From dog days to super villains, former NBA players tell the real story of the Warriors

From dog days to super villains, former NBA players tell the real story of the Warriors

With the ongoing truth-bending debate about the sweeping power of the almighty Warriors, it’s time for the bi-weekly history lesson, with contributions from those who actually lived it.

That would be some of the men who recall year after year when a trip to Oakland was perhaps the surest victory in the NBA.

“You could be out all night, and still you were going to get ‘em,” says Jermaine O’Neal, who spent 17 seasons as an opponent before ending his career as a member of the Warriors in 2014.

“You see the Warriors on the schedule, that’s a ‘W’ -- and it didn’t stand for ‘Warriors,’ ” says Clyde Drexler, the Hall of Fame guard who spent his entire 16-year career with Western Conference foes Portland and Houston.

For a more measured commentary, we turn to Jim Jackson, who has some of the broadest perspective in league history. During his 14 seasons, he played for 12 franchises, a number no one has surpassed. He was a Warrior for the final 31 games of the 1997-98 season, after which he became a free agent.

“It was always a great place to play because they had passionate fans,” he says. “But the balance of power -- the ability to get that true superstar -- escaped Golden State for some time after Chris Mullin and Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond and Chris Webber left.

“So now it’s good to see where they are because they’ve got such passionate fans.”

The Warriors were 19-63 in that ’97-’98 season, 30-52 the year before and 21-29 in the lockout-shortened following season. They were in the midst of, as long-suffering fans have memorized, a woefully pathetic run of 12 consecutive losing seasons, during which they finished an average of 24 games below .500.

One international media outlet (OK, ESPN) in 2006 posted a column by our man Brian Murphy, now a sports-talk show host at KNBR, nominating the Warriors as the worst franchise in American sports.

“I’ve seen the Warriors through the dog days, the ups and downs,” says Drew Gooden, who was born in Oakland spent his entire childhood in the East Bay before embarking on a 14-year in NBA career that ended in 2016.

“To see where they are now,” he adds, “they’ve basically created a dynasty, and they’re going to continue to add on to that. It’s night and day.”

The Warriors’ last trip to the lottery, in 2012, was their fifth in a row and 21st in 28 seasons dating back to 1985, when they drafted Mullin seventh overall. They struck gold with Curry in 2009 and Thompson in 2011. They found a solid player, Harrison Barnes, in 2012 but whiffed on Anthony Randolph in 2008 and Ekpe Udoh in 2010.

So, clearly, the Warriors, even as they have rebuilt the franchise almost from the ground up, haven’t always gotten it right. But their 40-percent success rate was enough to give them conceivably the most dangerous backcourt in NBA history.

“Jerry West was there for a while and he knows how to build a contending team,” says Michael Cooper, a defensive specialist who earned five championship rings with the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s, when West was the architect.

The Warriors are where they are due to a variety of forces. When CEO Joe Lacob hired Mark Jackson as the coach in June 2011, it was the right move, at that time, just as replacing him with Steve Kerr in May 2014 was the proper decision.

None of this would have happened without Lacob and co-owner Peter Guber setting the bar impossibly high, vowing to bring a new and brighter day to the Warriors.

“The guys they have now have righted all of the wrongs, getting three championships in four years,” Drexler says. “And they look like they’re going to get two or three more.”

In a league where power can be cyclical, maybe it’s time for the Warriors to have their turn. It was, to be fair, overdue. And some folks are OK with its arrival.

“I’m from Cali, so I like everything they’re doing,” says DeShawn Stevenson, a Fresno native whose 13-year NBA career ended in 2013. “I support it.

“I wish they’d whip everybody’s butt.”

Warriors center Jordan Bell ideal starter while DeMarcus Cousins gets healthy

Warriors center Jordan Bell ideal starter while DeMarcus Cousins gets healthy

OAKLAND -- The Warriors have indicated that, until DeMarcus Cousins is available, they plan to stay with the center-by-committee system installed two seasons ago. To generate continuity, though, they’ll need a regular starter.

If length and athleticism are the priorities, third-year 7-footer Damian Jones has the edge.

If reliability and technique are crucial, they’ll look to 6-9 Kevon Looney, who is entering his fourth season.

If sheer talent is the primary factor, it likely will be 6-9 Jordan Bell, coming off a rookie season that was by turns spectacular and disappointing.

“As long as we get it done,” coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday after practice, “it doesn’t matter to me.”

“But if somebody takes it, that’s great.”

With the NBA being a talent-first league, Bell would seem to enter training camp with a lead. He is as athletic as Jones with more court awareness, and far more athletic than Looney and also has broader skills. No center on the roster has more energy than Bell.

Then there is this: The Warriors visualize Bell as the ideal matchup for Clint Capela in Houston, the team considered most likely to deny the Warriors a fifth consecutive trip to The Finals.

Bell acquitted himself well when the teams met in the 2018 Western Conference Finals. The confidence gained from that series vaulted the University of Oregon product to a higher level when the Warriors advanced to the NBA Finals, where he was terrific.

“The Western Conference Finals was the most competitive basketball I’ve ever played,” Bell recalled. “I’ve never had to experience any competition that was that tough, where literally every single play counts.”

Bell’s says he’s a “way better basketball player” than he was as a rookie, yet his fate likely will rest on his ability to achieve consistency. He worked on that during the summer and believes that, along with the experiences of his rookie season, should be of benefit in Year 2.

Bell talks about being a better pro, defining it as “showing up on time, not making rookie mistakes. I know what the schedule is now, so I should know exactly where to be and what time to be there. And what’s expected of me.”

That’s largely a result of veteran influence. David West, now retired, was in his ear. So was Draymond Green. And there was a one-on-one conversation with Kevin Durant last April, as the team flew home from Indiana, that proved profound.

Though Kerr was impressed by Bell’s work over the summer -- he praised his hoops intellect and passing, and even gave him the green light to fire midrange jumpers -- there still is much to prove.

“He understands now how hard he has to work,” Kerr said. “It’s hard for a rookie to come in and understand what being a pro means.

“But he gets it now. I think he’s more committed than ever. He’s got to be more consistent as a player, but that starts on the practice floor every day.”

Matchups will be a factor in determining a starter. Changing the starting lineup on a regular basis requires constant adjustment for the other four starters, all of whom are All-Stars. While they’re wise enough to do that, that approach isn’t particularly sustainable.

The likely expectation is that Jones will fill the role vacated by JaVale McGee, playing 10-15 minutes off the bench along with spot starts. Looney probably will remain in a similar role, playing significant minutes some nights and not at all on others, based on the opponent.

Bell, however, is the most versatile. He offers some of what the Warriors would get from Jones and Looney. Bell is prepared to start, but hardly fixated on it.

“I want to be the guy who finishes, not the guy who starts,” he said. “That’s what I’m going for.”

Kevin Durant: 'I still gotta get better' at one thing in particular


Kevin Durant: 'I still gotta get better' at one thing in particular

Kevin Durant is ...

... really good at basketball.

I promise.

But that doesn't mean he has mastered every aspect of the game.

"I still gotta get better at setting screens and moving off the ball a little bit, but I'm glad I still got some room to grow in that area," Durant told Greg Papa on Bonta Hill on 95.7 The Game. "I played a lot of pickup ball this summer -- moreso than I ever played -- and that's something I thought about running up into screens.

"I'm like, 'Let me hit this guy now.' Whereas before, I was slipping out of screens trying to get me a shot."

[RELATED: Steph Curry's summer the best of his career, 'trajectory is still going up']

Durant is absolutely right.

It's well documented how Steph Curry does a fantastic job of setting picks (particularly back screens). In many instances, two defenders stay attached to Curry, and a teammate gets a wide open shot or dunk.

It's probably safe to assume that the Warriors' coaching staff has been talking to Durant about becoming a better screener over the past two seasons. And it sounds like he's ready to make it happen.

"It's only gonna help our team," Durant added.

Drew Shiller is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders. Follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller