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Deconstructing the Myth of the Super Team

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Sports fans want to believe that it’s unfair forces that create champions. Really, it’s smart front offices that get the job done. (Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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Hello Bay Area Sports Fan, My name is Matthew J. Kolsky, Esq. Or that would have been my name had I chosen to become a practicing lawyer rather than devote my life to far more insignificant concerns. You may know me by a variety of monikers, I suppose: Meat Sweats or Poor Man’s Kate Scott or That Other Guy on Fitz & Brooks (if you were a KNBR listener in the last 5 years); Matthew or MAAAATTHew (if you are my parents or sister, respectively — hi Emma!); That Dude Next to Bob Fitzgerald at the Scorer’s Table (if you watched the right Warriors games); but probably just Kolsky, because wherever I go, no matter how I introduce myself, that ends up being the go-to.

That’s a lot of nonsense about my name, so here’s a little nonsense about me: I grew up in Chicagoland (the City of Evanston, specifically) as a near-psychotic Bulls fan, a desperate Bears devotee and a committed supporter of the White Sox and Blackhawks. I went to school at Pomona College in sleepy Claremont, CA, and soon thereafter ended up in the Bay, where I have spent the vast majority of the last 15 years (I’ll thank you kindly not to do the math on my age). In addition to KNBR, I’ve done some writing and editing and a host of mediocre day jobs around San Francisco, and I can’t imagine calling anywhere else home at this point. I’m beyond thrilled to be contributing to the Examiner and getting back into the thick of the Bay Area sports conversation.

As a die-hard basketball and football fan, I’ll be covering the Warriors, Raiders and 49ers extensively; I’d also like to use this space, when I’m afforded it, to try to think a little harder about sports than our hot-take-24-hour-news-cycle culture tends to do. Perhaps we’ll even think of a thing or two that others miss, and I’m sure you’ll all let me know if I miss anything myself. Let’s roll…

Super Team noun: A totally unfair collection of talent assembled in a totally unfair way to beat my favorite team, which by all rights should win the championship.

Admittedly, Merriam-Webster has yet to officially adopt this definition; I’m cribbing from the tweets and texts and wild TV rants and ex-player-with-a-hot-mic diatribes of an apparently dissatisfied nation of basketball fans. I’ve come to understand that when most people say the words ‘super’ and ‘team’ in rapid succession, it is a criticism.

This is a perplexing status quo — in sports, the generally accepted goal is to win. Win a championship, win a series, win a game (win the possession, WIN THIS MINUTE for the Jim Harbaughs of the world). Yet in this second decade of the 21st century, there seems to be a qualifier for that goal: win, but don’t win too easily!

The rule-makers will have to accept the Warriors’ apologies. They have casually cruised through another dynamite offseason, retaining and even improving the team that coasted to the 2017 Championship while the rest of the league scrambles to keep pace. Simultaneously, their only legitimate challenger has the greatest player on the planet dangling his impending free agency over their heads like an ACME anvil, a bench largely constructed from wicker, twine and whatever other old-timey materials guys like Richard Jefferson and Jose Calderon probably use, and a superstar point guard suddenly demanding a trade.

So, how did we get here?

Kevin Durant used the ‘agency’ part of his free agency (agency noun: the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power) to bring his talents to the Bay’s team. Which is to say he did exactly what the creators of free agency intended — put himself on the open market and chose the situation that most appealed to him.

In the eyes of many, a Super Team was born. One problem — excepting quirks of market size (which is less and less relevant) or reputation (often well-deserved) every franchise is working within the same operational framework and has the same opportunities to improve (barring damage done by their previous mistakes. Looking at you New York Knicks).

This new definition of Super Team, then, is just a reimagining of a tired sports-fan refrain: “I, the Super Team Complainer, am angry that I root for a team which is NOT making the most of its opportunities — since my team and I are clearly born winners, it must be UNFAIRNESS that has led us to this tragic set of circumstances.”
This stance is not only absurd but whiny and obnoxious. It’s the team-building version of losing by 25 and complaining about a bad foul call in the third quarter.

Super Team, in the case of the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors, is code for nothing more than “Bob Myers consistently runs circles around most other GMs.” His record as head honcho is impressive, and even with his prowess now common knowledge (as a two-time NBA Executive of the Year) he still routinely bamboozles other front offices.

In his first draft in 2012, he added Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green, three players who contributed to an NBA title and two Finals runs. Before Barnes at No. 7, the Cavs took Dion Waiters and the Kings took Thomas Robinson. Never mind the awful run of players you probably haven’t heard of who were taken before the 2016-17 Defensive Player of the Year.

In his second off-season at the helm, Myers engineered a coup for Andre Iguodala that more or less launched the currently in-progress dynasty. Within days of that Iguodala move, the Knicks traded for Andrea Bargnani (awful), the Thunder dealt for Kevin Martin (affordable, but to what end?) and the Brooklyn Nets basically created the 2017 Boston Celtics by trading their entire draft future for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry (old).
Going into 2014-15, Myers added Shaun Livingston for 3 years, $16 million and picked up regular contributor Leandro Barbosa off the scrap heap. Elsewhere, the Pistons paid Jodie Meeks $18.8M over 3 years (yes, more than Shaun Livingston), the Magic gave Channing Frye 4 years, $32m (yes, that Channing Frye) and the Hornets gave a 3-year, $27m contract to Lance Stephenson (whose last meaningful act was blowing in LeBron James’ ear). Shockingly, Charlotte, Detroit and Orlando finished 11th, 12th and 13th in the East.

After the title, more winning — Ian Clark (a worthwhile bench contributor for two seasons) more or less for free, Barbosa retained on the cheap and a long-term deal for Draymond. But the hidden gem was the look-ahead — Myers & Co. knew that the salary cap spike was coming, knew that Kevin Durant was going to be a free agent, and began to quietly recruit him while planning their route to the salary cap space they would need to sign him.

Meanwhile, Goran Dragic got $90M for five years from the Heat (more than Draymond), the Pistons agreed to pay Reggie Jackson $80M over five years and the Pelicans flushed $60m down the drain for five years of Omer Asik.

What’s clear is that Bob Myers and the Warriors have been making smart, savvy moves while much of the rest of the league has floundered and failed. That’s without even mentioning how they managed to buy in to the last two drafts to select players (Patrick McCaw & Jordan Bell) who fill specific needs and were almost universally lauded as high-value picks in the moment they were selected.

It’s not just that the W’s business operations team compares favorably to the Pelicans and Pistons. Even the vaunted San Antonio Spurs are saddled with a LaMarcus Aldridge contract they’d like to be rid of. The three-time-defending Eastern Conference Champion Cavs are dealing with the quagmire I mentioned earlier, a product of not only on-court roster construction but off-court personality clashes.

Which brings me to a broader point: this success is far more than just good spending and scouting. There’s an organizational philosophy — something W’s fans will recognize as a significant departure from previous ownership. Joe Lacob is an owner who has hired smart people, empowered them to do the jobs they are good at, and laid back to count his winnings.

The Bob Myers hire begot the Steve Kerr hire, and those two bright and forward-thinking men (along with the likes of Jerry West) assembled a roster that is characterized not only by its tremendous talent but by philosophy. Fans of the Pippen/Barkley Rockets, Dwight Howard and Karl Malone Lakers, and even the 2010-11 Heat will tell you that gathering NBA stars into a cohesive whole is not as easy as it looks. The Warriors’ ability to do it so seamlessly is a testament to the approach and attitude of their best players, which is a testament to the front office that acquired them and the coaching staff that shepherded them to the Championship.

I know that we as a sports populace enjoy catchphrases and quips, and I know there are literally millions of NBA fans looking to blame somebody for their long odds on winning a title any time soon, but I won’t sit idly by while people throw wild slander into the wind. The fact of the matter is that the new colloquial definition of Super Team doesn’t apply to this W’s squad, if it ever has actually applied to anyone.

We’re left with plain old English, then: the Golden State Warriors are a super (adj.: of high grade or quality) team (noun: a number of persons associated together in work or activity). And if you can’t super enjoy it, that’s on you.

Matt Kolsky is a sports media professional (or something like that) and lives with an aging Shih Tzu/Schnauser mix in Berkeley. Find him on Twitter @thekolsky to share your personal feelings about this article or any other topic, he will respond to most tweets that do not contain racial slurs.

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