O The temptation to take a bite out of the Kings is served up daily, right there on a plate, in the middle of the kitchen table, like a huge bag of Hershey’s chocolate kisses.
The once-promising season is spiraling into utter chaos. The players are as disbelieving and disappointed as the fans. The owners and front-office executives appear intent on watching the horror show from the sidelines, and presumably, for the duration of the Lost Season.
But enough about the Kings. ’Tis the season to openly admire the Golden State Warriors. Even before Klay Thompson smashed the NBA record for points in a quarter with his 37-point eruption Friday, these Warriors were Mozart and Monet in sneakers and shorts.
They have the league’s best record and rank first in scoring, assists, field-goal percentage and defensive field-goal percentage. Theirs is a game of uncommon grace and fluidity, and according to their coach, they are reminiscent of another Northern California team that reached the Western Conference finals in 2002.
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“Those Kings were in the top five in offense and defense,” Steve Kerr said Friday, “and we play very similarly on offense, with our bigs as passers off the elbows, scoring out of weave action. But I think we’re better defensively because we’re more athletic. And (Andrew) Bogut is a tremendous rim protector.”
Understandably, the mood inside Oracle Arena these days borders on euphoric. This is pinch-me, full-recovery mode. For years, the Warriors wrote the script on inept management, poor coaching, terrible teams. From 1995 through 2006, they didn’t sniff the postseason. They haven’t reached the conference finals since 1976.
The celebration won’t start in earnest, of course, until they revisit the conference finals or stretch beyond. And a bit of caution is advised simply because of Bogut’s shaky medical history.
But all the elements are in place. Steph Curry and Thompson form the most dynamic backcourt in the league. The 7-foot Bogut anchors the middle. The forwards are versatile and virtually interchangeable. The bench is ridiculously deep. The first major blip might not occur until Kerr tightens his rotation for the playoffs. Even then, winning has a way of muting the grumbles.
“To be successful, you can’t have a lot of negative things going on,” said Jerry West, a Warriors special adviser, “and it starts at the top. Good ownership is crucial. There’s the business side of it, the fan side of it, the community side of it. All those things have to be in place, and people have to have a vision. I don’t think there is any question we have the vision.”
The blinders came off right about the time the Kings drafted Tyreke Evans in 2009, leaving Curry for Golden State. After the Warriors were purchased a year later by Joe Lacob, Peter Guber and current Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive, one good decision begat another.
The highly respected West was brought in. Rick Welts, one of David Stern’s longest-serving and most effective disciples, was named president and CEO. Attorney and former agent Bob Myers joined Larry Riley and Travis Schlenk in basketball operations and later was promoted to general manager.
More? The underwhelming recent draft history supervised by current Ranadive adviser Chris Mullin – including the first-round selections of Ike Diogu, Patrick O’Bryant, and Anthony Randolph and draft night trade for Brandan Wright – became a distant memory. The Kings’ draft night deal for Jimmer Fredette in 2011 enabled the Warriors to poach the gangly Thompson. The 2012 draft delivered Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli. Andre Iguodala was acquired in a three-team trade. Marreese Speights and Shaun Livingston arrived via free agency.
Additionally, Lacob made the tough decisions and absorbed the hits, most notably when he traded the popular Monta Ellis for Bogut in a five-player deal and only months ago, fired coach Mark Jackson after a 51-win season and replaced him with the unproven Kerr.
“The most difficult thing is hiring the right guy,” noted West.
Jackson was fired largely because of friction with the team’s executives and a front-office perception that the offense was stagnant and isolation-oriented when it should have been fast-paced and appealing; the Warriors were last in passes per game a year ago.
This season’s group is constantly on the move, cutting to the basket, spotting up in the corners, setting screens for teammates, and rotating and covering for each other defensively. The players recognize that basketball is a game of angles and, at its best, engages all five players and elicits an extra boost from the energized crowd.
Oracle Arena is a boisterous buzz these days. While the Kings slept, the Warriors crept off with the NBA’s best homecourt advantage – a reality that creates at least minor conflict in the Welts household.
The Warriors CEO, who is overseeing construction of the new $1 billion arena in Mission Bay, commutes between the Bay Area and Carmichael, where he shares a home with his companion Todd Gage, and Gage’s children, Allyson (13) and Santiago (10). Welts jokes that the kids wear Warriors gear when he’s in town and change back into Kings attire the minute he leaves.
“What I really hope,” he added, in all seriousness, “is that everybody really appreciates the moment. Everything is working. Everything is pointing in the right direction, and as you know, it’s very difficult to sustain over time.”