The journey from acquaintanceship to friendship to teammate, at least among NBA players, often begins with the kind of opportunities the next few weeks will afford Steve Kerr and, to a greater extent, Draymond Green.
With Kerr on the coaching staff of Team USA and Green named to the roster Monday, their upcoming Olympics experience puts them in a prime position to recruit on behalf of the Warriors. Let the imaginations roam without restriction.
Recruiting is, in this instance, different from illegal “tampering,” partly because it’s subtler but mostly because when done skillfully, it’s impossible to monitor, much less regulate.
With the exception of free agency, which began in 1976, nothing has altered the landscape of the NBA more than the decision 13 years later to allow those within the league to join forces in international competition. Suddenly, NBA opponents were American teammates pursuing a common goal. Animosity began to thaw and brotherhood reached new heights. Enemies became friends, or at least friendly.
Which puts them that much closer to being teammates.
It is safe to assume, citing a recent example, that DeMarcus Cousins’ decision to sign with the Warriors three years ago was influenced by his relationship with Draymond, which evolved during their time as teammates on the 2016 Olympics team in Rio de Janeiro. It really tightened during off-the-court activities. They also were partners when the dominoes came out. There was laughter. High-decibel trash-talk. Memories that last a lifetime.
Two years later, Cousins was a free agent. He was delighted to hear the Warriors had interest. He might or might not have known that Golden State general manager Bob Myers already had consulted with the team’s key players, particularly Draymond.
Barely three months after Boogie signed, he and Draymond were neighbors in the East Bay suburbs.
In the so-called “player empowerment” era -- more of a player enlightenment era, really -- relationships matter when free agents consider prospective employers. With great sums of money on the line, players will sacrifice a few million dollars for the personal enjoyment that comes with a comfortable environment. An inviting culture.
Why did Kevin Durant sign with the Warriors in 2016? Relationships and culture.
Why did KD sign with the Nets two years ago? Relationships -- notably Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan -- and culture.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to the Clippers? Relationship. And the opportunity to create a culture.
When grumpy former NBA stars criticize the movement of today’s stars, it’s usually out of salary envy and failure to understand the climate is different now than it was 30 years ago. The Dream Team concept opened doors previously bolted shut. Players once saw each other as rivals to be hated, with no chance of a positive relationship.
They now see each other as individual corporations. There still can be animosity, but the level of player-to-player interaction off the court has never been higher.
There is no doubt Stephen Curry and Chris Paul are rivals. You might recall CP3 thwarting Steph’s prearranged shooting session at Toyota Center in Houston during the 2019 Western Conference semifinals. Curry’s revenge came in Game 6 the next day, with a 33-point second half as the Warriors ousted the Rockets.
Less than a year later, during the pandemic, Steph and Chris were giggling and sharing stories on an entertaining Instagram Live chat.
Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas would never.
Who is to say Draymond wouldn’t somehow find a way to get closer to Bulls star Zach LaVine or, ahem, Wizards star Bradley Beal? They’re teammates today, representing the USA. But there might come a time when LaVine wants out of Chicago or Beal is done in D.C.
As a member of the Team USA coaching staff under Gregg Popovich, Kerr will have daily interaction with players and fellow staffers, one of whom, Lloyd Pierce, is a former NBA head coach. Kerr is filling out his Warriors staff and already has been in contact with Pierce, according to league sources. If nothing else, the coming weeks provide an opportunity for them to deepen their relationship.
These situations are in many ways the greatest low-key recruiting season in the NBA. It can become a “fishing trip,” dangling your franchise as the bait.
It all begins July 6, when training camp opens in Las Vegas. The group is scheduled to fly to Tokyo a couple weeks later, with the Olympics running through Aug. 8. That’s roughly five weeks together, mostly among themselves. Plenty of time to become familiar with the unfamiliar, to get to know the men behind their NBA team jerseys.
Knowing Popovich, there will be ample room for conversations about life beyond basketball. The Warriors will have two men who thrive in that space. They’re built for these opportunities, and it has been known to make a difference.