SAN FRANCISCO – Warriors CEO Joe Lacob was sticking to his story, no matter what. The sentiment he expressed on a ballroom stage, before 500 spellbound witnesses, was reiterated 90 minutes later, as a hotel crew was clearing the room.
Sixty minutes, he says. That’s how long for him to flush the NBA Finals loss last June.
“I was moving on an hour later,” he said Monday afternoon. “I don’t have time to think about the past.”
Understand: Lacob’s ambition is off the leash. It knows no bounds. Perhaps because he is steeped in the experience of beating the odds and winning, he attacks professional pursuits with calculated abandon, as if anything is doable. As if victory is presumed.
Yet seeing his team become the first ever to blow a 3-1 NBA Finals lead didn’t deflate Lacob. It energized him. He took it as a vow of himself and his basketball people to do whatever was necessary to make the Warriors even more powerful than the squad that over two previous seasons went 140-24, winning a championship in 2015 before gulping down that devastating loss a year later.
The Warriors finished the regular season with a 73-9 record, the best in NBA history. That is etched in the record book. Yet the players and coaches still carry some sting from losing three consecutive games – two of them at Oracle Arena – to the Cavaliers, with Game 7 punctuated by Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving, who drained the decisive 3-point shot.
“I’m sure they will always remember,” Lacob said of the players and coaches. “They came so close, Game 7, we all did, within one minute of winning. If one shot goes in by Steph (Curry), or maybe Kyrie doesn’t make his, we win.
“Or if some guys who had bad shooting series makes 30 percent of his shots, instead of less.
“There are so many ways we could have, and perhaps should have, won. But we didn’t.”
OK. So Warriors fans aren’t the only folks lamenting the Finals performance of Harrison Barnes, who shot 51.3 percent in the first four games before going 5-of-32 (15.6 percent) over the final three.
Barnes is gone, leaving the Warriors in July to sign a $94.4 million contract with Dallas. The Warriors are happy for him. They are happier for themselves as they replaced Barnes with a fellow named Kevin Durant, who chose to join the Warriors two days before Barnes agreed with the Mavericks.
Durant not only delighted the Warriors but also relieved them. They almost certainly would have matched an offer sheet to re-sign Barnes – but at a salary that would have made him the highest-paid player on the team.
Such a situation would have been awkward, at best.
Lacob, candid as always, went to great lengths to avoid the subject of what the Warriors would have done if Durant had signed elsewhere. My search for a response turned into a comedy routine.
Q: “What if Kevin does not come join you?”
A: “What do you mean? He’s a Warrior.”
Q: “What if he didn’t–?”
A: “I’m not sure what you’re asking. I’m not sure what you’re talking about. I don’t understand the question.”
A: “I don’t really know what you’re talking about. He’s a Warrior. I’m pretty sure he wants to be a Warrior for life.”
Lacob broke into laughter, ending the unscripted skit.
His point was made. The Warriors followed a historically great regular season with a disappointing NBA Finals. They then landed the most accomplished free agent on the market, thereby avoiding the likelihood of returning much of the same cast.
But they also won.
“We had a fantastic year,” Lacob said. “I will always remember it. It was incredible. There may never be another year like that. We just . . . didn’t . . . finish it. It happens. It’s sports.
“I’m still very proud. We should all be proud of what we did. And, honestly, I don’t have any bad feelings about it. I don’t think about it like that. I think it was a great year. That’s how I remember it. And I plan on winning many more.”