In the late hours of Wednesday night, ESPN released a report that would send waves through the NBA and create headlines that trumped those of yet another New England Patriots Super Bowl.
The report claimed that league sources revealed LeBron James would be willing to sit down with the Golden State Warriors with his upcoming possibility for free-agency imminent. The timing of this leaked information seemed almost too serendipitous with the league’s Feb. 8 trade deadline looming and the Warriors announcing that general manager Bob Myers would sit down to talk to reporters about the deadline Thursday afternoon following Warriors practice.
A timetable of events appeared even more suspicious with growing reports of tension within the Cavs locker room, which seem to have followed the team onto the court as their recent struggles find them with 30-20 record, falling to third place in the Eastern Conference.
This mixture of ingredients has created the perfect recipe for disaster to push James to preemptively start making moves before regular season’s end, especially since he is expected to forgo his $36.5 million player option in order to become an unrestricted free agent.
So it is no surprise that many Warriors fans and Bay Area sportscasters sunk their teeth into the dramatic headline, lending heavy opinions on the matter while questioning and speculating what effect this minor piece of information would have on the bigger puzzle. What would a Warriors team with James look like? Who and what would Golden State have to give up? Would one of the seemingly true and loyal teams in the NBA really bring in one of its greatest rivals just to add more banners? Didn’t James throw jabs at the Warriors in the past for creating a “super team”?
A voice notably missing within the conversation was that of the Warriors themselves, and rightfully so. As Myers sat down to speak with the media at the Rakuten Performance Center Thursday, he immediately prefaced any questioning by making it clear the James matter was off-limits:
“I can’t talk about players on other teams. I’m not allowed and I wouldn’t do it anyway. Just to lay that out there.”
Not even one reporter’s question regarding a “hypothetical 6-foot-8 power forward, who’s free” could penetrate Myers’ defense. And as for head coach Steve Kerr, he refused to let another reporter’s more direct question of his willingness to coach a player like James, penetrate his wallet:
“Are you really going to ask that? Do you want me to get my checkbook out? I could just make it out to Adam Silver, or to the NBA.”
As expected, neither was willing to add fuel to the fire that created a tirade throughout the NBA Thursday morning, but what Myers had to say about the team’s thought process as the trade deadline draws near was telling of what the Warriors may be looking to add to their arsenal in the future. Myers cited the trade deadline as an opportunity to decide what direction to take a team past the halfway mark of the season:
“When you look at the deadline it’s either an opportunity to get better in the short-term or long-term. That’s what the trade deadline is, do I want to sacrifice some long-term benefits for something in the short-term, or do I want to do the opposite.”
With an embarrassment of riches within Golden State’s current roster, Myers’ focus seemed to be more future-oriented as he discussed the importance of smart drafting in a league where first round draft picks have become more valuable than ever:
“With the roster we have and our composition, we have less tools to add players than a lot of teams, and so having an ability to draft somebody, especially youth — we’re not old — but we have to prevent ourselves from becoming old. A young player that we can have under contract for a few years,that’s a big deal for us.”
For the Warriors, it would make more sense to focus their attention on the plethora of younger players entering the league or those who already have a few years in the NBA under their waistbands. Players like Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo, in attempt to prepare for the post-Hamptons Five era of the team.
Although James continues to break records and set a precedent in the league, he is no spring chicken. At the age of 33, James falls somewhere between the spryness of Kevin Durant (29) and the veteran push of David West (37). Even a player that many perceive as the best in the world is not exempt from the torrential beating a player’s body endures throughout 14 years in the NBA.
Still, Myers said the trade and acquisition of players has to make sense to a team. Keeping this in mind Myers is constantly aware of the deficiencies in all rosters, especially that of the Warriors:
“No roster is perfect. I know people like to talk about all the things we have. We are fortunate to have a very good roster, but no roster is perfect. That’s why we listen, that’s why we look around at different things. We look to get better, we look to address some of our weaknesses.We look at the whole picture. What makes us better now, what’s something that will help us down the road.”
Myers admitted, Golden State’s weaknesses and strengths can change throughout the season, with evolving weaknesses and dissolving strengths that seem to come along with the lengthy 82-game regular season. Myers struggled to solidify specific weaknesses he felt the Warriors currently posses, but did mention shooting and rebounding better.
Despite recognizing the innate imperfections of even the best team in the league, Myers inadvertently made his own case for why adding James to an already solid roster would make very little sense — while costing much more money. He did so by stating that the team would “have to have a pretty good reason to change things” in order to make any drastic trades.
Myers said this interest would also have to be a two-way street with the player coming in, especially off of a buy out:
“First you have to have a need. Most players don’t want to come play for a team when they’ve been bought out when there is not a role.”
Currently, there seems to be no urgent need nor an open role big enough to fit a player like James. As the idiom goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
Myers also focused on the importance of maintaining a team with a strong and secure relationship when determining trades and other team-building decisions.
More recent trades have prompted the all-too-familiar discussion of loyalty in the NBA. After all, it is a business at the end of the day. But Myers prided the Warriors management team on understanding, acknowledging and standing by players who have :
“The cohesiveness of our team matters to us. The continuity matters to us. We have guys that have been here and probably most importantly who have shown in the bigger moments, meaning the playoffs, they can produce. To have guys that we know well, that know each other well, we have to keep an eye on that as well.”
In a league that has seen, and continues to see, contention amongst management, coaches and players ultimately leading to the unraveling of a team on the court, the Warriors prove that the strong relationship and respect held between its their own groups contributes just as much as their talented roster to the growing success of the team. This includes the relationship between head coach and general manager — one of great respect, Myers said:
“I feel like the GM coach relationship should be best described as a partnership. Some people try to put a hierarchy on it, but you both succeed or you both fail in my opinion.”
In return, Kerr expressed his trust and respect for Myers. After experiencing three years in the general manager position for the Phoenix Suns (2007-2010) prior to joining the Warriors, Kerr can empathize with the difficulty of the burden Myers carries. He cited the major difference between the two roles as the focus on the day-to-day, game-to-game efforts of the team versus the long-term perspective:
“I want to win today. Bob wants to win today and tomorrow…I think the beauty of our arrangement coming in was they didn’t want to give me any personnel power and I didn’t want any. I had been a GM I understood how difficult that job is, understood how difficult the coaching job is and they are really separate jobs that require one person’s attention. The communication within the group is key and you just have to always communicate, but I trust Bob and the scouting department. They’ve done an amazing job.”
There is no lack of communication between Kerr and Myers, who Kerr says he talks to almost every day “about anything: a good restaurant in San Francisco, a good show on Nextflix, you know … trade, salary caps.” The Myers-Kerr era of the Warriors has set a precedent for the selectivity of players obtained by the Warriors as the look to continue their championship winning streak. And it is difficult to see where another big star like James could fit without knocking the tower down.
Although the James rumor has sparked conversation, the heavy burden Golden State would ultimately have to bear, most likely losing Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and some of their bench, in order to obtain LeBron seems to go against everything Myers, Kerr and the entire Warriors organization have worked so hard to build. So it is left very unlikely that Golden State would make such a rash decision.
However, Myers made it extremely clear that ruling out any conversation would also be in direct conflict of the Warriors’ way of building:
“The fear in this job is that you wish you would have had a conversation you didn’t. That’s what motivates a lot of conversation. It’s just conversation broadly. You have to have dialogue to do anything. Dialogue that occurs at this trade deadline may lead to something that happens two summers from now, you just don’t know.To take the approach of ‘I’m not talking to anybody’, thats not what I believe in, that’s not what our organization believes in.”