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NBA AM: Sleeping On The Golden State Warriors?

It’s not often a defending champion enters a season as an underdog. Enter the Golden State Warriors.

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The Golden State Warriors were the class of the NBA from the start of the 2014-15 campaign through the end of the season. With a brutal 82 game regular season and a subsequent two month race to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy, pretenders are ultimately weeded out and the best team is usually left standing.

But even though the Warriors ran roughshod, there are more than a few people who haven’t given the team the proper respect after winning the championship for a variety of reasons. There’s a crowd who points to the plethora of injuries the Cleveland Cavaliers faced when battling the Warriors in the Finals and still pushing the team to six competitive games. Some even point to the fact Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder weren’t in the playoff mix mostly due to a season of devastating injuries. Others say the Warriors’ path in the playoffs was easier because they didn’t have to face the Los Angeles Clippers or San Antonio Spurs.

As silly as some of these notions are when viewed in hindsight, the Warriors will head into the 2015-16 season toting the championship hardware but also with the added burden of proving their run to the title wasn’t a fluke.

For the most part, the Warriors kept the band together this offseason and will rely on chemistry and natural progression moving forward. However, the competitors in the West have spent the summer stockpiling their respective rosters to dethrone the champions.

Here is a quick snapshot:

Los Angeles Clippers

Added: Lance Stephenson, Paul Pierce, Josh Smith, Cole Aldrich, Wesley Johnson, Pablo Prigioni, Branden Dawson

Retained: DeAndre Jordan, Austin Rivers

Lost: Matt Barnes, Spencer Hawes

San Antonio Spurs

Added: LaMarcus Aldridge, David West, Jimmer Fredette, Ray McCallum

Retained: Danny Green, Matt Bonner, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard

Lost: Cory Joseph, Aron Bayes, Marco Belinelli

Houston Rockets

Added: Ty Lawson, Marcus Thornton, Sam Dekker

Retained: Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer, K.J. McDaniels

Lost: Josh Smith, Pablo Prigioni, Kostas Papanikolaou, Nick Johnson, Joey Dorsey

Oklahoma City Thunder

Added: Cameron Payne

Retained: Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler

Lost: Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones

Memphis Grizzlies

Added: Brandan Wright, Matt Barnes

Retained: Marc Gasol, Jeff Green

Lost: Kosta Koufos

The Clippers dramatically improved their depth, which was a major weakness down the stretch last season. Adding Johnson, Pierce and Stephenson on the wing gives the team plenty of options to switch up the rotation depending on matchups. Smith is still a starting caliber power forward who will serve as All-Star Blake Griffin’s primary backup.

The Thunder are banking on improved health from All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as the primary driver of their improvement next season. Payne is an interesting prospect at guard, but with the presence of Westbrook and veteran D.J. Augustin he won’t be rushed into action prematurely. Kanter provides the perimeter oriented Thunder with an inside presence offensively.

The Rockets were able to land an All-Star caliber talent in Ty Lawson for a slew of guys who weren’t primary rotation players last season. The problem is Lawson is dealing with some serious off the court issues. The Rockets already have Beverley in the fold who has proven he can be a starter, but a motivated Lawson pushes him to the bench which ultimately gives the team big time depth at point guard. It’s a risk for Houston, but a potential high reward if Lawson pans out. The loss of Smith stings, but Houston has plenty of options in the frontcourt, especially if Donatas Motiejunas can fully recover from back surgery.

The Grizzlies doubled down on their toughness and defensive minded approach by adding Barnes and Wright. Losing Koufos is a move that didn’t generate many headlines nationally, but he was more than a serviceable backup big to Gasol, who decided to re-sign in free agency.

The Spurs added two marquee forwards in Aldridge and West, while also convincing Duncan and Ginobili to hold off on their retirement plans. Green, the ultimate role player, re-signed with the franchise in free agency and Leonard got a max deal solidifying the team’s future.

The Warriors didn’t do anything splashy, but keep the gang intact. Will it be enough to hold off their reloaded opponents in the Western Conference?

Golden State Warriors

Added: Gerald Wallace

Retained: Draymond Green, Marreese Speights, Leandro Barbosa

Lost: David Lee, Justin Holiday

Lee was a pivotal part of the Warriors’ success in recent years but the emergence of Green, injuries and his price tag ultimately made him expendable. Wallace doesn’t have much left in the tank but he’s a veteran who should have no problem fitting into the Warriors’ culture. Green returns and it’s always an unknown how guys react and prepare for a season after receiving their first mega-deal.

The Western Conference will be packed and the Warriors will have their work cut out for them as they attempt to repeat, but for a team coming off a 67 win campaign – sleeping on them might be a mistake.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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