Fear not — as usual, patience will reward Golden State
The NBA’s trade deadline is a week away. It’s an arbitrary point of demarcation that neither the Golden State Warriors nor their fan base have reason to take special interest in.
Tuesday night’s remarkably ugly display notwithstanding, the W’s are just fine. If anything, it’s noteworthy that they have raised their standard to the point where a virtual no-show performance in a tough road environment sends the dull moan of complaints about a 40-10 start on a crescendo to cacophony.
The loss in Utah looked like many other Warriors losses this year — and some wins, for that matter. They came out lazy and lackluster, allowing the Jazz to shoot over 60 percent in the first half, then turned the ball over seven times in each of the final two quarters to squander any comeback opportunities. That this particular episode featured an especially heavy dose of the champs’ various vices is merely a coincidence.
Yet it seems the Golden State Commentariat™ has decided that action is in order! Open your ears and eyes around Oracle and you’ll hear that it’s time to move on from Pat McCaw, Andre Iguodala is done, David West won’t hold up, hell — JaVale McGee should’ve been traded last week!
These relative absurdities are rooted in fact: McCaw appears crushed by a devil of a sophomore slump, Iguodala has looked a shell of himself at times, West is old and there are several other nits available for picking. On the other hand, McCaw’s per-36 numbers are mostly stable and his problems can easily be attributed in part to inconsistent minutes, Iguodala is plus-177 for the season despite his apparent struggles and is bound to kick it up a notch down the stretch, and as far as West, well, age ain’t nothin’ but a number.
More importantly, the Warriors are the best team in the NBA by a relatively significant margin, and simply have no true motivation to make significant changes (or any changes, for that matter). Their chief Western Conference competition is led by a coach and two stars known for their playoff failures; the East features a tough, young Boston team missing a significant cog in their machine, a Cavaliers squad in utter disarray and the trusty Toronto Raptors, none of whom look like a serious threat (at least for this season).
Perhaps most importantly, though, the old bromide about patience is as applicable to franchise management as anything — a truism that this Golden State front office is well aware of. Based on their considerable and distinguished track record, I have little doubt that Bob Myers & Co. will choose prudence and stand pat (or close to it) at the deadline. You needn’t look far if you need convincing that this is the right choice.
The high stakes, highly competitive environment of professional sports often makes stoicism incredibly difficult, especially for franchises that don’t have complete philosophical alignment and buy-in from ownership down through the coaching level. It’s a sneaky problem that plays tricks with the incentive structure of an organization.
A coach who feels his job threatened may coach to win in the short term at the cost of player development and long-term progress — one of the reasons Jason Kidd lost his job was reportedly a bad relationship with returning young prospect Jabari Parker, another was his habit of blaming mistakes and losses on his players’ youth rather than taking responsibility for developing them.
A GM on his last legs might mortgage future salary cap position or prospects for a shot at a largely meaningless playoff berth. With the recent Blake Griffin trade, Detroit traded a collection of solid assets for a player who may mean more wins this season (and a reprieve for Stan Van Gundy) but probably doesn’t get the Pistons any closer to a title and diminishes their ability to do much with the roster moving forward.
Kyrie Irving allegedly demanded a trade from the Cavaliers this summer, and they acquiesced — but he had very little real power to force the move. Is there any doubt they diminished their team in the process? Given what we’ve seen, wouldn’t they likely have been better off patiently doing nothing and hoping Irving worked out his issues? Then, they could have made a similar trade now if it had gone badly.
That Cavs quagmire also provides a shining example of the damage done by an unsettled front office. They literally had no general manager when the Kyrie drama went down, and owner Dan Gilbert (now apparently trying to sell the team) has never been accused of having a sound or even established operating philosophy.
The examples on the positive side of the spectrum are equally explicative. Boston GM Danny Ainge is in lockstep with both ownership and coach Brad Stevens. Ainge’s patience with their boatload of assets, for which he was frequently maligned when several potential blockbusters went by the wayside, led to a Celtics team that currently looks like the surefire post-LeBron Eastern Conference dynasty.
San Antonio would qualify as well — not only because of their legendary coach and his fantastic relationship with management, but because their roster has been a paragon of patience for their entire run of success. What major trade did the Spurs make during any of their championship runs? Their centerpiece talent was almost uniformly homegrown. More recently, they reportedly refused to trade LaMarcus Aldridge this past offseason and he’s rewarding them with one of the best seasons of his career.
Coming back to the dynasty at hand, the Warriors’ patience has been rewarded at every turn. They turned the team over to a skinny point guard with busted ankles and allowed him to become the MVP. They chose to keep and develop Klay Thompson instead of trade for the more-accomplished Kevin Love, a move that was far from universally popular at the time, and ended up with a title. They quietly pursued Kevin Durant when nobody believed they could woo him and ended up with another.
On a smaller scale, they stuck with Kevon Looney when some might have moved on and he’s paying dividends right now. They have lurked in the weeds at draft time, turning a handful of cash and second rounders into Draymond Green, Patrick McCaw and Jordan Bell.
There’s no reason to change course now, no sense in altering a modus operandi that has resulted in one of the greatest assemblages of talent the NBA has ever seen. The problems with this team, to the extent that they exist at all, are internally fixable. In fact, it’s probably one pretty straightforward fix for the whole kit and caboodle — bring consistent effort and intensity.
Most of the core has played in three consecutive NBA Finals, many of the key supporting players are 32 and over. Even if it was possible to whip them into a playoff-level frenzy before all 82, it probably wouldn’t be necessary or even worthwhile to add that high-intensity mileage for a 63rd win.
If the “problems” with the Warriors seem like they can largely be fixed by everyone playing with consistently high levels of effort and focus, does anyone really believe that won’t take care of itself down the stretch? When the rotation shrinks a little, when the stakes are at their highest, when there’s no back-to-backs or multi-city road trips, who truly thinks the Warriors will repeat Tuesday’s no-show?
Not me. And probably not Steve Kerr, or Bob Myers, or Joe Lacob — or anyone else with influence in the Golden State organization. In all likelihood, nothing significant will happen with the Warriors’ roster in the next week, and that’s okay. It’s more than okay, in fact it’s right and it’s good. They’re the defending champions, and well on their way to a repeat.
Say it with me — patience is a virtue.
Matt Kolsky is a sports media professional and lives with an aging Shih Tzu/Schnauser mix in Berkeley. You can hear him on 95.7 the Game, usually on weekends. You can listen to his podcast, The Toy Department, on iTunes or wherever else fine podcasts are free. You can find him on Twitter @thekolsky and he will respond to most tweets that do not contain racial slurs.