Programming note: "Warriors NBA Finals Central" airs Thursday night at 5 p.m., and immediately after Game 1 on CSN Bay Area. Both shows will be streaming live right here.
OAKLAND – Their training camp opened to sweeping intrigue, with countless eyes on the new coach and his new staff and the incumbent owner, whose latest brassy move put him directly under the spotlight.
Outsiders were somewhat puzzled and a little bit skeptical. Insiders were curious.
Why would the Warriors, after so many years of dejection and dysfunction, tamper with a formula that resulted in modest success?
They did, because, as we know now, modest success isn’t good enough for the ownership group midway through its fourth year of running the franchise.
Warriors CEO Joe Lacob stuck out his chin in May and now, with the team making its first NBA Finals appearance since 1975, he can stick out his chest.
Here are five reasons why the Warriors were able to defy the odds, going from a peripheral contender to the league’s best record and a title favorite in 13 months.
1) Hiring Steve Kerr as head coach
Kerr replaced Mark Jackson, a big personality who had been a star in the league, coached the Warriors to back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in 22 years and successive 45-win seasons for the first time in 38 years.
Kerr arrived in May 2014 as an unknown commodity, a man some knew as a fringe player but most knew as a TV analyst. He understood that and laid lines of communication, reaching out to all players. He listened as often as he spoke.
Even as he praised Jackson, Kerr had a clear vision for how the Warriors should play. Moreover, he understood what he had to do to reach them. He did.
“I don’t think he could have handled it any other way,” Steph Curry said, “especially to the guys that were so openly backing coach Jackson when the (firing) happened.”
2) Kerr was wise and deliberate in selecting his staff
Alvin Gentry, one of the top offensive minds in basketball, was the No. 1 assistant to Doc Rivers with the Clippers. Kerr wanted the veteran coach to come north and used his relationship – as well as Lacob’s checkbook – as persuasion. Great move.
Ron Adams, one of the top defensive minds in basketball, was the No. 1 assistant to Brad Stevens with the Celtics. In search of the best defensive coach in the league, Kerr identified Adams, a California native ready to come home. Terrific move.
Finally, Kerr wanted a couple ex-players not far removed from their careers. He brought in Luke Walton, high-IQ player who sees the game in much the same way as Kerr does. Kerr then brought in Jarron Collins, whose intellect and personality have been invaluable.
3) Having Draymond Green ace his opportunity
Kerr took the job believing David Lee, a veteran and longtime starter, would be his starting power forward. When Lee pulled a hamstring, Kerr turned to Green, who dived into the moment with such abandon – and production – he became essential.
Though Green deservedly receives a lot of credit for altering the team’s approach to defense, he makes an impact at both ends.
Kerr yearned for a “stretch 4,” a power forward whose long-distance shooting would spread out opposing defenses. He didn’t know Green would do that. He did.
Green brought the kind of relentless intensity required to win at the highest levels. It shows up mostly on defense, where his junkyard dog mentality inspires teammates and demoralizes opponents.
“More people are starting to recognize how good our defense is,” Green said. “But I don’t think people view us as a defensive team.”
They’re starting to now, because of Green.
4) Getting Andre Iguodala to accept his new role
Iguodala was a 10-year vet who had started every game of his career. The team-building acumen of Kerr and his staff felt Igoudala would be more valuable leading the second unit than as a ride-along with the first.
It was a good idea that had to be skillfully sold. Kerr, with help from his assistants, managed to sell it.
The move allowed Harrison Barnes, a more consistent long-range shooter, to return to the lineup as a third or fourth option as a starter – where he is far more comfortable than he was trying, usually in vain, to lead the second unit.
5) Seeing Stephen Curry rise to superstar level
Curry was already the team’s best player, a quiet but resolute leader whose toughness is obscured by boyish countenance. But Kerr’s insistence that he balance his fabulous – and occasionally spectacular – skills with fundamentals took the point guard to another level.
He has lost none of his flair for the breathtaking play yet has evolved into the type of reliable playmaker that improves each of his teammates.
Curry went from All-Star to MVP, which is a leap most All-Stars never make. And it’s enough to lift a contender to championship level.