Basketball

GARY WASHBURN | SUNDAY BASKETBALL NOTES

How did the Warriors get so good?

The Warriors are 68-8 through 76 games.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images/File 2016

The Warriors are 68-8 through 76 games.

Golden State is approaching the record for wins in a season.

So, how did it happen? The Warriors scored on all of their draft picks, Stephen Curry transformed himself from a sharpshooter into a Harlem Globetrotter, and Steve Kerr took Mark Jackson’s vision and carried it to fruition.

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Bob Myers, a former sports agent, became the Warriors’ general manager in 2012, after the team’s fourth consecutive losing season. He changed the course of the franchise by landing Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, and Draymond Green in the 2012 draft.

That trio joined Curry and Klay Thompson. Over the next two years, Myers added Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and Marreese Speights, and a championship team was created.

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The Warriors won their first title in 40 years last season and have been even better this season. Golden State has the majority of its core signed for multiple years.

“Honestly, I didn’t think we’d have the record we do,” Myers said. “I didn’t believe that the players nor the coaches would feel like their work was done or they were exhibiting complacency. I did feel like there was a fire that still burned. Some people would attribute that to what some people (most notably Doc Rivers) said about the team [facing an easier playoff road because of injuries]. I think that just resides in the people in the organization.

“They don’t like to lose.”

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The change from Jackson to Kerr was controversial at first. Jackson had led the Warriors to back-to-back playoff appearances after a five-year absence and was close with Curry and Thompson. The adjustment to Kerr was rather seamless, however, and the players’ respect for their new coach, plus the vast improvement of Curry, Thompson, and Green catapulted the Warriors to the league’s elite.

“The culture that Steve has created is one of a lot of joy,” Myers said. “They enjoy coming to work every day. Professional sports is not always like that. You create an environment where you are excited to go to practice or you look over at Stephen Curry getting up extra shots. How does that not somehow resonate with the rest of the team? For us to see the continuance of what happened last year, I guess that I’m surprised; I thought fatigue might set in.

“Our players, they love to play and they hate to lose. Maybe that combination works.”

The emergence of Curry, supplanting LeBron James as the NBA’s most talented and most popular player, has been perhaps the biggest surprise of Golden State’s resurrection. Curry was selected seventh overall in 2009, considered a great shooter who lacked elite athleticism and pure point guard skills.

That scouting report was trashed years ago. Curry is one of the league’s top distributors, and this season shattered his own record for 3-pointers (369, including eight in Friday night’s loss to the Celtics).

“He will make you believe in something different and I think that’s why he’s electrified the league,” Myers said. “He shows you a different way and I think we all believed there was only really one way — strength, power, athleticism — and he’s shown a level of skill and obviously taking advantage of what nobody else has in such a way, the 3-point line.

“He’s made that 3-point line his in so many different ways that you couldn’t have envisioned it. He’s been a trail blazer in that way. He’s made everyone think differently about how to approach offense. My hope is there is more of those types of people because that’s what makes [basketball] so great.”

Bob Myers has been the Warriors’ GM since 2012.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images/File 2016

Bob Myers has been the Warriors’ GM since 2012.

And what Myers and Kerr have done is load the roster with players, regardless of size, who present matchup problems. The 6-foot-7-inch Green was considered neither athletic nor talented enough to play small forward and undersized to play power forward. Now he is a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year and has notched 12 triple-doubles this season.

“I don’t know what position Draymond Green should play,” Myers said. “Is he a better 5, 4, or 3? Who knows? Who cares? He helps you win. Steph Curry is just a basketball player who has developed a weapon that’s hard to defend.

“That’s the question that everybody is asking. What does [Green or Curry] do? The answer is that he wins. I think sometimes in our position, we lose sight of that skill. Winning is a skill. We need to put more emphasis on players who win. It doesn’t matter how they do it.”

FUELED BY FAMILY

Pierce knows his time is coming

Paul Pierce is in his 18th NBA season.

Danny Moloshok/Associated Press/File 2015

Paul Pierce is in his 18th NBA season.

Former Celtics great Paul Pierce sat down to talk about his career, family, and future.

Q: What is it like playing in the NBA as a father, a family man?

A: “I understand it’s not about me. Hopefully my kids remember that I played ball. My oldest one will [remember], my 4-year-old. My son, he’s 2, I don’t know how he probably understands it. It’s about the next phase eventually for me. Raising them, they have really brought a balance into this, they put a thought process into this. That’s why it’s not about just me when I make the decision [to retire]. It’s [about] being there for them. When they have plays and assemblies. I played a lot of basketball in my life and it hurts when I’m away from them for a week, a few days. You start to feel it, especially them being so young and needing their dad around.

Q: What’s your impression of Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour?

A: “You start looking back at what he gave to the game. You’re just like, man, you’ve got an all-time great and he’s going to finally hang it up. Most of the time you know the great players, when it’s coming to an end, you just don’t know what day. And he just came out and said it. Most guys don’t say it. I appreciate him, man. What he’s brought to the game, the mentality, the influence he’s had on our younger generation. He’s what this game needed, especially after the retirement of Michael Jordan.

“Just somebody to be able to carry the torch. Now that Kobe’s gone, you’re looking for new guys to carry the torch. You have LeBron [James], who’s done it. Kevin Durant. When one guy goes, you’re always looking for the next guy who’s going to help carry the torch. He may not be the only guy. I could be another guy who’s gone. Tim Duncan, KG [Kevin Garnett], guys who helped carry this league for a long time. Vince [Carter]. A lot of guys could be gone this year. So you’re looking for that next wave of players who are going to help keep the league where it’s supposed to be.”

Q: How will you announce your retirement?

A: “I haven’t really put much thought into it. I’ll probably do something with social media, since that’s the way everything goes now. People ask to get married on social media. So that just seems like the thing to do. Maybe I’ll post something on Instagram, me at the gym showing I can’t do something no more and look at the camera and say, ‘That’s it.’ When I go up and miss a dunk, I turn to the camera and say, ‘That’s it.’ ”

Q: What’s it like going from perennial All-Star to role player?

A: “You accept it, man. You know you’re not the star you used to be, or putting up the numbers to even go [to the All-Star Game], so you don’t even expect it. To tell you the truth, I enjoy being with my family during that time.

“[When I was younger] I couldn’t wait to get to the All-Star Game to be there with your peers, bond, develop some friendships, go out, party. That was fun as a youngster. But when you have your family . . . because I didn’t have mine early. Some guys had theirs early. I didn’t have mine early. It was just like everything worked out perfectly for me with the timing of my family and not making the All-Star team. If I went to All-Star break and I had no wife and no family, it would have been depressing. But since I do, it made it easy for me mentally.”

ETC.

Ailing Sager is still up for the job

Craig Sager returned to his customary job as sideline reporter for Turner Sports last week after announcing his leukemia is no longer in remission.

Sager said during an HBO feature that doctors told him untreated patients with acute myeloid leukemia usually have “three to six months” to live.

Sager, however, is going through eight days of chemotherapy per month and two blood transfusions per week. When he worked last Tuesday’s Wizards-Warriors game, those around him — players, media, team employees — appeared more overwhelmed with emotion than Sager.

Sager said he is intent on “making medical history.” As for his job, he was asked about the best question he’s ever asked a player or coach during a game. His interactions with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich have become legendary. Popovich has given Sager various stares, one-word answers, and “are you kidding me?” looks after some of his questions.

One such occasion occurred Dec. 9, 2004, when Houston’s Tracy McGrady scored 13 points in 35 seconds to beat Popovich’s Spurs, 81-80. It was a stunning moment.

“People say there’s no such thing as a dumb question, but there are dumb questions,” Sager said last week. “I always remember the one with Pop where I was standing underneath the basket with [Spurs public relations executive] Tom James getting ready to interview Tim Duncan [after the game], and all of a sudden Tracy McGrady scored [13] points in the last [35] seconds and the Rockets beat San Antonio.

“We were live, so I go I had to go talk to Pop, and I go, ‘How did Tracy McGrady get so hot?’ [Popovich said], ‘What? You asked the dumbest question ever. How the hell do I know how he got so hot? What the hell kind of question is that?’ He just kind of blew up. It was crazy. I sat there days later and I came up and he said, ‘That was the dumbest question I’ve ever heard. How am I supposed to know how he got hot?’ 

“I said, ‘Perhaps maybe you didn’t double-team him like you should, perhaps you picked him up too late after he got to the halfcourt line, perhaps the rotations were bad.’ I said, ‘Perhaps you guys did something defensively to allow him to get open.’ He said, ‘Nah.’ ”

Sager’s job requires remaining cool and composed in pressure or uncomfortable situations. There was no situation more uncomfortable than when he conducted a walkoff interview with mercurial forward Larry Johnson.

“I always try to play off what [play-by-play man] Marv [Albert] and the guys are saying,” Sager said. “We had Hubie Brown analyzing the game and Larry Johnson was doing it all. Hubie was going, ‘That’s the way Larry Johnson should play, he should get back to the way he used to play. That’s great to see.’ And halftime we walk off the court and he was with the Knicks and I say, ‘Larry, Hubie Brown was just commenting about how well you were playing.’ [Johnson said], ‘You can tell Hubie to go [expletive] himself. He’s not my coach.’ I go, ‘uh, OK.’ ”

Washington coach Randy Wittman, Golden State coach Steve Kerr, guard Stephen Curry, and others offered encouragement to Sager on the air last week. Sager said it was great to see his NBA colleagues after a brief absence.

“I like to come there three hours ahead of time. I like to talk to the players, interview them, get my questions asked before the game so I’m prepared for the game. And just talking the fans and people I haven’t seen,” he said. “There’s a policeman underneath this basket, every time I’ve ever done a game in Golden State, we’re dating back 20 years, he takes a picture of me on game night. So I went over and I just talked to him. We hugged and all. Stuff like that, people you see over the years. Wittman I haven’t seen in person in a while. Steve and I talk all the time on the phone but it’s great to see him in person.”

Layups

The Warriors are likely to pick last in the first round, but they can affect the top of the draft, too. That’s because Curry’s 3-point success could push Oklahoma marksman Buddy Hield into the top three, and Draymond Green’s triple-double game will perhaps entice teams to go after Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine’s similar skill set. Privately, no general manager wants to be the one who passes on a player such as Hield, who could develop into a pure scorer, and definitely not pass on a potential glue guy such as Valentine, who edged Hield for AP national player of the year. As for Ben Simmons (LSU) and Brandon Ingram (Duke), who has yet to announce his draft intentions, they are still considered Nos. 1 and 2, respectively. A team in need of an immediate contributor or more polished player may consider Hield over Ingram . . . There will be several potential head coach openings this summer, and former Bulls coach and Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau is likely to have his choice of gigs. The Nets, Knicks, Wizards, Lakers, Suns, Timberwolves, Kings, and Rockets all could have vacancies by the end of the month. Thibodeau has become an even hotter commodity considering the implosion of the Bulls, with coach Fred Hoiberg’s first season being close to a nightmare . . . Clippers guard Jamal Crawford has been integral in tutoring and offering advice to Seattle-Tacoma area players about their NBA futures. Washington freshman Dejounte Murray, who announced his draft intentions along with fellow Husky freshman Marquese Chriss, played in Crawford’s summer charity All-Star game along with Clippers guard Chris Paul and scored 40 points — before his first college game. Crawford said that before he and contemporaries such as Brandon Roy and Nate Robinson began gathering local players collectively, that kind of support system didn’t exist in the area. Seattle-Tacoma has become a major NBA pipeline, producing Celtics starters Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley . . . Fully expect Andre Iguodala and Festus Ezeli to be ready for the Warriors’ playoff run. Iguodala is close to returning, and the Warriors are deciding whether to play him before the regular season ends.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.
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