http://blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami/2 ... -and-more/
The Warriors are in the second round, set to play the San Antonio Spurs, and they did not get here by accident or repeated foolishness.
It took a lot of things–some as part of a gradual and thoughtful accumulation of talent, some wham-bam blockbuster moves, and I’m saying these are the top 10 things, in order of magnitude.
Note: This is a narrow-scope list of franchise decision-making–just personnel moves, just moves that directly affected the current line-up or coaching staff, and not the larger picture stuff that we all know has been very important to everything successful that’s going on now, too.
I’ve written often about the panoramic events, most of which were accomplished by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, which include them taking over for Chris Cohan, firing Robert Rowell, hiring Bob Myers, demoting Larry Riley, bringing in Jerry West…
All those wide-screen things were IMMENSE and remain immense to the re-booting of this franchise and relaunch as a potential perennial playoff team.
But right now, I’m just going to go through the specific personnel decisions that built the foundation for this season, that pushed them to 47 wins and the 6th seed, that lifted them past Denver in the first round, and that point to possibly larger successes ahead, whether or not that includes knocking off San Antonio.
The Warriors not only have advanced further in the playoffs than the Lakers, Clippers, Rockets, Celtics and many other teams, the core of the roster has definite room to grow..
—-TOP 10 MOVES THAT BUILT THIS PLAYOFF WARRIORS TEAM/
1. Drafting Stephen Curry in 2009 (7th overall)… and keeping him. This was Don Nelson’s final great move, which came more than a year before he actually left, so that was a pretty bad final year there, Nellie. But he gets full credit for this one, and it’s only just beginning to really pay off for this franchise.
Summary: In a 4- or 5-player draft (Blake Griffin went 1st, James Harden 3rd), the Warriors got a franchise cornerstone with the 7th selection thanks to Minnesota bypassing Curry not once (at 5, picking Ricky Rubio–excusable) but twice (at 6, picking Jonny Flynn–not excusable).
The Warriors took Curry despite Curry opting not to work out for them, I assume because he and his agent had their eyes on other situations (and were rightfully wary of the Cohan/Rowell regime and the pairing with Monta Ellis). But the Warriors took him, Curry adapted, and four years later, look at where they all are.
Just think, if Minnesota had taken Curry with either pick, the Warriors probably would’ve selected Jordan Hill and sent him to the Suns in a pre-arranged package–that would’ve included Andris Biedrins, among others–for Amare Stoudemire (who didn’t want to come to the Warriors and probably would’ve left the next season as a free agent, as he did leave Phoenix).
Once Nelson got a hold of Curry, the deal was off. Why? Because Nelson saw echoes of Steve Nash in Curry.. and though that’s probably not quite the right comparison, it was Nelson–more than then-GM Larry Riley–who insisted that the Warriors hold on tight to Curry even if Phoenix pounded the table to get him.
And it was Nelson who declared that for Curry to reach maximum value, it would be as a deep-shooting, offense-directing point guard, which, again, was correct.
Phoenix was right to try to push the Warriors to make the trade; Nelson was right to keep him.
Four seasons later… Curry is a proven playoff catalyst and probably one of the NBA’s 5 or 6 most valuable non-centers. And his 4-year, $44M contract, which kicks in next season, is one of the most team-friendly deals in the league.
2. Hiring Mark Jackson in June 2011. Joe Lacob’s first big hire–after firing Don Nelson and Keith Smart in successive seasons as Lacob was taking over the team–was risky, and it turns out Lacob nailed it.
Other candidates available at the time included Dwane Casey and Lawrence Frank, and Lacob personally interviewed Jackson, San Antonio assistant Mike Budenholzer and Michael Malone. The only guy in that group with no coaching experience was Jackson, the guy Lacob hired on a gut-call.
Jackson backed up Lacob’s faith by putting together a great staff, which this year includes Malone, Pete Myers, and Darren Erman.
In two seasons, Jackson has adapted to major roster changes (trading Monta Ellis, a player Jackson campaigned to coach), kept the team tied together through a non-subtle tank job, worked three rookies into a playoff rotation, figured out how to manage Andrew Bogut’s playing schedule and, in the middle of a playoff series, adapted to the loss of David Lee (and then Lee’s ceremonial Game 6 comeback).
He can be brash, and he got hit for it in his first season, but Jackson’s words and gestures resonate in that locker room, which is the most cohesive I’ve seen in more than a decade of covering the Warriors.
Nelson did an amazing job in 2007, but that was a veteran roster, built with renegades on their last chances, and destined to be a one- or two-season madcap sprint.
What Jackson has done is sturdier, has been accomplished with much younger players, and has justified everything Lacob has promised, too.
Now it’ll be interesting to see if the Warriors extend and improve Jackson’s contract, which has one more guaranteed year left on it. I’d expect them to do something in the next few months. He has earned it.
3. Acquiring Andrew Bogut in a package that sent Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh to Milwaukee in March 2012. A massive deal with all kinds of ripple effects, most of them very beneficial for the Warriors. (More on the additional consequences later on this list.)
All this trade accomplished was:
-Added the franchise’s first tough, defensive-minded center in decades WHICH MAKES A DIFFERENCE (though it was risky, obviously,
because Bogut was in the middle of a serious ankle injury that would limit him even through much of this season);
-Cleared out Ellis to make sure there was no doubt that Curry was the face of the Warriors;
-Opened up the 2-guard slot for then-rookie Klay Thompson, a far better fit alongside Curry than Ellis ever could or would’ve wanted to be;
-As a side part of the deal flow, the Warriors flipped old friend Stephen Jackson (acquired as salary ballast from Milwaukee) to San Antonio for Richard Jefferson (Spurs’ salary-dump) and the 1st-round pick that become center Festus Ezeli, now a key back-up center behind Bogut.
Whew. Help at four positions, ALL of which are paying off in the playoffs… with one trade (and ripples).
This move also gets bonus points because it’s a main reason why Lacob got booed at Chris Mullin Night 12 days later. Want those boos back, gentle Warriors fans?
This move gets more bonus points for essentially being Myers’ intro as the main personnel guy–he was still nominally the No. 2 behind Riley when this trade happened, but this was straight from Myers and West’s back-channel connections and big-picture roster plans.
If the Warriors can get anything of real value for Jefferson’s expiring contract this off-season or, more likely, at next year’s trade deadline, this deal will only get more beneficial for them.
4. Drafting Klay Thompson 11th in 2011. This was a sign that the Warriors’ new regime had a clear idea how to run a draft and this was also West’s signature opening move (these two things are related).
West wanted a bigger back court and said so from his first day as an executive board member, and he fell in love with Thompson’s skill set and size a few weeks later.
Once Thompson got to the 11th slot, he was a slam-dunk pick, and though Thompson remains an up-and-down player, his shooting can carry the Warriors for stretches (and, if coupled with a Curry eruption, can blow up playoff games) and he has become the Warriors’ best perimeter defender.
If Thompson wasn’t this good, the Warriors might not ever have traded Ellis… and this would be a very different, smaller and less cohesive team.
This move gets bonus points for Jimmer Fredette being taken by Sacramento one slot ahead of Thompson.
Other good players were on the board when the Warriors picked (Kawhi Leonard went 15, Kenneth Faried 22), but the GSWs locked in on Thompson early and never had a doubt. For good reasons.
5. Tanking at the end of the 2011-’12 season to keep the first-round pick that turned into Harrison Barnes. The Warriors took some heat (but not from me) when they sat out their top-line players and went 5-22 to close the season… and so what? You do what you have to do, and if it gets ugly doing it, that’s what happens.
The Warriors who did suit up played hard and almost screwed up the Tank several times, including the last two games of the season, which were 2-point and 7-point losses fielding D-Leaguers, and the Warriors needed every loss to keep the pick from going to Utah (it was protected 1-7, the Warriors finished tied for the 7th-worst record with Toronto, won the coin-flip to get the 7th slot, then kept it after the lottery kept them at 7).
The Bogut trade was a root cause of the tank–once they got him and knew he couldn’t play the rest of the season, everything else was easy if the front office had the stomach for it and could take some grumbling.
There was nothing to accomplish by finishing with the 10th-worst record, especially when 7th-worst got them a chance at a real player.
And they got one–drafting Barnes with the pick. They were hoping for Dion Waiters, but he went fourth to Cleveland Toronto. Then they had to wait to see if Barnes got past Sacramento, which he did when Sacramento took Thomas Robinson.
(* How much of this GSW team was built on players Sacramento and Minnesota passed up right before them? A LOT. From 2009-2012 the Timberwolves/Kings consortium selected Flynn, Fredette and Robinson all 1 or 2 picks ahead of… Curry, Thompson and Barnes.)
And the GSWs knew Portland was taking Damian Lillard.
The Warriors thought about Andre Drummond, but knew they were taking Barnes, who jumped right into a starting spot, fit the locker-room atmosphere perfectly, provided needed length and athleticism, played a crucial swing 3/4 role in the Denver series when David Lee got hurt, and looks like he’s only going to get better.
Side-effect: Landing Barnes and plopping him into the starting SF spot allowed the Warriors to happily move incumbent starter Dorell Wright in a trade… for essential back up point guard Jarrett Jack.
6. Acquiring Jarrett Jack from New Orleans in a three-team deal for Dorell Wright July 2012. Mentioned above, but deserves its own spot.
Jack has turned into a fiery team leader, Mark Jackson’s first lieutenant, a gutsy, battle-tested ball-handler who lets Curry move to the 2 spot and who is more than happy to take his fair share (more than his share sometimes) or late-game shots.
7. Acquiring David Lee in a sign-and-trade deal from the NY Knicks for a package that included Anthony Randolph on July 2010. Yes, I know that I do not have this ranked as highly as most people do, and surely not as highly as Lacob, Riley, Myers and Jackson do, but oh well.
I’ve discussed this issue more than enough–Lee is a good player, plays very well with Curry in the half-court offense, and is tremendous in the locker room, but his poor defense and lack of athleticism at a key spot makes the 6-year, $80M deal look worse and worse as his salary goes higher and higher.
The Warriors were not dead against Denver when Lee went down; in fact, I’d argue they were better without him, at least in that match-up. (I’m still trying to decide how a lack of Lee will help/hurt the Warriors vs. San Antonio in this series.)
Bogut is a more aggressive player when he’s playing alongside a more athletic PF, and most of the rebounds that Lee gets can be gobbled up by others.
If Bogut isn’t at top form in most of those games, yes, the Warriors would’ve missed Lee badly. Bogut, however, WAS in top form, and I think part of that was because he had the paint all to himself.
BUT I HASTEN TO ADD… Lee was tremendous for most of this regular season and if not for him, the Warriors don’t win 47 games, don’t get the 6 seed, and don’t draw Denver in the first place.
Lee has been good for the Warriors; he’s a very skilled player; they would be worse, overall, without him.
Bonus points for making that surreal comeback in Game 6, too.
8. Signing Carl Landry in August 2012. Everybody can sign a journeyman to a modest short-term deal, the best teams sign the right guys at the right spots–and that’s Landry this season.
He’s been a bit of an NBA gypsy–the Warriors are his fourth team in seven seasons, and he can opt-out and move on again this off-season if he wishes.
But Landry has delivered key second-unit low-post and mid-range scoring this season, and logged important regular-season time alongside Lee in a no-center line-up.
9. Firing Don Nelson before the 2010-11 season, firing Keith Smart after that season. Lacob wasn’t officially the owner when he pushed Nelson out (and ate his $6M salary), and he and Guber were just months into their official ownership when they dismissed Smart after his interim season.
But the two moves showed that Lacob wasn’t afraid to shuffle the deck and pay some money to find the guy he wanted. There’s no way Nelson or Smart should’ve stayed on… and Lacob deserves a nod for recognizing that and acting swiftly in both cases.
10. Drafting Draymond Green 35th and Festus Ezeli 31st overall in the 2012 draft.
The Warriors know what they’re doing in the draft. Tomas Satoranksy went 3 picks ahead of Green and Jeffery Taylor went 4 picks ahead.
The draft is an inexact science and can be risky the deeper you go (see: Jeremy Tyler in 2011). But fully half of the Warriors’ current 8-man playoff rotation was drafted in the last two years–Thompson, Barnes, Green and Ezeli.