In 2016, when Joe Lacob’s Warriors had just won a championship and were finishing up a 73-win regular season, the Golden State owner told The New York Times:
“We’re light-years ahead of probably every other team in structure, in planning, in how we’re going to go about things. We’re going to be a handful for the rest of the NBA to deal with for a long time.”
The quote was always going to come back someday to poke him in the nose. The only surprise is that it took six years.
General manager Bob Myers, the best possible executive for this particular team, is leaving, according to ESPN. The Warriors are good enough to possibly make another title run, but old enough that they might not. Joe Lacob, you’re on the clock.
ESPN also reported that Lacob’s son Kirk will have more power. Could that work? Sure. If every other NBA team had a general-manager opening, would anybody hire Kirk Lacob? Doubtful. But hey, maybe those teams are just light-years behind.
Winning is a strange intoxicant. It makes everybody from owners to fans feel smarter, more talented and more responsible than they actually are. The Warriors are the dominant team of this era for a lot of reasons. Lacob is on the list. He is just not nearly as close to the top as he seemed to believe—and when an owner assigns himself too much credit, bad things happen eventually.
For the past few years, Myers and Steve Kerr have told anybody who asks that Steph Curry is their culture. This is not just the usual suck-up-to-the-star talk you often hear from people in charge of NBA teams. Curry has a rare combination of confidence, emotional stability and historically exceptional ability. Klay Thompson, mentally and physically, is Curry’s ideal wingman. Draymond Green has been a superstar in almost every way except as a scorer, which has made him the perfect complement to Curry and Thompson.
Lacob’s organization has done a fabulous job of maximizing this core. That is not the same as creating it. No amount of “structure” or “planning” will land them another Curry-Thompson-Green trio. There was luck involved. There always is. This is especially true for Lacob; Curry was drafted a year before he bought the team.
One reason Kerr has excelled is that he understands this is a star-driven league, the way it was when he played a supporting role on Michael Jordan’s and Tim Duncan’s championship teams, and he goes into every conversation comfortable with that reality. He doesn’t duck it, doesn’t resent it and doesn’t overcompensate for it. Kerr could coach for 20 more years and win five more championships and he would not claim he is light-years ahead of the league.
Myers’s leaving is not the end of an era, but it is the beginning of the end. Difficult decisions are coming. At some point, we will find out whether Lacob’s organization is as good as he believes it is.
Winning owners like to think that the record is who they are, and to some degree that is true, but luck and circumstance skew the numbers. Golden State has been the most successful franchise of this era, but I would argue Miami has been the best-run. The Heat won a title in 2006, won two more and made four straight Finals from ’11 to ’14 with an almost entirely new team, then made the Finals again in ’20 with a completely revamped roster, and just made the Finals again with a retooled roster.
Pat Riley’s franchise never tanked, went from one Hall of Fame coach to another, found new stars for each era and adapted to the modern NBA without ever losing its identity. Maybe the Warriors can do that, too. More likely, they will discover it’s a lot easier to be light-years ahead of the league when you have Steph Curry.