ll have an update then.”
Thompson himself reiterated this caution and patience in his own press conference later in the day. “I’m going to do what the team says, and I’ve done my due diligence on rehabs and ACL injuries, and the last thing you want to do is rush back, especially for a player like me who wants to play until he’s in his late 30’s. I want to play at a high level until that point, too. As much as it kills me not to be on the court, patience is a virtue, and rushing back would be not very smart.”
Myers also stated that newly acquired center WIllie Cauley-Stein will miss training camp and the entire month of October due to a left-foot injury. Shortly after, Head Coach Steve Kerr confirmed that fifth-year center Kevon Looney has secured the starting position at center, at least until Cauley-Stein returns.
“Looney is the starting center,” Kerr said during his press conference. “He’s one of our best players. He’s moved up the ladder considerably with all of the losses that we’ve had, and so not only is he one of our best players but he’s one of the guys who has the most experience and the feel that we need with this group to try to incorporate the young guys.”
“I’m ready for whatever Steve wants to throw at me,” says Looney, who started Game 6 of the NBA Finals last year and was considered by some to be a more reliable option than DeMarcus Cousins when both players were healthy. “I know my first couple years I was only able to play about 20 to 25 (minutes) and actually be productive. Steve actually challenged me this off-season to be able to play more, up to 30 minutes a game if I have to, and I think I’m ready to play 30, 30-plus if I have to.”
Beyond the injuries media day felt mostly light-hearted and casual, which is surprising, considering Golden State is coming off of a tragic Finals defeat and the loss of a franchise player to free agency this past summer. These issues didn’t seem to affect the ever-optimistic Steph Curry, who gave a playful jab at a reporter when he was asked how he felt about now being the oldest player on the roster.
“Stop reminding me !” said Curry, who turned 31 back in March. “I mean, just hearing it is weird, but I’m still young. I wake up every day with a smile on my face, with the opportunity I have in front of me, being in my prime, being able to play basketball at the highest level and do it with this team and in front of our fan base, and I know I have a lot, a lot of years left at this level.”
On the other end of the optimism spectrum was forward Draymond Green, who expressed candidly his doubts about the Warriors defense this season after losing so many of their long-armed wing defenders.
“We don’t have as good of defenders as we had,” said Green, a former Defensive Player of the Year. “I don’t think that’s any surprise. But at the same time, we’ve just got to find our identity. You know, before, our identity was switching. That may not be our identity anymore. We’ve got to figure out and kind of toy with different things throughout the preseason and figure out what works the best for this group.”
Newly-acquired All-Star D’Angelo Russell swung the optimism pendulum back the other way yet again, raving about his new teammates and how glad he is to be playing alongside them.
“Man, I’m so excited,” said Russell, who made his first All-Star game last year with the Brooklyn Nets and was acquired via sign-and-trade as a consolation prize for losing Kevin Durant. “I’m trying to act like I’ve been here before, like I’m — like this cool, 10-year vet. But no, this is so cool to me to play with Steph, Klay, Draymond, all those guys, to be able to be around Steve Kerr and his coaching staff, as well. I think it’s just a luxury. You can easily come into the league and be around something completely different or be around a completely different group of guys that don’t have the credibility like this group does. It’s cool, man. I played with them the first time last week, and I literally called my dad, my brother, and I was just like, yo, this is about to be so fun.”
One hot-button topic of the day was which player would fill the starting small-forward position with the departure of Kevin Durant and the ACL tear of Klay Thompson. Third-year wing Alfonzo McKinnie seems to be the default option, but new additions Alec Burks, Glen Robinson III and rookie Eric Paschall are all potential fill-ins at the 3.
“I do think that I’m definitely a candidate for that spot, and that’s what I’m competing for every day,” said Robinson, who signed a one-year minimum contract with the Warriors this offseason. “It’s exciting. I hate to see guys go down, but with Klay’s injury, it’ll open up a huge opportunity for me.”
“It would be great to be a starter, but you know, to be honest, that’s not even my main focus,” says McKinnie, who started in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals last year while Kevin Durant and Andre Igoudala (whom the Warriors traded to the Memphis Grizzlies this offseason) were both out with injuries. “I just want to come in and be able to contribute to help this team win. If I am a starter, that’s great, but if not, I’m not going to change the way I approach this game based off of that.”
Burks, Robinson and Paschall weren’t the only new additions to this Golden State team that had essentially kept its core together for the previous five years. In total, the Warriors have eight new players on their roster, many of whom are age 23 or younger.
The Warriors will play their first preseason game against the new-look Los Angeles Lakers at the Chase Center this Saturday at 5:30 p.m.