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.”
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.