OAKLAND, Calif. — At Warriors team headquarters, Zaza Pachulia sits alongside Kevin Durant in the locker room as they dress for practice or ice down each day afterward.
They chat about life, not just basketball. It’s these very moments and conversations, face to face and a few minutes without the distraction of their smartphones, that Pachulia is counting on to help new-look, star-studded Golden State begin to find a chemistry that will carry the group deep into the postseason once more. And, they hope, another championship.
Pachulia is so passionate about it that he spoke up the other day, reiterating to his new teammates the importance of building relationships to reach the top.
“Understanding that it’s only been a week since we’ve been together, so we’re still trying to get to know each other on and off the court,” said Pachulia, who accepted just $2.9 million to join the Warriors. “It’s very important. This team so far has been successful for a couple reasons — obviously talent that we have and the chemistry they had before. That’s why I’m mentioning on and off the court. Seven days you can’t make everything happen but we’ve got to understand and we’re working on steps to move forward.”
Shortly before tipoff of Tuesday night’s preseason blowout of the Clippers, Durant and Draymond Green briefly chatted during warmups and exchanged a snazzy handshake.
Before the jump, Durant pointed to the crowd on either side of the court. Then, he immediately showed the Warriors and their adoring crowd at Oracle Arena just what he brings on both ends with that 7-foot-5 wingspan and ability to score and create shots for others.
Durant has already said he expects a nightly double-double from himself.
“That’s the goal,” he said. “I’m not saying it would be a for-sure thing. If you set your mind to something you can always do it. Nothing’s impossible. My teammates believe I can do it, the coaches believe I can do it. It’s a matter of me going out and trying every night.”
He is challenging himself “to do a better” job rebounding to take pressure off Pachulia and fellow newcomer David West.
Coach Steve Kerr, reigning NBA Coach of the Year, has warned it will take time for this All-Star Warriors bunch to find its way. He doesn’t expect Durant to be perfectly comfortable yet, not a week into the preseason with only a limited number of practices with fellow starters Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Green and Pachulia.
Kerr has pulled KD aside a few times to check in or go over a quick video clip as a learning tool. Durant is determined to become more instinctive on both ends.
“I let him know it’s cool to coach me up,” Durant said. “At any moment if I need to make a cut or set a screen, he’s letting me know it would be a good time to do that.”
Durant believes he can learn and adjust on the fly, even if he’s out of his comfort zone right now.
Curry appreciates Durant’s drive.
“He has a great attitude when it comes to that,” Curry said. “Coach also has a great attitude about coaching everybody, no matter who you are. We’ve got to remember we’re still in literally the first seven, eight days of this.”
There have been flashes already of what can be.
West dished to Shaun Livingston for a dunk late in the first quarter, then Durant drove for a layup the next time down. Golden State led by 51 points — 102-51 — after three quarters in the 120-75 rout Tuesday.
While Kerr warns about patience in putting things together, this was hardly a bad first look for the loyal home fans. He doesn’t buy any big predictions from outsiders about his team at this early stage.
This is a far different roster than the one that won an NBA-record 73 games last season and lost in Game 7 of the NBA Finals to Cleveland.
Nobody’s overly concerned about the adjustment process for Durant.
“Nothing really has surprised me. He’s so talented, he’s such a good guy, he’s such a good teammate, he cares about the team, he cares about people,” Kerr said. “Like anybody going to a new team, it’s not easy. Sometimes it’s harder going to a new team when you’re a star than it is when you’re a role guy and you’re used to just finding that niche right away and nobody’s talking about you and you figure it out.
“When you’re the star and the spotlight’s on you and you’re thinking all these thoughts about ‘What about shots for Steph and Klay and I don’t want to screw anything up.’ I know Kevin thinks about all that stuff. He’s a wonderful guy, incredible talent. It will take some time. Obviously he’s going to be great.”