Warriors must prepare to embrace new NBA reality after golden era

Warriors must prepare to embrace new NBA reality after golden era

OAKLAND – After establishing a standard of excellence, the events of the NBA's latest July whirlwind have amounted to, at the very least, a temporary setback for the Warriors.

Kevin Durant’s decision to leave for the Brooklyn Nets – to partner with close friends Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan – along with Klay Thompson suffering a torn ACL that will keep him out most of next season didn’t necessarily apply brakes to the franchise’s rocket to the sports mountain. It did, however, force radical rerouting.

This is the first summer since 2015 that the Warriors are not considered serious contenders to win a championship. As someone who understands ownership is the first step toward competitive advance, CEO Joe Lacob can’t be pleased with the outlook.

The question, then, becomes whether Lacob understands the success/failure cycles inherent to teams in the NBA. The early indication is that he does.

“Joe loves action, in some respects, but not without thought behind it,” president/general manager Bob Myers told NBC Sports Bay Area on Monday. “He wants action with intentions.”

After a frenetic 17 days between the draft and free agency, here are the changes Myers and his front office team are delivering to Lacob and Warriors fans: One top-50 NBA player (D’Angelo Russell), one second-year big man already facing a career crossroads (Omari Spellman), three free agents light on credentials (Alec Burks, Willie Cauley-Stein, Glenn Robinson III) and three rookies (Jordan Poole, Alen Smailagic, Eric Paschall).

The Warriors likely will open the season with those eight players trying to create unity with holdovers Stephen Curry, Jacob Evans III, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney and Alfonzo McKinnie. The hope is that Thompson will suit up sometime after the February All-Star break.

“Joe was actually very supportive of our direction,” Myers said. “He liked the idea of us going younger. He was a little fearful of being an old team in the next few years. But with Kevin’s departure, it pushed us in this direction.

“From Joe’s vantage point, he embraced the emphasis on youth. Once we went with D’Angelo, the idea with all of us, including Joe, – was not to grab some young guys and see what they can do when combined with Steph and Draymond and Klay. Kevon is young, but on this team, he’ll be considered a vet.

“Joe was good,” Myers continued. “Joe’s super competitive, super driven. But he also does support us in our decisions. He’s involved. He’s excited about what’s coming.”

Lacob also is acutely aware that the NBA is stronger now than it was five years ago, and that the Western Conference is downright treacherous. After five years of treating the Pacific Division with the back of their hand and burying their rivals by New Year’s Day, the Warriors suddenly are looking up at the Clippers and maybe the Lakers.

Which bring us back to the subject of ownership being the biggest competitive advantage. The Lakers may be wandering through a purple haze of desperation, hoping to squeeze a championship out of the last active years of LeBron James’ career, but the Clippers are lining up to compete jab for jab with the Warriors.

“They’ve got great ownership,” Myers conceded. “And it’s not just them, it’s the whole Western Conference.”

Perhaps, but only the Clippers have tools at every level to earn respect throughout the league. Chairman Steve Ballmer is Mark Cuban 2.0, every bit as demonstrative but with an air of restraint that doesn’t extend to his net worth, estimated to be between $41 billion and $51 billion – in either case, at least twice the wealth of any other NBA chairman.

Ballmer is in many ways following the blueprint drawn up by Lacob upon reaching agreement to buy the Warriors on July 15, 2010. Like Lacob, Ballmer was accused of overpaying, at $2 billion, to purchase an underachieving franchise. Unlike Lacob, Ballmer believed in his incumbent coach, Doc Rivers. Like Lacob, Ballmer believes his coach is best restricted to coaching; he took away Rivers’ GM powers, hired a real front office and then, as Lacob did, hired Jerry West, perhaps the best talent evaluator in league’s modern age.

And with the additions of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Ballmer and the Clippers now have arranged their own “KD moment,” a seismic makeover that ensures a spotlight of levels unprecedented in franchise history while also making them at least co-favorites to win it all.

“What we’re seeing now and what makes it interesting . . . is the fluidity of the sport,” Myers said. “Everything is moving so fast now. All of a sudden, teams are compiling players that didn’t come up in their system or that they didn’t draft. And those players landed with them through free agency.”

[RELATED: Myers bids farewell to golden era of Warriors basketball]

Here comes reality, and it’s coming fast. The Warriors will, at some point, regain their footing, but next season and maybe more is time for fans, with Lacob at the top, to buckle up.

NBA rumors: Warriors' Alec Burks to honor Kobe Bryant, change jersey number

NBA rumors: Warriors' Alec Burks to honor Kobe Bryant, change jersey number

Warriors guard Alec Burks reportedly is joining a growing list of NBA players who no longer will wear No. 8 or 24 after Kobe Bryant's tragic death on Sunday. 

Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reported Wednesday morning that Burks will switch his jersey from No. 8 to No. 20 going forward. 

Burks previously has worn No. 10 on the Utah Jazz and Cleveland Cavaliers and No. 13 with the Sacramento Kings. He also wore No. 10 in college at the University of Colorado. 

Bryant sported No. 10 on Team USA in the Olympics, but it's unknown if that played into Burks ever wearing the same jersey number. 

The Warriors played their first game since Bryant's death on Tuesday night, a 115-104 loss to the 76ers in Kobe's hometown of Philadelphia. Both the Warriors and Sixers paid tribute to Bryant throughout the night, and Golden State took a 24-second shot clock violation after Philadelphia gave them the ball from an eight-second backcourt violation to begin the game. 

[RELATED: Dubs' first game after Kobe's death doesn't ease pain]

"Beginning of the game was tough," Warriors forward Draymond Green told reporters in Philadelphia following the loss. "We all want to honor Kobe, and then you go into a basketball game. That's a switch you can't flip. Those are real emotions." 

The hurt, the emotions will continue to come. As will the deserved tributes such as Burks is doing to honor a legend.

Warriors' first game after Kobe Bryant's death doesn't ease their pain

Warriors' first game after Kobe Bryant's death doesn't ease their pain

NBA games in January typically come armed with enough mid-season monotony to garner "dog days" comparisons. The hour leading up to the Warriors' 115-109 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday mirrored that of a precession without a casket. 

Two days removed from Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant's sudden death, his hometown team honored him with familiar memories. Pregame introductions and hype videos were replaced by darkness. Both teams stood side by side during the national anthem, while the Sixers wore No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys as light shined on Bryant's No. 33 Lower Merion High School jersey midcourt.  

By the end of the evening, the night's most valuable player didn't don a jersey nor did he have a life left to live, leaving the players to reconcile a future without their hero.  

"Beginning of the game was tough," Warriors forward Draymond Green told reporters in Philadelphia following the loss. "We all want to honor Kobe, and then you go into a basketball game. That's a switch you can't flip. Those are real emotions." 

Green's emotions, like the rest of the league, originated Sunday morning, when news trickled out that Bryant, along with his daughter Gianna and seven other passengers, were killed in a helicopter crash while flying to a basketball tournament at Bryant's Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Bryant's death reverberated throughout the league, including in Los Angeles, where crowds flooded the streets around Staples Center -- a building Bryant arguably built -- in remembrance.

In response, the league postponed Tuesday's scheduled matchup between the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers. 

The Warriors got the news before Sunday's practice, prompting its cancellation ahead of the team's longest road trip of the season. By Tuesday morning, the team finally gathered enough strength to talk about Bryant.

In a team meeting, Warriors coach Steve Kerr spoke and Steph Curry followed, beginning a roundtable discussion. 

"Today was the first day I could really reflect a little bit and talk about it," Kerr told reporters. "But the last two days, I don't think anybody could even begin to reflect, just because of the pain of what just happened and the pain we know so many people are dealing with."

By game time, Bryant's influence was recognized throughout the arena. Perhaps no one on Golden State's active roster was affected more than Green. 

Nearly four years ago, the Bryant gave Green his game-worn pair of sneakers, writing "make history" along the toebox following Bryant's last game at Oracle Arena. Months later, Green's Warriors won a league-record 73 regular-season games.  

When Green was suspended for Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals, he sought Bryant's advice in the wake of criticism that became “probably the lowest point of my NBA career.” Bryant responded with a poignant message.

"Draymond, 99 percent of the world is OK with mediocrity -- or worse," Green recalled Bryant telling him in a conversation with reporters Monday night. "But, at best, mediocrity. You’re chasing something so much bigger. How do you ever expect anyone to understand you?" 

"That meant the world to me because Kobe said f--- everybody, so f--- everybody," Green said. "I was able to hold onto that and rally and keep going and build on it.”

The biggest sign of Bryant's importance to Green was seen pregame, on the forward's feet. Since 2016, Green has made a point not to wear the signature shoes of other players. The protest began after Green -- who wore LeBron James' signature Nike shoe -- faced James in The Finals.

On Tuesday, he broke the protest, donning Bryant's first signature sneaker with Nike, displaying the sentiment his peers throughout the league share. 

"There's an era in this league right now or an age group that Kobe was Michael Jordan," Green said Tuesday. "Some guys aren't old enough to remember Jordan, but they remember Kobe. That was our Jordan."

While Green admired Bryant as an opponent, Warriors guard D'Angelo Russell came into the league under Bryant's tutelage. As a Lakers rookie, Russell's first season in the league in 2015-16 coincided with Bryant's last, bringing Russell a unique perspective.

When Russell scored 23 points in a loss, including nine of his team's last 11 points in regulation, Bryant told the rookie 'you got this', providing a push in his young career. When Bryant scored 60 points in the final game of his career, Russell was among the players to congratulate the Lakers great, providing a surreal experience for the 23-year old. 

"I was just thrown into the movie almost. I got to see how people treated him," Russell said. "The power that he had around this league. I've seen conversations with my idols and how they would talk to him, it was almost like they were looking up to him. It was weird. It was something you always wanted and then being right next to him, you felt like if you touched him or tried to shake his hand, your hand would go through him. He wasn't a real person almost. But it was cool. I cherished every moment." 

Across the court, Bryant's influence exhibited in Sixers big man Joel Embiid. Ten years ago, Embiid -- who wore Bryant's No. 24 on Tuesday night -- watched Bryant's performance in the 2010 NBA Finals from his native Cameroon. Bryant won his fifth title, inspiring Embiid along the way. 

"If it weren't for Kobe, I would probably be playing volleyball somewhere, or be a doctor," Embiid told reporters in Philadelphia. "I wanted to be the president of my country. But if it weren't for Kobe, I wouldn't be here."

But it was Bryant's actions post-retirement that elicited the most praise from Green postgame. Since leaving the game, Bryant immersed himself into his children, coaching his 13-year old Gianna's AAU team. On Sunday, his helicopter was en route to Thousand Oaks for the Mamba Cup -- a tournament his daughter's team was playing in. Following Tuesday's game, Green said Bryant's presence in the crash left an indelible mark. 

"I think about Kobe," Green said." Like in that situation, especially the man that Kobe was, like Kobe will try to build a mountain, and there's no one in the world that will tell them that he can't lift that mountain up. And you think about him in this situation, which is extremely graphic to think about, he's right there with his daughter. And he's probably telling her that everything is OK and in his mind, he knows it's not. So for me, I just think of that and believing in my heart that, no, I was nowhere near that helicopter, but I know how he went out."

[RELATED: How story of Kobe warming up vs. Dubs defined his greatness]

By the end of the night, the Warriors and 76ers reconciled a new world without an NBA pillar, one that Golden State still is adjusting to. 

"It just doesn't seem real," Kerr said. "But it is real. And it's always going to feel just shocking."