Warriors

Steve Kerr and the Warriors are paying 'the price of success'

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AP

Steve Kerr and the Warriors are paying 'the price of success'

OAKLAND -- It’s becoming a summer ritual, competitors swooping and raiding the Warriors, hoping to break off pieces of their prosperity. This time, however, it’s cutting fairly deep.

There are, as expected, departing players. Centers JaVale McGee and Zaza Pachulia are out, with key reserve David West probably to follow. Those veterans earned two rings, and each knew this could be his last season in the Bay Area.

The team’s infrastructure, however, is being hit considerably harder.

Chelsea Lane, who presided over physical performance and sports medicine, is leaving, poached by the Atlanta Hawks. Joining her in Georgia is Michael Irr, who served as strength and conditioning chief. That’s one-third of the Warriors' training staff.

Longtime scout and consultant Larry Riley, whose influence had waned in recent years, also is heading to Atlanta, reportedly as a special adviser.

It’s not a coincidence that Travis Schlenk, who spent 12 seasons in the Warriors’ front office, is entering his second season as general manager of the Hawks.

Gone, too, is Sammy Gelfand, the analytics guru who supplied valuable information to the coaching staff. After six seasons with the Warriors, he’s bound for the Detroit Pistons, where new coach Dwane Casey is assembling his staff.

“Yeah, it’s a lot of change,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr conceded to NBC Sports Bay Area. “But that’s the price of success. Sometimes teams come after your people.”

That’s what happened last May, when the Hawks plucked Schlenk from his assistant GM position. Accompanying him to Atlanta was Dan Martinez, who was senior public relations director for the Warriors but ascended to the title of senior director of basketball operations for the Hawks.

(Side note: Schlenk’s drafting of Oklahoma guard Trae Young no doubt centered on deep shooting and passing ability reminiscent of Stephen Curry. So, yes, the Hawks are actively lifting from the Warriors blueprint.)

Less than two months after Schlenk left, Jerry West, executive board member and trusted adviser, also walked. His was a reluctant departure, but his contract was up, and he was feeling marginalized. He quickly landed a handsome salary with the Clippers as a special consultant.

The previous year, when the Warriors won 73 games but lost to Cleveland in The Finals, also brought significant off-the-court changes, with superstar Kevin Durant walking in as lead assistant coach Luke Walton -- who excelled as interim head coach -- was walking out to become head coach of the Lakers.

The previous top assistant coach, Alvin Gentry, left a year earlier, in 2015, after the Warriors won their first title under Kerr, to become head coach of the Pelicans.

So, where do the Warriors go from here? Head trainer Drew Yoder will stay on and assist in completing the staff that operated under Lane. A new strength and conditioning coach will have to be hired. Much of Gelfand’s load -- and maybe his role as Shaun Livingston’s personal practice partner -- will fall upon Pabail Sidhu, who spent last season working with Gelfand.

There is one more notable departure, this one sentimental. Team security manager Ralph Walker, who doubled as Curry’s individual protection, is retiring. Though the former Oakland cop had no voice in personnel, training, scouting or analytics, his understated approach made him popular with players and staff alike.

Which is not to say the others were not popular. They were, particularly Lane and Gelfand.

After four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and three championships, though, the Warriors find themselves rebuilding subtly on the court but considerably with ancillary staff.

While each departure presents a greater opportunity for those leaving, another factor is quality of life. Each of those leaving are bound for a place where salaries go appreciably further on the housing market. Martinez gleefully disclosed that the Oakland dwelling his family left behind is dwarfed by their Atlanta-area home, which cost about half as much.

That said, plenty of candidates are willing to work for the league’s top marquee team. But if the Warriors continue to thrive, and the real estate market remains insane, how long will they stay?

Why Raptors are better matchup for Warriors in NBA Finals than Bucks

Why Raptors are better matchup for Warriors in NBA Finals than Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo, or Kawhi Leonard?

Khris Middleton, or Pascal Siakam?

Brook Lopez, or Marc Gasol?

Eric Bledsoe, or Kyle Lowry?

The Warriors know they will face either the Bucks or Raptors for the 2019 NBA Championship, but as for which team presents the tougher matchup, it's a toss-up.

Just look at the current state of the Eastern Conference finals. Milwaukee looked absolutely dominant, winning the first two games at home, before the script flipped entirely in Games 3 and 4 in Toronto, resulting in a series that is now tied at two games apiece. The Bucks and Raptors appear quite evenly matched, and it's anyone's guess as to who will ultimately prevail out of the East.

In making quick work of the Blazers in the Western Conference finals, the Warriors left themselves plenty of time to rest up before the Finals begin. They'll have more than a week in between games, offering adequate time to ponder questions such as: which opponent would be a better matchup for Golden State?

While the margin between the two teams is razor-thin, there's reason to believe the Warriors would match up slightly better with the Raptors than they would the Bucks.

There were only two teams in the league that ranked in the top five in both offensive and defensive rating during the regular season: the Bucks and Raptors. Milwaukee ranked marginally better than Toronto in both categories, and they've maintained their close correlation into the playoffs, where the Bucks and Raptors rank first and second, respectively, in defensive rating.

The Bucks, however, are averaging 111.2 points per 100 possessions during postseason play -- fourth among all playoff teams -- compared to 107.5 for the Raptors, which ranks ninth.

Still, those playoff numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt, as they've been accrued against different opponents, for the most part. The Bucks finished with the best record in the league during the regular season, so they had a somewhat easier path to the Eastern Conference finals than the Raptors did.

Milwaukee swept Detroit in the first round, and then after a brief hiccup in Game 1 against the Celtics, finished off Boston in five games. Meanwhile, Toronto dropped their very first game of the playoffs to the Magic before eliminating Orlando in five games, and then only narrowly advanced to the Eastern Conference finals after perhaps the most dramatic game-winning shot in NBA playoff history in Game 7 against Philadelphia. As such, the Raptors played three more games than the Bucks on their way to the conference finals, and are guaranteed to have played at least two more playoff games than Golden State should they meet in the Finals.

So, the Warriors would have a slightly larger collective load advantage against the Raptors than they would against the Bucks, but again, it's minimal. That said, the fact that Golden State will have nine days of rest before the Finals begin, and the Eastern Conference representative could have as few as two, could exacerbate the Dubs' advantage.

[RELATED: Raptors tying series with Bucks furthers Dubs' advantage]

Both teams excel on both ends of the court. Both are led by legitimate MVP candidates, two of the very best talents the game has to offer. Both finished with better regular-season records than the Warriors, so both would have homecourt advantage over Golden State.

So why the Raptors?

As we know, rotations shorten in the playoffs, and typically more so the deeper in postseason play. The Warriors had the luxury of extending their rotation against the inferior Blazers, but that won't be the same case against either the Bucks or Raptors.
And the Bucks' shortened rotation appears slightly more threatening to Golden State than the Raptors'.

Milwaukee likely would trot out a nine-man main rotation for the Finals, whereas it might be difficult for Toronto to find that many playable guys in a series against Golden State. Of those nine Bucks players, more than half of them shot better than 35-percent from 3-point range. The Raptors have only four such players on their entire roster.

Two of the Bucks players that fell short of that 35-percent plateau are Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe, who -- aside from being extremely proficient interior scorers -- were both named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team on Wednesday. Leonard was the Raptors' sole representative on either of the all-defensive teams, joining Golden State's Draymond Green and Klay Thompson on the Second Team.

It's not a big difference, but at this point in the postseason, that makes plenty of sense. The best teams are supposed to advance, and clearly, they have. Whichever team comes out of the East will certainly pose more problems for Golden State than the Blazers did. The Raptors might be a slightly better matchup for the Warriors, but if you think the Dubs are going to waltz to their third consecutive league title, you're kidding yourself.

Ja Morant, top NBA draft prospect, chooses Kevin Durant over LeBron James

Ja Morant, top NBA draft prospect, chooses Kevin Durant over LeBron James

Ja Morant soon will know his first NBA team, but he can't exactly pick his teammates. 

The Murray State guard is considered one of the best prospects in the 2019 NBA Draft. He'll likely be a top three pick come June 20, with many pegging him to the Grizzlies at No. 2 overall.

If he could choose his ultimate starting five, though, he'd only have one Warrior. 

"Whew, it's a tough decision for the 3. I don't know if I'd pick KD or Bron," Morant said on the latest episode of Take it There with Taylor Rooks. "Probably KD. Because Bron, but I feel like I can be that facilitator for this team." 

[RELATED: KD continues feud with Broussard]

Morant rounded out his lineup with himself as the point guard, Paul George at shooting guard, Giannis Antetokounmpo at power forward, and Anthony Davis at center.

Morant averaged 24.5 points, 10 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore this season for Murray State.