OAKLAND – No one among the coaches, players and executives employed by the Warriors is a more persistent worrier than Bob Myers. He agonizes mostly about players, about today and, most acutely, about tomorrow and the tomorrows to come.
“I worry about how long we’ll be able to do this,” Myers said in a recent conversation with NBC Sports Bay Area. “People might think it’s easy, because we’ve got great players and great coaches. Great leaders. Good people.
“But it’s not easy. It’s hard. Really hard. And I wonder sometimes if people really realize that what we’ve done the past few years is not rare. Really rare. We always want to win, but I know we can’t always win. I don’t know if everybody understands that.”
This was shortly before the Warriors were dethroned by the Toronto Raptors. Myers was looking ahead to June 30, when the free agency floodgates open. He was mentally confronting the challenges to come next season and beyond.
He was, in short, feeling the other price of success. Not the one associated with a rising payroll but the one that sends the best teams to the far end of the draft.
The Warriors last week chose Michigan guard Jordan Poole in the first round, 28th overall. Then, in the second round, they chose Serbian forward Alen Smailagic at No. 39 and Villanova forward Eric Paschall at No. 41.
“This is just a chance,” Myers told the trio on Monday. “Right now, you have a chance. We’ll give you every chance to succeed, but it’s up to you guys what you do with that.”
The Warriors miss out to the likes of Zion Williamson, just as they missed out on such recent No. 1 picks picks as Anthony Davis (2013) and Karl-Anthony Towns (2015). They had no shot at a Joel Embiid (third overall in 2014) or Jayson Tatum (third in 2017).
The Warriors haven’t had a lottery pick since 2012, when they took Harrison Barnes seventh overall. Their 2019 first-round pick, Jordan Poole, was No. 28 overall, as was their 2018 first-round pick, Jacob Evans III. Damian Jones was No. 30 in 2015, Kevon Looney No. 30 in 2015.
To pick late is to hope for the best. To buy a second-round pick, as the Warriors did in 2016 (Patrick McCaw) and 2017 (Jordan Bell) is to pray.
“Just getting a guy that can get into your rotation is of value when we’re looking at who we’re going to get at 28, or even 39 or 41,” Myers said after the draft.
This is why success in the NBA is more easily achieved than maintained. Winning almost always means missing out on those judged as the best college players and most likely to thrive in the NBA. There is a reason why, despite the stunning consistency of the Spurs, every NBA team that rises also must fall.
The Lakers, among the elite for most of their existence, have been trying to dig their way out the league’s swampland ever since Kobe Bryant got NBA-old. The Mavericks made 12 consecutive trips to the playoffs, winning it all in 2011, but haven’t been back since 2012. The Bulls soared to incredible heights with Michael Jordan, but they’ve been a lottery team three of the past four years.
Rebuilding, or even reloading, is tough for any team, but it’s appreciably more challenging for one at the top.
The Warriors may be considered the league’s nouveau riche, but they’ve reached the postseason seven years in a row. Only one team, San Antonio, has a longer such streak, with an NBA-record 22 consecutive trips to the playoffs.
The Spurs last won it all in 2014 -- their last trip to The Finals. They were ousted in the first round in three of the last five seasons.
Yet it is the Spurs that the Warriors aspire to emulate. They yearn for such annual consistency. That’s why they aim to draft players with solid character. That’s why they’re willing to spend to maintain their core, with Steph Curry as the centerpiece, along with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
San Antonio kept Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker together for 14 seasons, which included four championships.
The Spurs tried reloading on the fly and nailed it in 2011. They acquired the rights to Kawhi Leonard in a draft-night trade with Indiana that sent veteran guard George Hill to the Pacers. After seven seasons in Texas, Leonard wanted out and was traded to Toronto. His departure ended San Antonio’s stay among the truly elite.
Myers undoubtedly fears that day will come for the Warriors, and surely it will. Maybe in three years, or perhaps six.
Meanwhile, the only way the Warriors get near the top of the lottery is through a significant deal with a reeling franchise or by stumbling into a sorry season, which would be unwelcome.
That would, of course, be most unwelcome -- until draft night.