The only one still recalling the goofy, pitiable past is Bob Myers, the guy who built the glorious present. Having died and died with the Warriors while growing up In Danville, he can’t wrap his hands around the championship trophy without wondering if it’s a prank.
“I grew up here. I can’t believe it still,” the general manager with the long sideburns and longer memory said Thursday. “I really can’t believe this actually happened. For people who have been raised here as Warriors fans, it just didn’t seem possible. Even making the playoffs seemed a goal that was insurmountable. So to actually achieve success at the highest level as an organization, I can’t sit here and say that at any point of the season, I thought we we’re going to win a championship. I wouldn’t let my mind go there.”
Well, he can now. And after he’s finished absorbing the adorable absurdity of it all — the Golden State Warriors won the NBA title? — Myers can begin to grasp an even larger concept, as he surely does when he sets aside his fandom and puts on his business suit.
This could be the start of a basketball dynasty.
Every variable is in place that suggests the Warriors, at the very least, will be robust contenders for more championships through the end of the decade and perhaps beyond. Their young core of four, led by franchise icon and budding American treasure Stephen Curry, all are in their mid-to-early 20s. Their revelation of a coach, Steve Kerr, appears headed to a charmed career and a best-selling book on how to lead people in the 21st century, now that he has confirmed he won’t be retiring on top. “I kind of enjoy this. I do enjoy coming to work every day,” cracked Kerr, who will be taking some time off after today’s parade to drink beer and watch the U.S. Open on his couch in the Berkeley hills.
The owner, Joe Lacob, still might be celebrating if my last glimpse of him early Wednesday morning was any indication. But even if people in the Bay Area don’t entirely get him, they should get this: Lacob dearly wants to keep winning. Draymond Green’s new contract may be trickier to secure than the Warriors are letting on — his agent will want a deal that aligns with the league’s growing salary cap, though it doesn’t expand to a projected $89 million until next summer and a projected $108 million until 2017 — but Lacob still will match any whopper offer Green receives. As for Curry, who signed a $44-million, four-year extension when he was worried about his ankle injuries and qualifies right now as the biggest bargain in sports, Lacob is sure to eventually lather him with a monster contract reflective of the new cap. The owners are trying to get a new arena done in Mission Bay. They are no dummies when it comes to Curry, who has become the biggest Bay Area sports icon — sorry, Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner — since Barry Bonds, and, if we’re talking the steroids-free category, since the days of Joe Montana, Steve Young and Jerry Rice.
“Every GM in the league wants to work for an owner who tells him that the most important thing is to win. Not only does [Lacob] say it, he means it,” Myers said. “That’s a bonus for someone in my role. It doesn’t mean we’re going to be financially irresponsible. But we’re not going to sacrifice the competitive balance of our team to save money. Our players and coaches deserve the chance to compete again at the same level. I have to work in concert with ownership to strike the right balance. Joe doesn’t do this to make money; he wants to win. That’s what drives the whole thing, figuring out ways to win. Money is important but winning is more important. That’s the direction he wants us to focus on.”
So even if the Warriors end up with three maximum or close-to-maximum deals — Klay Thompson signed his $72 million extension last summer — and give Harrison Barnes a hefty extension and Festus Ezeli a moderate one, Lacob is committed to paying the luxury tax next season and seizing the opportunity later to tap out the new cap. Assuming he intends to keep his promise, you might want to give the man some love at the parade. As for the veterans he already has amply rewarded, Andre Iguodala, the Finals MVP, is back for at least another season. Andrew Bogut returns for two more seasons, ready to throw down LeBron James at any given moment. Shaun Livingston, who went from a possible leg amputation to a title ring in a triumph as powerful as any championship, has two more seasons if he continues to stay healthy. David Lee is gone, though no one will forget his sacrifice in accepting a bench role all season and then providing huge minutes in the Memphis and Cleveland series. A decision will be made on Leandro Barbosa, who will be 33 this fall but was so important in critical Finals intervals. Same goes for Marreese “Mo Buckets” Speights, who has a $3.8 million team option. But the Warriors who celebrated all night at a Cleveland steakhouse are pretty much the same Warriors who will show up on opening night in a few months.
And while it should be mentioned all of this optimism depends on continuing good health, cohesive team character and model citizenry, the Warriors have every right to believe they’re authoring a success story for the long haul.
“We’re in a great spot,” Kerr said. “We have a group of young players who we think will be here for a long time. We have a good mix of veterans, guys like Bogut and Andre. There is potential for us to build this long-term with the right mix of youth and veterans the next few years. I have incredible confidence in the guys upstairs — Bob and Joe and their staffs. The cap is going way up next year, so there’s room for improvement. It’s exciting.”
As Kerr points out, the pressure already is off for Curry, Thompson and Green — and Kerr, for that matter. Unlike the maddening Los Angeles Clippers, who were thought to be more title-ready but choked in the second round of the playoffs, the Warriors have their trophy. “There’s a burden lifted off your shoulders when you’ve won a title,” Kerr said. “What a great thing for Steph, Klay, Draymond and Harrison in particular — no one can ever say, `Well, you never won a title.’ A lot of guys in this league carry that around with them as a burden. Well, that burden is gone forever for our young players.”
At the same time, though, will they be motivated to win repeatedly? The Bulls won six titles in the ’90s primarily because Michael Jordan was the most competitive bastard to walk the earth. The Spurs have won five because Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan — who is deciding whether to return for a 19th NBA season — are uniquely committed to prolonged excellence. Sure, the burden is gone for Curry and the kids.
“But the problem is, it also can mean you might stop working,” Kerr said. “I don’t think that’s our players — it’s not in their nature. But you have to maintain your edge and still have the desire to do it again, plus you have to put the necessary work in. There’s a freedom with winning the first one, but you can’t let that freedom erode. That’s our challenge.”
What the Warriors must guard against is thinking every championship run will be that smooth. It’s mind-boggling that they avoided major injuries this season when so many other contenders — most notably, Cleveland, did not. “We were fortunate. We got through an entire postseason healthy. That probably won’t happen again,” Myers said. “Even if we do everything perfectly right, to have two years in a row with great health is a hard thing to have. The teams that end up winning in the end usually are blessed with health.”
Too, the Western Conference is still loaded. And if the Warriors survive that gauntlet again, there’s a good chance LeBron will be back at the Finals, probably with a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. “Maybe it’s a paranoia every GM has, but you sit there and say, ‘That team might be better. The West is so tough,’” Myers said. “We can’t rest on our laurels and think it’s gonna go the same way next year. Whatever we did this year, we have to do better.”
Already, the Warriors are being dissed. Vegas has established Team LeBron as the title favorite next season, with Oklahoma City — and new coach Billy Donovan — joining the Warriors in the second spot at 5-1 odds. Think a healthy Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook want a shot at the champs? Think the angry Clippers, who really must despise the Warriors now, want another romp? What about James Harden, bitter after his Game 5 washout, and Dwight Howard? And Kerr’s now-former assistant, Alvin Gentry, who has a phenomenal resource named Anthony Davis in New Orleans? The Spurs, too.
“It’s ironic,” Kerr said, “but the unexpected thing is that everything went exactly as we hoped. That never happens.”
So uncomplicated and creamy was the ride, Kerr received an interesting text from an old friend and former teammate. “It’s that easy huh?” Duncan wrote.
Next time, it won’t be. But that doesn’t mean the Warriors can’t win again.
And, dare I say, again.