In 1999, when the Lakers moved into their new arena, leaving working class Inglewood for downtown Los Angeles, they had a championship team with a new coach who knew how to shape failure into success. Those were the days when the Lakers always started out in Hawaii. After their first training camp practice, Phil Jackson turned to one of his assistants and confessed he knew why the Lakers couldn’t win. They lacked discipline.
20 years after the Lakers left their beloved hard scrabble town, the Warriors packed up from Oakland to the glitzy confines of San Francisco. It was a perfect new beginning except Kevin Durant is on the other coast. These aren’t the Warriors we know as evidenced from preseason game number one. They don’t have a roster that strikes fear. It is more than the loss of Kevin Durant. It is Andre Iguodala being somewhere else. Shaun Livingston retired. Klay Thompson rehabbing. We took the champion Warriors for granted, as if they would always be around. Now that the team is half in tact, It’s hard to figure out where the scoring is going to come from after Stephen Curry and D’Angelo Russell drop buckets, and after Draymond Green does everything else.
The Warriors attacked their first preseason game almost as a meet and greet. So many new players that don’t yet fit into the Warriors system. The Warriors need time and patience to see what Jordan Poole can do on a consistent basis. Even the Warriors don’t know what they have in Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall, and Marquese Chriss. Willey Cauley-Stein is out with an injury. Klay is a spectator until who knows when. This is addition by subtraction, which as a strategy, hardly every works.
The Warriors preseason game number one was more about the fancy new arena and christening it the right way. If that means offensive dominance and long Curry bombs, then this was not how the Warriors planned it. They were run out of the building after the first quarter. Glaring was their lack of size and offense. But it was a preseason game. Steve Kerr and Co. will figure out how to get the best of the new guys. But will it be enough?
The Lakers, particularly LeBron James, looked like the championship team the Warriors have been the past few years. James, at least in preseason game number one, had the demeanor of a NBA Finals intensity, bothered as he has been by all the noise about who LeBron James is not. He’s heard all the critics and this season he plans to redeem his name because no, Giannis Antetokounmpo hasn’t passed him. Neither has Kawhi Leonard. For the first time in his career, James has a finisher at the rim he can trust to make multiple plays. Scoring. Rebounding. Blockings shots. Even with LeBron and Anthony Davis on the bench in the second half, the Lakers manhandled the Warriors who looked, for the most part, lost.
How does it happen that a young mediocre team for the past few years overnight becomes a dominant veteran team, and the dominant championship team has lost its glue?
Summer free agency, trades, and just the NBA cycle. Everything changes so make the most out of opportunities. The Warriors on display on Saturday night are not going to be the Warriors you’ll see after the All-Star break but the scary part is that the Lakers who rebounded and dunked their way to a dominant 30+ points three out of four quarters will only get better in two months, once they figure out roles and minutes.
The script has been flipped and it’s more complicated than San Francisco finally having their team back. It’s the Warriors not being who they once were because star players left. Kevin Durant is not walking through that door. And because Kevin Durant is not walking through that door, the Lakers, with a 26 year old Anthony Davis, suddenly have the upper hand.