LeBron James isn't 'same animal' about winning, David Griffin believes

LeBron James isn't 'same animal' about winning, David Griffin believes

By now, you know the set up for the upcoming NBA season. 

The Warriors, fresh off five straight NBA Finals appearances, are wounded, limping into the new campaign without Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and DeMarcus Cousins. Klay Thompson is recovering from a torn ACL and is expected to be out until at least the All-Star break.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Western Conference got better. Anthony Davis joined LeBron James with the Lakers. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George teamed up on the Clippers, Russell Westbrook now is a Rocket and Mike Conley now calls Utah home. 

With the Warriors licking their wounds, many expect James and the Lakers to battle the Clippers for conference supremacy. 

Will James, fresh off his first missed postseason since 2005, still have the same juice he used to? Current Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations and former Cavaliers general manager David Griffin has his doubts. In a wide-ranging conversation with Sports Illustrated's Jake Fischer, Griffin noted how James' drive appeared to dissipate after he and the Cavs beat the Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals.

"There wasn’t a lot else for him,” Griffin told Fisher of James' mindset after that title. “I don’t think he’s the same animal anymore about winning.”

James has faced criticism of late, with a number of people proposing that he only joined the Lakers due to his desire to live in Southern California and that his play in Year 1 with the Lakers showed he no longer craved a title run as he once did. 

[RELATED: Klay thinks Warriors have many years of title contention ahead]

The three-time NBA champion will have a chance to prove Griffin and the rest of his doubters wrong this season. With Griffin trading Davis to the Lakers, James now has the co-star he was missing last season and a roster that is better suited to form a title-contender around him.

At 34 years old, James and the Lakers will need to manage his load in order to keep him healthy for what LA hopes is a lengthy postseason run. If he's healthy come playoff time, we'll see if James still has that winning drive when he and the Lakers face the likes of the Clippers, Warriors and Rockets with the title hanging in the balance.

What if Warriors had traded Klay Thompson for Kevin Love in 2014?

What if Warriors had traded Klay Thompson for Kevin Love in 2014?

Editor's note: Twice a week, NBC Sports Bay Area will look back on biggest "What If?" moments in Bay Area sports history in our "Hindsight 2020" series. The first installment: What if the Warriors had actually traded Klay Thompson for Kevin Love in 2014?

Klay Thompson permanently has etched himself into Warriors lore over the last decade, using his superior shooting ability to help win, and even save, the Warriors dynasty. Thompson, along with Steph Curry, has given the Warriors a backcourt never before seen in basketball.

But back in the summer of 2014, the Warriors' eyes were on their first title in 40 years, and Thompson's place in the said mission was murky. His standing in the franchise was uncertain when Golden State dangled his services to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a deal for Kevin Love

For Golden State -- who ended up winning three titles in five seasons with Thompson -- Love provided star power that would have validated Warriors' rise. For the pre-dynasty Warriors, Love provided something Thompson has never been: A double-double threat not seen in the Bay Area since Chris Webber. 

Despite never making the postseason to that point, Love would bring an established name to a new ownership group led by Joe Lacob looking to make a statement to the rest of the league. However, the deal got nixed when team consultant Jerry West reportedly threatened to quit if Golden State went through the plan. 

But what if Thompson's talents were traded for Love? What if Golden State gave up on the Splash Brothers too early?

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

For context, the timing of the trade is noteworthy. While the San Antonio Spurs won the title with a modern offense in 2014, the league still put a premium on traditional big men who could roam the paint. In the same offseason, the Washington Wizards signed big man Marcin Gortat to a five-year, $60 million dollar deal.

But more importantly, the thought of adding Love -- a three-time All-Star at that point -- allowed Lacob to get the star power that'd spurned Golden State for years. Love was the prize, and the Warriors were eager to acquire him. 

But for Golden State, it would have made the team destined for dynastic glory merely a solid regular-season team. Spacing was a catalyst for the Warriors' success, and Love was most effective in the paint during his time in Minnesota.

Love's presence would have made Draymond Green expendable. At the time of the trade discussions, Green hadn't broken out as a bonafide starter. That wouldn't happen until the start of the 2014-15 season, only after David Lee was sidelined with a hip injury.

With Thompson off the roster, Curry would not have the necessary spacing or the heat-check partner Thompson provides. Love's defensive deficiencies would drive assistant coach Ron Adams insane. 

[RELATED: Six reasons why Warriors will play in 2021 Finals]

In Minnesota, Thompson would have been the franchise pillar leading a rebuild, a distinction he's never had the opportunity to live up to. But alongside Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad, he'd have little chance of success in his first season.

In 2015, he'd likely be joined by draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns. But as we learned in the Bay Area, Thompson is best served as the second or third-best player on a championship roster. The presence of Curry and Kevin Durant allowed Thompson to flourish on his own terms. On Golden State's stacked roster, Thompson's scoring binges and defense set the Warriors apart from the rest of the league. In Minnesota, his contributions alone wouldn't yield a title.

Trade notwithstanding, both players ended up on the right side of history. Love ultimately was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, winning a title with LeBron James in 2016, beating the Warriors along the way.

Meanwhile, Thompson won three titles in the Bay Area and has become an organizational pillar. The 2014 trade proposal looks preposterous in hindsight. 

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

NBA draft rumors: Tyrese Haliburton over LaMelo Ball on Warriors' board

NBA draft rumors: Tyrese Haliburton over LaMelo Ball on Warriors' board

Who do the Warriors view as the top point guard in the 2020 NBA Draft?

"I’ve been told that (Tyrese Haliburton) has emerged as the No. 1 point guard on the Warriors’ board — yes, above LaMelo Ball and Killian Hayes," Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle writes.

Haliburton had his sophomore year at Iowa State cut short in early February because of a broken left wrist. He averaged 15.2 points, 6.5 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 2.5 steals over 22 games, while shooting better than 50 percent from the field and just under 42 percent from deep.

Several members of the Warriors' front office traveled to Ames, Iowa in early January to see Haliburton up close.

"If Golden State lands anywhere between No. 2 and No. 5, it will seriously consider Haliburton," Letourneau added.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

The 20-year-old (who was born on a "leap day" on Feb. 29, 2000) has somewhat of a funky release, but it's effective.

"My form is not traditional right now, but it was even worse as a freshman because I wasn't strong enough to really get it there," he told ESPN's Mike Schmitz in early April. "I've had to get more used to getting it off in different ways.

"Even this year, I played with it a little bit because I knew I'd be more of an emphasis defensively. You might see sometimes my pull-up doesn't look the same as my catch-and-shoot shot. But it's just dependent on how I can get it there.

"I feel like I put a lot of time in and no matter how I release it, I feel like every shot's going in."

[RELATED: Report: Warriors expected to find out draft spot in August]

At 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-7.5 inch wingspan, Haliburton thrives in transition where his incredible passing skills are on full display. The Oshkosh, Wisconsin native "has one of the highest basketball IQs of any player in the draft," according to Schmitz.

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