Warriors With Actual War (And, We Guess, Some Riors)

Via: http://www.flickr.com/photos/the-g-uk/5118675006/

Via http://www.flickr.com/photos/the-g-uk/5118675006/

Have you ever had a huge burden or concern lifted from you? Maybe you paid off a debt. Maybe you got out of a lawsuit. Maybe a test result came back negative. That feeling of rejuvenation, of the possibilities of life in front of you is profoundly exquisite. It’s the best day of your life.

That’s what the Warriors are experiencing these last two weeks. Sweet relief, in the glory of a new day. Even if it’s drenched in uncertainty and confusion, the air is no less sweet because it is free of the  sulfites of failure and frustration that have inhabited the team since Don Nelson quit being effective, arguably decades ago, and unarguably three years ago. The proof is in the pudding, and that pudding is pretty freaking tasty.

The Warriors haven’t slowed down. They haven’t adopted some bizarre Michael Curry shift in approach, haven’t tried to be something they’re not. They’re sixth in pace, which isn’t first but it isn’t tenth, and they still like to get out among the cars and jet in between the lines on the freeway. They’re simply doing it in a more cohesive manner, and the players are buying into one another, the team, the system and the coach. From Inside the Bay Area:

On the first day of training camp, head coach Keith Smart made a pact with his players. He sealed it with a handshake from each player.

ANDRIS BIEDRINS: “I was thinking, ‘Shake his hands or not?’ (laugh) He was like holding (his hand out), holding, holding. Finally I was like ‘OK.’ “

What was the pact? Basically, that they don’t take anything personal. Smart said he wanted to make it clear in advance that when he gets on them, he isn’t trying to dog them out, but trying to make them better. He wanted their approval to be hard on them at times without it becoming an issue, to challenge them without it turning into anything more.

Treating adults like adults, and professionals as such. Such a novel approach, and yet such a turning point for the team. The Warriors aren’t the same. Monta Ellis sure isn’t. Ellis hasn’t even regained his form prior to last season, because that would indicate he’s still the whirling dervish. And he’s not. He’s instead the spike that drives through the ground to stab you as you’re hiding. He’s a puncture-wound maker, not a molotov cocktail. If Michael Redd was Bombs over Baghdad, Ellis was just as bad with the collateral damage. He’s working out of the ISO, sure. But he’s also filling in spaces as an end point of the play, not breaking off play sets, allowing his team a chance at the rebound, and oh, yeah, working with the youngster.

The kid. The bambino. Who very calmly and very confidently crossed over and drained the game-clincher in Jarret Jack’s face the other night. That’s how you show leadership, that’s how you close games.

This team is not the fun mishmash of characters that “We Believe” was. But it’s arguably a much better team. It functions not just on personality and force of movement, but actual, you know, basketball. There’s a design, a strategy, and Smart is the one pulling the strings instead of just winding up toys and letting them trot all over the floors like the Warriors have done. All this and the deal’s not done yet! The Warriors are competing, the new coach looks competent, and the fanbase has a reason to resume being absolutely rabid night in and night out. There are resurgences going on all over the league, but the Warriors may be the most fun to watch. Dorrel Wright, the playmaker? David Lee the established star? It’s like we’ve fallen into some type of worm hole and came out in a dimension where Don Nelson’s doghouse never existed!

If only Brandan Wright could fall through, too.

Matt Moore

Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.