The Warriors arrived in Sacramento for their first peek at Golden 1 Center with a 31-6 record, leading the league in most of the significant offensive and defensive categories, a week away from groundbreaking ceremonies on their new arena, and as talent-rich as the nearest Brink’s truck.
And, also, in an irritable mood.
See, when you expect to win every game, and you blow a 19-point, fourth-quarter lead to the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday, it feels like the sky is falling or the roof is leaking during a downpour, and majority owner Joe Lacob isn’t around to crawl along the catwalk and plug the holes with a banner. (That only happens in Sacramento, and there is only one crazy cat named Gregg Lukenbill, as Kings fans can attest.)
The Kings have other issues these days. G1C is gorgeous but the product is about as appealing as castor oil. The ball doesn’t move. The bodies don’t move. DeMarcus Cousins barks at the officials for most of the night, furthering the notion that misery loves company, even when it pertains to locker room dynamics.
But then there are the Warriors. Except for those occasions when Draymond Green loses his mind and his teammates lose their cool in the fourth quarter, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” could be their theme song. Theirs is a beautiful game. The sluggish pace, overdribbling, isolation plays and overdose of pick-and-rolls that afflict so many of the league’s 30 franchises are essentially banned from Oracle Arena.
“We teach our guys to get out and run, throw the ball ahead, and when you pass it, you have to move,” said coach Steve Kerr. “No standing around. We run a lot of away-from-the-ball stuff, though at the same time, it’s harder to play like that in the playoffs because people grab and hold, and it’s not called as much. These are things we have to balance out. (And) obviously we have a long way to go. We’re still learning ourselves, especially in late-game situations.”
As was evidenced in the Christmas loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers and now twice against the Grizzlies, the Warriors are adapting to the addition of uber-talented Kevin Durant – and Durant to the Warriors. During one late-game possession Friday, the former Oklahoma City star, who was routinely featured in isolation plays while with the Thunder, settled for a contested jumper instead of executing a pick-and-roll.
After he missed the shot, an animated Green approached and berated the slinky forward for his decision.
“Our fourth-quarter offense has been atrocious,” Green said later. “That’s something we’ll figure out as a team.”
Incorporating a superstar into the offense and deciding who gets the ball in critical sequences – in other words, who should be the No. 1 option – is a problem 29 other franchises would welcome. Very few teams in the modern era have had four players in the starting lineup who can all pass, shoot, make plays and complement each other without dominating the ball and disrupting rhythm and flow.
Klay Thompson cuts and moves with quiet grace and can shoot from the parking lot. Steph Curry freezes defenders with change-of-pace dribbles and acrobatic layups, and is regarded as the best off-the-dribble shooter in history. Green is a combination playmaker, selective scorer, fierce defender and emotional leader whose powder-keg passion at times earns him a trip to the woodshed. Durant, the newcomer, is a prolific shotmaker and excellent passer who has surprised the Warriors with his shot-blocking and rim protection.
Understandably, the atmosphere inside Oracle these days is on another planet. Two seasons ago, Curry was the league’s MVP and Golden State won the NBA championship. A year ago, the Warriors broke the Chicago Bulls’ record for regular-season victories before blowing a 3-1 series lead and losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. Assuming the Warriors can compensate for the departed Andrew Bogut’s massive size and bruising interior defense, a few months from now, the Warriors and Cavs very likely will enter the ring in a rematch of heavyweights, with Durant’s electrifying presence giving the edge to Golden State.
As the former Lakers Hall of Famer and GM Jerry West for decades has advocated, even championship teams need to tinker with their roster. To stay the same is to become stagnant and foster complacency, he would argue, explaining his moves that included trading Norm Nixon for Byron Scott and signing the extroverted, wickedly humorous Mychal Thompson, Klay’s father, during the Lakers’ championship run in the 1980s.
Now a special adviser to the Warriors, West strongly endorsed GM Bob Myers’ decision last summer to pursue Durant, the most heavily recruited free agent since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach, then took them back home to Cleveland.
“If you want to be a great team, and continue to be a great team,” West said the other day, “you can’t rest on your laurels. And if you’re a good player, why would you worry about how many shots you get? But we’re very fortunate. It’s a unique bunch of young men. They like each other, participate with each other. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it.”
While none of this is science or heart surgery, it isn’t an accident, either. The Warriors’ front office is deep, experienced and talented, and might be the most impressive in the league. Lacob, who has absorbed his share of blows to his considerable ego since purchasing the team in 2010, hires smart people, remains involved but doesn’t micromanage. He retained personnel executives Larry Riley (who drafted Curry and Thompson), Travis Schlenk, and former Milwaukee Bucks general manager Larry Harris from the previous regime, brought in West as a mentor, and on The Logo’s recommendation, groomed former agent Myers as his general manager; and hired and fired coach Mark Jackson, replacing him with Kerr, a TNT analyst at the time without any coaching experience.
Lacob also moved quickly when former Phoenix Suns executive and David Stern disciple Rick Welts became a free agent and moved to Sacramento. Among his numerous duties at team president, Welts is overseeing construction of the Warriors’ $1.5 billion, 18,000-seat arena project that is eight miles from Oracle and a few miles south of AT&T Park. Groundbreaking for the facility, which is expected to open in 2019, will be held Jan. 17.
As for season-ticket sales and marketing? The team’s reputation as being unusually accommodating and media friendly? Welts said the Warriors have a waiting list of 37,000 and credits both the team’s strong history of support in the Bay Area and the success and likeability of the current club.
“I’ve been doing this my entire life, for 40 years,” he said, “and this is without a doubt the nicest group of professional athletes that I have ever worked with. To a person they are high character. Credit Bob Myers and our basketball operations department. Plus, we’re the most exciting team out there. I mean, Steph, Klay, KD, Draymond, Steve ... it doesn’t get any better than that.”