Video by CBS SF Bay Area
The Warriors' flight home from Cleveland on Saturday afternoon was decidedly mellow. In the afterglow of another NBA title, most players slept. Unlike 2015, when winning a championship was new, Golden State's latest cross-country charter wasn't abuzz with talk about trips to Las Vegas.
"It was a much more subdued group, but also a fulfilled group, a satisfied group," general manager Bob Myers recalled. "The first time around, there was more exuberance."
After sweeping the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals for its third championship in four years, Golden State was widely anointed a "dynasty." Many in the Warriors' organization, however, aren't so comfortable with the new label. Instead of reveling in their accomplishments, they prefer to focus on getting better.
The lapses in focus that plagued Golden State this season will be trickier to avoid as it tries to play deep into June for a fifth consecutive year. With a number of teams tightening the talent gap and LeBron James' future in flux, the Warriors shouldn't trust that they can sleepwalk through the regular season again, start playing with some urgency in the playoffs and win another NBA title.
It is why this summer is as critical as any of head coach Steve Kerr's previous four with Golden State. The Warriors inevitably will feel the mental toll that comes with trying to maintain greatness, but their next title pursuit starts long before their season opener. Decisions made in the coming months should go a long way in determining whether Golden State will build on the best four-year stretch in franchise history or start regressing.
"I think it feels easier on the ascent," Myers said of the Warriors' emergence as the class of the league. "As you climb up, you don't really know. You can hope and dream of a championship, but trying to maintain it has a different kind of perseverance, a different type of grit."
Most of Golden State's problems this season were self-induced. Mentally drained from three NBA Finals trips, the Warriors struggled to concentrate, piled up silly turnovers and let their defense lag. A team loaded with All-Stars slogged to the Western Conference's No. 2 seed and lost 10 of its final 17 regular-season games.
By the time it faced an elite opponent, Houston, in the West finals, Golden State was forced to come to terms with the fact that its imbalanced roster was ill-suited for a league trending toward small-ball lineups. The Warriors had nearly a half-dozen centers - Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee, David West, Damian Jones and Jordan Bell - they would have preferred not to use against the Rockets, a team that relies heavily on three-point shooting.
Now, as it prepares to make decisions on seven free agents, Golden State has a singular goal: get younger. The Warriors' core of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston provides plenty of locker-room leadership. With much of the rest of the roster, Golden State hopes to groom players into reliable contributors.
The plan's benefits are twofold: In addition to setting the Warriors up for sustained success, it allows the team to deal with the grind of an 82-game regular season. Kerr can spend those relatively meaningless months developing the team's young players and giving his All-Stars necessary rest. A new-look supporting cast will provide an energy that Golden State lacked this season.
"We have to do everything we can to make it as smooth as possible," Kerr said. "It's not possible to have everyone as eager as they were in 2014-15, but it's possible to make some changes to help us shift our focus a bit. Getting younger is an important factor for us."
Of the Warriors' four free agents in the latter stages of their careers, two - Pachulia and guard Nick Young - almost definitely will not be re-signed this summer. West, still a serviceable backup center at age 37, might be welcomed back on a minimum deal if he opts not to retire. It is unclear what Golden State will do with McGee, who started the NBA Finals after hardly playing in the previous two playoff series.
The Warriors see Kevon Looney and Patrick McCaw - at 22, the team's youngest players - as potential building blocks, but could have a tough time re-signing them.
Looney, whose fourth-year option wasn't exercised in October, figures to command more in unrestricted free agency than the $2.2 million Golden State can offer. A restricted free agent, McCaw has a combination of versatility, size and upside that could make him an intriguing target.
Before free agency arrives, the Warriors hope to select a rotation-ready wing player with the No. 28 pick of the NBA draft. They also are open to buying into the second round, in which they have had success in recent years with McCaw (No. 38 in 2016) and Bell (No. 38 in 2017).
The few free-agency resources a team so deep in the luxury tax has - namely, the mid-level exception and the minimum exception - will be used on players either in their prime or still getting established in the NBA. It helps Golden State that, after four years atop the league hierarchy, some free agents might be willing to take a pay cut to chase a championship in the Bay Area.
But regardless of who is on the roster next season, the Warriors know that new challenges loom. Such is the burden that comes with verified greatness.
"Next year," Myers said, "it's going to be harder than it was this year to accomplish what we want to accomplish."
Connor Letourneau is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @Con_Chron
Steph Curry celebrates during the Warriors victory parade on Tuesday, June 12, 2018. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc