OAKLAND, Calif. — Once upon a time, the Golden State Warriors were a moribund franchise, a pit stop for great players on their way to more prosperous teams.
Golden State is also the franchise most responsible for the 1980s Big Three era in Boston, as the Warriors dealt Robert Parish and a first-round pick (Kevin McHale) to the Celtics for two first-round picks (Joe Barry Carroll and Rickey Brown).
Nearly 40 years later, the Warriors are the league’s model franchise. They have reached the NBA Finals in three consecutive years. They have drafted astutely to build their core — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green — and that core was able to win a championship, and also be strong enough to attract Kevin Durant to sign as a free agent last offseason.
Even a decade ago, Golden State was hardly a destination for marquee free agents. The organization was ran on a tight budget, players underachieved in the laid-back atmosphere and then flourished with other clubs. Before the current string of five consecutive playoff appearances, the Warriors had reached the postseason just once in the previous 18 years.
General manager Bob Myers, who was once a prominent sports agent, made the difficult decision to fire coach Mark Jackson after the Warriors lost to the Clippers in the first round of the 2014 Western Conference playoffs, replacing him with coaching neophyte Steve Kerr.
The once-controversial move has turned out to be a brilliant one, despite Kerr’s back issues, which have prevented him from coaching for most of these playoffs.
The Warriors’ success has been built by a combination of good fortune and astute moves. Curry has turned into a generational talent. Thompson is one of the league’s best shooting guards. And former second-round pick Green is annually a candidate for defensive player of the year honors and a team leader.
Myers’s primary issue of late has been trying to determine whether Kerr will be physically able to coach in the Finals against the Cavaliers. But even that issue has not become a major factor, as former Cleveland coach Mike Brown has guided the Warriors to an undefeated record since taking over two games into the first round.
“Over the years you learn about each other, you build relationships,” Myers said when asked when he’ll know when Kerr is ready to coach. “You trust their judgment. There’s equity in the relationship. You factor all that in and allow them the respect to make that decision. Although it looks like it’s going to be made in a singular moment, these processes take years to build and that’s how you come to the decision to honor him and say when you’re ready, come on.”
The Warriors have adjusted seamlessly. The addition of Durant, a former league MVP, was supposed to adversely affect the offensive production of Curry, Thompson, and Green. But there has been no dissension, at least publicly.
Durant has been heavily criticized for joining a title-ready club that beat his former team — the Thunder — but he seems to have embraced the system.
“I remember the first few practices, me and Mike [Brown], we were new guys and we were looking at each other like, ‘This is how it goes down here,’ ” Durant said Saturday as the Warriors prepared for Sunday night’s Game 2. “The first day I heard the music turned up as soon as coach [Kerr] finished talking to us before practice started. They turned the music up loud and guys do their own thing during the warm-up drill.
“And I’m looking at Mike, I’m like, ‘You know, I’m not used to this.’ Like it’s usually quiet and we just go straight to work. What I’m used to. And he was the same way. As far as the offense, he was like, ‘Sometimes we don’t run a play for two or three minutes straight.’ And I’m like, ‘Man, I’m so used to making sure we run something every time down.’ So, it was an adjustment for both of us.”
Myers said the atmosphere is based on trust. Myers is only 42, one of the league’s younger general managers. Kerr is 51. But the two have an optimal coach-GM relationship because of their ability to communicate, plus Myers’s trust in Kerr’s decisions. Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens have built a similar bond in Boston.
Myers allows Kerr to manage the team. They share in the decisions, and the trust has enabled both to flourish and create a championship atmosphere.
“It allows for better communication, more honesty,” Myers said of his friendship with Kerr. “More vulnerability. The more honest dialogue the better, the better decisions you make. When you know someone well, when you’ve been through highs and lows with them, you can have an honest conversation. If the conversation is not honest, what we are basing decisions on? We’re just kind of guessing. So yes, a friendship, relationship, experiences, good and bad, all help. When that day comes and he says, ‘I’m ready,’ I think we’ll say, ‘Go coach.’ I agree with whatever he says. It’s his team more than mine.
“I wouldn’t put any of my thoughts above his or Mike’s. They’re around the team all the time. They get to make those determinations. If I don’t trust his opinions on that, then he shouldn’t be our coach.”