Nine months after engineering the Golden State Warriors’ first playoff appearance and series victory since 2007, General Manager Bob Myers sat down with Basketball Insiders’ Nate Duncan in the midst of another solid season. In part two of a two-part interview, Myers discusses the Warriors’ acquisition of Andre Iguodala, the extension of Andrew Bogut and the team’s approach with its core going forward. For part one, click here.
With Andrew Bogut’s three-year, $36 million extension, I believe that until Kobe Bryant’s extension, he was the only non-rookie extension under the new CBA. Why did that work for him and for you? For a lot of people, it doesn’t work because you can get more years as a free agent.
Myers: I think you said it right, in this day and age in a new CBA, a player that’s playing well likely will opt to wait because they can add years. Had he waited until this summer, he can get a five-year deal. The way that we structured it in the extension, all we have to give are those three years. From the player’s side, a lot of players don’t want to come to the table and discuss the extension because they’re forfeiting money in the future. But Andrew understood that this is a place he wanted to be, and he obviously wanted to get a fair deal. I felt like we offered a fair deal, obviously he did too because he accepted it. But to find veteran extension opportunities, sometimes you need circumstances where a player is willing to possibly forgo an extra year of money for the security of getting a deal then instead of playing a year out. If they’re playing on teams that are willing to commit and not make the player play out that extra year, and willing to commit to him early, there are always variables that play into it. Some financial, some situational; injury plays into it to some extent, age plays into it, whether that player feels like he can get another deal, happiness, how happy is the player in that market, on that team with his coach and his front office. A lot of things have to line up and that’s why I think you see few of those types of deals.
Going to the Andre Iguodala sign-and-trade, at what point did the thought of opening up the cap space over last summer kind of come into focus for you guys? [Note: In July 2013, Golden State acquired Iguodala via a sign-and-trade. Golden State acquired Iguodala from Denver and signed him to a four-year, $48 million contract. To open up the cap space to sign Iguodala, the trade included offloading $24 million in salaries attached to Brandon Rush, Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins in addition to 2014 and 2017 first-round draft picks to the Utah Jazz.]
Myers: Our ownership is an incredible ownership with Joe [Lacob]. He’s always thinking aggressively as far as how to upgrade talent and how to move the team. Like any team, we look at the free agent pool and what players we felt like were able to help us and identified him as one of them. Now, I will also say that realistically we felt like it was an extreme long shot to get a guy like that, but after meeting with him in Los Angeles and seeing his desire to be a part of a group trying to build, that really motivated us. What started as a seed from our side in the situation, we felt like this would be a great guy to add to our roster, was cemented when we met with him and he echoed the same sentiments. From that point on, it was full steam ahead to try to find a way to do it. Even after that, though, my personal belief was that it remained a long shot. Just because we wanted to do it and he wanted to do it, that was nice and made us feel good about it, but you’d still put low odds on it – less than five percent. We had to find multiple trading partners taking a lot of money; it had to fit what they were trying to do. It really came down to the last 30 minutes, where his agent had said to us, ‘Look I’ll let you guys try and try and try, but you have a deadline now.’ He was very fair about it. So that really came down to the wire, and fortunately for us the league is comprised of 29 other teams and if you’re really motivated to do a deal, you can usually find a partner – sometimes you can’t and thankfully we did. I think it fit what Utah was looking to do, and it all lined up. All of the things that had to happen for it to happen, made it seem very unlikely. We’re just glad it came to fruition.
How much trepidation was there about surrendering those picks and also now the flexibility, not being able to trade the 2015 and 2016 pick? [Note: The NBA’s Ted Stepien rule prevents a team from trading its first-round pick two years in a row. Because the Warriors dealt their 2014 and 2017 picks to the Jazz to facilitate the Iguodala sign-and-trade, they are unable to trade their 2015 and 2016 picks.]
Myers: We wanted to build upon what we had established as far as some level of success in the organization. We thought it might be difficult to keep two core guys in Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry at the numbers we would have liked to have kept them at. They were paid well and they deserved to be paid well. We were looking at a situation where if we wanted to maintain and keep the same team, we’d be heavy into the luxury tax. So it wasn’t just adding Iguodala, it was adding Iguodala along with clearing up a lot of salary on our books that really made us believe the deal was worth it from our side. If somebody wanted to compartmentalize the deal, you’d say one pick was for Iguodala and one pick was to get off $24 million. Would we do that in a bubble? Yeah, we felt like that was worth it, because it wasn’t just two first-round picks for Iguodala. We would have been looking at a team, should we not have done anything and stood pat, likely the same team coming back at the five starter spots, but also without Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, who were huge in regards to our success last year. That likely would have set us back and we didn’t really want to take a step back after having some success for an organization that hadn’t had any in so long. We wanted to try to not just maintain, but take a small step forward. That was the motivation behind the deal and moving the picks. You never know how things could have worked out, you never know in any deal. Our thought at the time when we did it and constructed it was that it was worth it.
With David Lee being 30, Andrew Bogut being 28, Andre Iguodala being 29 and Steph Curry now being is his prime, is there a feeling that these next two years or so are really the organization’s best window to win, at least in the short-term?
Myers: Actually, really no. We feel like we’ve still got players, more than two and three years where we think our core can play at a high level. We think continuity — although maybe some physical tools diminish with age — and your mind improves. Like look at a team like the Spurs and some of these teams that are a little older, even the HEAT to some degree, have some veterans that have been in the league a long time on their team and have experienced success. You look at some of the Celtics teams before they decided to go in a different direction. Continuity and playing together can overcome athletic ability, speed and quickness, and things like that. We feel like we’ve got a healthy window here to evaluate this team, and we’re going to give it a shot to see how it goes. I think it was perceived to be a win-now type move, where internally we more perceived it as this makes us better; we think it’s worth it for all of the reasons aforementioned. It wasn’t a situation where we feel like we’re playing Texas Hold ‘Em, where we put all of our chips on the table. We feel like as an organization, we’ve made a bet and put some chips on the table and we felt like we had a good hand. But we also have a stack of chips that we haven’t played. We don’t feel like this trade or the acquisition of Iguodala makes us limited and this is it for the next two, three years–if it doesn’t happen then we’re nowhere. We don’t have that mindset in our front office and ownership side.
Obviously trades can always be made, there’s no such thing as someone being untradeable in the NBA. With Andrew’s extension and Andre having a 15 percent trade kicker, it’s going to be relatively difficult to make further moves, but I assume this core going forward is one that you’re very comfortable with?
Myers: Yeah, we’re comfortable. I read today that the starters are 21-7 and I don’t know how much stock to put into something like that. I guess it’s better than 7-21, but we do feel like it can be a competitive group heading into the future. We feel like it hasn’t hit its ceiling or even close to it, we hope, both for this year and beyond. We are comfortable with it. We have time to see how it develops. You have to sometimes be patient as you progress as an organization. We are not thinking that if we don’t win a championship this year, it’s a failed season; we don’t have that dialogue, we don’t believe in that mentality. We obviously want to compete and compete at the highest level. We feel like we’re going to give this core and these players a healthy amount of time to see if it works. We also believe that we maintain now and believe in the future a healthy amount of assets on our roster. We’re very attractive, we have a lot of talent. It allows you to have flexibility should you want to make moves. I think you’re right, we’re going to give this a good go and believe this team can compete with some of the best teams.
Did you know that these starters, this five-man unit would be as good as they’ve been?
Myers: No we didn’t. Realistically you do your best, but you don’t know. You’re putting it together; there are so many different factors that equate to success. It’s not always about putting the best five individual players together. Sometimes you have to see a guy like Iguodala that has to be less aggressive for our team to be a better team. Is that the right thing? We’re figuring that out. What roles should each player take within our team to make us the most successful as a team? It’s always a work in progress. I don’t think a sample size of 28 games is enough to really make any concrete conclusions from.
Emeka Okafor Impacting 2018 Western Conference Playoff Race
Sidelined for several years with a neck injury, Emeka Okafor is back in the NBA and helping the Pelicans fight for a playoff seed.
When DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles tendon, most people in and around the league assumed the New Orleans Pelicans would eventually fall out of the Western Conference Playoff race. It was a fair assumption. In 48 games this season, Cousins averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks while shooting 47 percent from the field and 35.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Anthony Davis and the Pelicans had other plans. Davis put the team on his shoulders, played at an elite level and, arguably, has forced his way into the MVP race. Behind Davis’ efforts, the Pelicans are currently 39-29, have won 7 of their last 10 games and hold the sixth seed in the Western Conference.
While Davis has been carrying the team since the loss of Cousins, he has received significant help from his teammates, including Emeka Okafor.
More recent NBA fans may be less familiar with Okafor since he has been out of the league since the end of the 2012-13 season. For context, in Okafor’s last season, David Lee led the league in double-doubles, Luol Deng led the league in minutes per game and Joakim Noah made the NBA All-Defensive First Team. However, Okafor entered the NBA with a lot of excited and expectations. He was drafted second overall, right behind Dwight Howard. Okafor played in 9 relatively successful NBA seasons until being sidelined indefinitely with a herniated disc in his neck prior to the start of the 2013-14 season.
Okafor was medically cleared to play in May of last year and played in five preseason games with the Philadelphia 76ers but was ultimately waived in October, prior to the start of the regular season. However, with the injury to Cousins, the Pelicans were in need of help at the center position and signed Okafor to a 10-day contract. Okafor earned a second 10-day contract and ultimately landed a contract for the rest of this season.
Okafor has played in 14 games so far for the Pelicans has is receiving limited playing time thus far. Despite the lack of playing time, Okafor is making his presence felt when he is on the court. Known as a defensive specialist, Okafor has provided some much needed rim protection and has rebounded effectively as well.
He has been [helpful] since the day he got here,” Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said about Okafor after New Orleans’ recent victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. “I think his rim protection has been great. But, he’s capable of making a little jump shot and you can see that today. But just having him in there, his presence there has been great.”
Okafor has never been known as an elite offensive player, but he did average 15.1 points per game in his rookie season and has shown glimpses of an improved jump shot in his limited run with the Pelicans.
“You know, I’m happy it’s falling,” Okafor said after he helped seal the victory over the Clippers. “Kept in my back pocket. I was invoked to use it, so figured I’d dust it off and show it.”
Okafor was then asked if he has any other moves in his back pocket that he hasn’t displayed so far this season.
“A little bit. I don’t want to give it all,” Okafor told Basketball Insiders. “There’s a couple shots still. But we’ll see what opportunities unveil themselves coming forward.”
Okafor will never have the elite offensive skill set that Cousins has but his overall contributions have had a positive impact for a New Orleans squad that was desperate for additional production after Cousin’s Achilles tear.
“It’s impossible to replace a guy that was playing at an MVP level,” Gentry said recently. “For us, Emeka’s giving us something that we desperately missed with Cousins. The same thing with Niko. Niko’s given us something as far as spacing the floor. Between those guys, they’ve done the best they could to fill in for that. But we didn’t expect anyone to fill in and replace what Cousins was doing for us.”
Okafor is currently averaging 6.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting 54.5 percent from the field. While his averages don’t jump off the page, it should be noted that his per minute production is surprisingly impressive. Per 36 minutes, Okafor is averaging 13.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. Those numbers are nearly identical to his averages from the 2012-13 season, though he is averaging twice as many blocks (up from 1.4).
The Pelicans have exceeded expectations and currently are ahead of teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers in the extremely tight Western Conference Playoff race. Okafor is doing more than could have reasonably been expected when he first signed with the Pelicans, though he would be the first person to pass the credit toward Anthony Davis.
When asked about Davis’ recent play, Okafor enthusiastically heaped praise toward his superstar teammate.
“It’s to the point where it’s like, ‘Alright, he has 40 doesn’t he?’ It’s impressive,” Okafor said about Davis. But it’s becoming so commonplace now.
He’s just an impressive individual. He gives it all. He’s relentless. And then off the court too, he’s a very, very nice kid. He really takes the leadership role seriously. I’m even more impressed with that part.”
There is still plenty of regular season basketball to be played and even a two-game losing streak can drastic consequences. But the Pelicans have proved to be very resilient and Okafor is confident in the team’s potential and outlook.
“I think we’re all hitting a good grove here and we’re playing very good basketball, said Okafor.”
Whether the Pelicans make the playoffs or not, it’s great to see Okafor back in the NBA and playing meaningful minutes for a team in the playoff race.
NBA Daily: Nothing’s Promised, Not Even For The Warriors
The Warriors are wounded, and with Chris Paul, the Rockets may be equipped to take advantage.
The Warriors are wounded, and for those that thought their waltzing into a four consecutive NBA Finals was a given, the Houston Rockets may have other ideas. Especially when one considers that the beloved Dubs are trying to buck history.
Steph Curry has ankle problems, Klay has a fractured thumb and Kevin Durant—the most recent of the team’s lynchpins to find himself on the disabled list—has a rib injury.
Sure, the Dubs might shake off their injuries and find themselves at or near 100 percent once the playoffs begin, but seldom do teams in the NBA get healthier as the year progresses.
Winning in the NBA is difficult. In order to take all the marbles, teams need a bunch of different ingredients, chief among them are good fortune and health. And in many ways, the two are entwined.
Simply put: the human body isn’t built to play as often and as hard as NBA players do. Those that we recognize as being among the greatest ever—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James among them—had one thing in common. They were all exceptionally durable.
Over the years, we’ve seen attrition and fragility cost the likes of Anfernee Hardaway, Yao Ming and Derrick Rose what seemed to be careers full of accolades and accomplishments. And the simple truth is that you never know which player, players or teams will be next to be undercut by injuries and progressive fatigue.
Just to keep things in perspective, the Warriors are attempting to become just the fifth team since 1970 to win at least three NBA championships in a four-year span.
The Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Finals in 1985, 1987 and 1988 before Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls completed their three-peat from 1991-93. The Bulls would again do the same between 1996 and 1998, and Shaquille O’Neal and his Los Angeles Lakers accomplished the same from 2000 to 2002.
There are reasons why so few teams have been able to win as frequently as the Lakers and Bulls have, and health is certainly one of them. That’s especially interesting to note considering the fact that the Warriors may have been champions in 2016 had they had their team at full strength. Mind you, both Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala were severely limited in their abilities, while Andrew Bogut missed the fateful and decisive Game 6 and Game 7 of those Finals with injuries to his left leg.
At the end of the day, injuries are a part of the game. The best teams are often able to overcome them, while the luckiest teams often don’t have to deal with them. To this point, the Warriors have been both the best and incredibly lucky, but at a certain point, the sheer volume of basketball games is likely to have an adverse effect on at least a few members of the team.
We may be seeing that now.
En route to winning the 2015 NBA Finals, the Warriors turned in a playoff record of 16-5. In 2016, they were 15-9 and in 2017, they were 16-1. In total, the 62 playoff games would have worn a bit of tread off of their collective tires, just as their 73-9 regular season record may have. In becoming a historically great team, the Warriors have expending the energy necessary of a team wishing to remain a contender, and that’s not easy.
As an aside, those that understand the difficulty in competing at a high level every single night are the ones who rightfully give LeBron James the respect he’s due for even having the opportunity to play into June eight consecutive years. Win or lose, in terms of consistent effort and constant production, James has shown as things we’ve never seen before.
Today, it’s fair to wonder whether the Warriors have that same capability.
We’ll find out in short order.
* * * * * *
As the Houston Rockets appear headed toward ending the Warriors’ regular season reign atop the Western Conference, there’s something awfully coincidental about the fact that the team seems to have taken the next step after the addition of Chris Paul.
Paul knows a thing or two about attrition and how unlucky bouts with injuries at inopportune times can cost a team everything. As much as anything else, it probably has something to do with why Paul continues to believe in the ability of the Rockets to achieve immortality.
On the first night of the regular season, mind you, in one horrific moment, Gordon Hayward and the Boston Celtics reminded us that on any given play, the outlook of an entire season—and perhaps, even a career—can change.
A twisted knee here, a sprained ankle there, and who knows?
With just over three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Warriors—the team that everyone knew would win the Western Conference again this season—has some concerns. Their primary weapons are hurting, their chances of securing home court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs are all but nil and their road to the Finals may end up being more difficult than they could have possibly imagined.
If the season ended today and the seeds held, the Warriors would draw the San Antonio Spurs in the first round and the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round before squaring off against the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals.
Of all teams, the Spurs are probably the last team the Warriors would want to see in the playoffs, much less the first round. While the outcome of that series would be determined by the health of Kawhi Leonard, there’s no doubt that Gregg Popovich would at least be able to effectively game plan for Golden State.
While the Blazers might not provide incredible resistance to the Warriors, the Oklahoma City Thunder will enter play on March 18 just two games behind the Blazers for the third seed out West. With the two teams squaring off against one another on March 25, it’s possible for Russell Westbrook and his crew having the opportunity to square off against the Dubs in the playoffs.
For Golden State, their path to the Finals having to go through San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Houston would absolutely be a worst case scenario. The only thing that could make it even more terrible for Steve Kerr would be having to do it with a platoon that was less than 100 percent.
Funny. In yet another season where everyone thought that it was the Warriors and everyone else, there are quite a few questions facing the defending champs heading into the final few weeks of the regular season.
Indeed, the Warriors are wounded. And whether they can be nursed back up to full strength is perhaps the most interesting thing to watch as the calendar turns to April and playoff basketball draws nearer.
NBA Daily: The Golden State Warriors Need to Enter Rest Mode
With a bevy of injuries to their stars, the Golden State Warriors should rest up the remainder of the regular season to avoid any playoff letdowns.
After a three-year-long run of dominating the NBA, the Golden State Warriors are showing some cracks in their armor.
Granted, those cracks aren’t a result of a botched system or poor play, but rather the injury bug biting the team in full force as they come down the regular season stretch.
First, it was Steph Curry and the ankle that’s bothered him all season — and for most of his career — when he tweaked it yet again on March 8 against the San Antonio Spurs. Golden State announced he would miss at least four games. Then it was Klay Thompson, who fractured his thumb three days later against the Minnesota Timberwolves — he’ll miss at least two weeks.
Now it’s Kevin Durant. Last year’s Finals MVP suffered an incomplete rib cartilage fracture and was ruled out of Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings. Durant is expected to be sidelined for at least two weeks. The Warriors would go on to lose that contest 95-93.
In about two weeks time, the Warriors went from having one of the most formidable offenses and scoring trios in the entire league, to having Quinn Cook and Nick Young logging starter minutes.
Luckily for the Warriors, they’ve built up a big enough lead in the standings to achieve a 52-17 record, good for second place in the Western Conference. But the issue for the remainder of the season now becomes how healthy will the Warriors be come playoff time?
Curry and Durant have injury histories. Curry particularly has been bothered by this ankle since he entered the league. Without either of them, the Warriors — while still incredibly talented — will be on a completely even playing field with the Houston Rockets, and possibly other teams in the gauntlet that will be the Western Conference playoffs.
The bigger issue on top of the pending injury concerns becomes whether the Warriors should just pack it in for the rest of the regular season, and regroup for another expected title run.
Steve Kerr doesn’t seem to be thinking that way, however.
“All these injuries seem to be temporary,” Kerr told reporters. “A couple weeks, a week, two weeks – whatever. We’re in good shape. We’ve just got to survive this next slate of games and hopefully, start getting guys back and get rolling again for the playoffs.”
That’s true. None of the aforementioned injuries seem to be anything more serious than a few weeks of rest and relaxation. But that’s assuming the best case scenario for these players.
Should we assume that the Warriors are without their scoring trio for the next couple of weeks as their health updates have indicated, that would put their return roughly around April 1. At that time, Golden State would have six games remaining on their schedule. Four coming against playoff teams (Oklahoma City, Indiana, New Orleans, and Utah) with the other two games against Phoenix.
After missing the last few weeks on the court, with injuries that most likely won’t be at 100 percent, tossing their most valuable contributors back into the fray against a slate of playoff teams probably isn’t the smartest idea.
At this point, the Warriors postseason position is locked up. They likely won’t take the top seed away from Houston, and their lead is big enough to keep their second seed intact regardless of who’s on the court. The only thing left now is the determining who Golden State will play in the first round. With the revolving carousel that is the playoff standings out West, that’s anybody’s guess right now.
The only thing that’s certain is whichever team coming into Oracle Arena for that first round will be battle tested and talented based off of the dogfight they had to survive just to make the playoffs. The last thing the Warriors need to be is a banged up in a postseason with their first opponent smelling blood in the water.
In all likelihood, the Warriors — should everything go according to plan — will play the Houston Rockets for a chance to return to their fourth straight NBA Finals. Only this time, a potential Game 7 won’t be at Oracle Arena. It will be in downtown Houston, at the Toyota Center.
An advantage as big as the Warriors’ homecourt can never be understated. Operating in a do-or-die situation away from home will be newfound territory for this bunch. Regardless of talent or team success, at that point, it’s anybody’s game.
It won’t be easy for the Golden State Warriors as they try to extend their dynasty’s reign. This might be their most difficult year yet.
Durant, in his own words, can’t even laugh right now without feeling pain. The league’s only unanimous MVP is operating on one and a half ankles, and the team’s second Splash Brother has an injury on his shooting hand.
Resting up the team’s stars should be the team’s top priority right now, at risk of entering the postseason hobbled. Track record means nothing if the Warriors don’t have their full arsenal at disposal when the games matter most.
Hey, a 16-seed finally won a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. Anything is possible on a basketball court, and the Warriors should do everything possible to ensure they’re not the next major upset candidate in line.