Stephen Curry arrived via the seventh overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft, Klay Thompson the 11th in 2011, and Draymond Green the 35th in 2012.
There’s your Golden State Warriors core. It was enough to win one NBA championship, post a 73-win regular season and change the way basketball is played.
The so-called role players that powered championship runs through the years arrived by traditional, if extremely smart, means as well – picks (Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli), sign-and-trades (Andre Iguodala), swaps (Andrew Bogut) and the occasional inspired free-agent pick-up (Shaun Livingston and Marreese Speights).
Steve Kerr was plucked from the TNT broadcast team, with zero previous NBA head-coaching experience.
What the Warriors built was both a champion and a championship culture that inspired opponents to dream of joining them.
Kevin Durant did that two seasons and two additional titles ago.
On Monday, DeMarcus Cousins followed suit, grabbing the one-year, mid-level exemption ($5.3 million) as he rehabilitates an Achilles injury into the season and almost assuredly will claim a championship.
Yes, DeMarcus Cousins on the Warriors, offering a possible playoff starting lineup of five All-Stars: Curry, Durant, Thompson, Green and Cousins.
The wails could be heard around the league. The hand-wringing was relentless. Calls for reform to stop superteams such as Golden State from forming were, and will be, impossible to miss.
It’s understandable. No one likes a championship to be effectively won nearly a year before the NBA Finals begins. It’s even worse when the team that is the overwhelming favorite to do it has taken three of the last four and dropped just a single game across the previous two Finals. Rich getting richer.
“Bottom line is, we’ve got a lot of talent,” Kerr said after winning the title last month by sweeping the Cleveland Cavaliers. “We had more talent than they did. And talent wins in this league.”
And now next season’s Warriors have more talent than last season’s Warriors.
Still, it’s worth recalling exactly how this superteam became a superteam that Durant wanted to join and Cousins sought out.
It wasn’t by tanking for half a decade and hoping top-three picks would pan out. It wasn’t by having a pack of buddies all decide to arrive together. It wasn’t by being an obvious and historic destination for free agents. From 1977-78 to their title season in 2014-15, the Warriors won a combined five playoff series.
This was homegrown. This was smartly built. Three point guards were taken before Golden State grabbed Curry (Minnesota picked two of them). Thompson was a late lottery pick many teams didn’t see as a fit in the league. Green was a nobody out of Michigan State. Livingston was broken down. Iguodala was there for the taking.
The Warriors’ luck, if you want to call it that, was Curry suffering through ankle injuries early in his career that led to what turned out to be a franchise-favorable four-year, $44 million second contract. As he blossomed into a two-time MVP that changed the NBA, he was underpaid. When Golden State signed him, though, it was a big risk for a small player who couldn’t stay healthy.
Yes, Durant joining felt egregious, but the cap space and a team that looked too fun to pass up was available. Durant wasn’t a friend, he was a rival. He chose to join what he couldn’t beat. You can’t blame the Warriors for signing him. It didn’t hurt that Curry, Thompson, Green and Iguodala all took time out of their summer to fly to the Hamptons for the Warriors’ meeting with Durant.
That’s what a team does.
And that’s what they did again when Cousins contacted Golden State in recent days about signing a one-year deal. His injury had cooled the market for him, so he was willing to do a single season at (relatively) low pay in order to prove he was healthy enough for a long-term deal. Where better to do that than in Golden State? It was, conversely, one of the few teams where such a move would even make sense.
When a surprised Warriors general manager Bob Myers heard from the Cousins camp, the team jumped into action. Curry, Durant and Green all called and recruited him, all told him he’d fit in, all told him he was wanted. That was all it took.
That’s what a culture does.
If you’re rooting for anyone but the Warriors then there is, at least, this: Cousins is no lock to return to form, especially not next season. Achilles injuries are brutal and this is a large man – 270 pounds. He also still needs to fit into the Warriors’ style of play (he does shoot threes well for a center) and not upset the legendary chemistry of the club.
Those are minimal risks for incredible upside, of course. No one is crying for Golden State. Yet as the complaints roll in of this being unjust or the system being broken, perspective and context is important.
Golden State got here, to the new era of NBA superteams, the old-fashioned way, one sharp personnel decision at a time.
It may not be fun for everyone else. It is fair though.
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