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How Warriors Front Office Built the NBA's Most Potent Team

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2015

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 9: Tthe Golden State Warriors celebrate during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on January 9, 2015 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Noah Graham/Getty Images

As teams across the NBA try to rebuild exclusively through the draft, free agency or blockbuster trades, all of them should keep something in mind: It's easy to copy the Golden State Warriors' blueprint for success through roster moves.

Just make all the right ones.

Figuring out what those moves are and knowing when to make them (and especially when not to make them) is harder.

The Warriors' stratospheric rise this season has been five years in the making, built gradually through a mixture of trades, signings and draft picks. They employed patience and bold opportunism. They absorbed criticism.

They were brave, shrewd and lucky.

Here's how.

The Draft

Paul Sakuma/Associated Press

The 2009 draft pick that brought Stephen Curry to Golden State can rightly be viewed as the genesis of the modern Warriors era, and it almost didn't happen.

The Minnesota Timberwolves infamously tabbed Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn ahead of Curry, allowing him to slip to Golden State at No. 7. Curry, notably, didn't even want to play for the Warriors—a laughingstock marked by two decades of consistent failure.

He told Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News in 2014:

To the extent that we could control what would happen, New York was what we thought would be the best spot. So we played it that way. But I guess a higher power guided me to where I was supposed to be, and I ended up with the Warriors. Because who knows how it would’ve turned out if I went to New York?

That's the first time anyone's ever called David Kahn's draft gaffe a higher power, but whatever...

Anyhow, even when Curry made it to the Warriors at No. 7, he wasn't guaranteed to stay there. Kawakami also chronicled advanced discussions between the Warriors and then-Phoenix Suns general manager Steve Kerr that would have sent Curry to the desert for Amar'e Stoudemire.

The Dubs held onto their mid-major darling, though, and got themselves a cornerstone—even if it took another two-plus years and a series of career-threatening ankle injuries to know it.

Subsequent drafts produced mixed results. The Warriors whiffed on Ekpe Udoh at No. 6 in 2010, then hit a 450-foot homer on Klay Thompson at No. 11 in 2011. Some mild tanking allowed the Dubs to keep their No. 7 pick via a coin flip with the Toronto Raptors 2012, which they used to select Harrison Barnes, a capable starter who still has upside.

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 2: Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors poses for a photo at the Warriors draft pick press conference on July 2, 2012 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or us
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

The real coup that year was Draymond Green, a second-rounder currently playing his way into a max salary slot this summer.

Trades and Free Agency

The first big move of owner Joe Lacob's tenure was a sign-and-trade for David Lee in the summer of 2010. Lee has been a divisive figure because of his defensive shortcomings, but he was also Golden State's first All-Star since Latrell Sprewell, and he lent the organization a sense of professionalism and seriousness it hadn't had before.

Andrew Bogut, acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks for fan-favorite Monta Ellis in 2012, has been the most important addition since Curry. The trade that brought him to Golden State was wildly unpopular at the time, but it proved ownership was prepared to make the right decisions even if the highlight-hungry fanbase didn't like them.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Andre Iguodala came over in a 2013 sign-and-trade after the Warriors dispatched his Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs.

Just this past summer, the Warriors succeeded by standing pat. Klay Thompson could have netted them Kevin Love, but Golden State wouldn't pull the trigger, and Thompson is now a borderline superstar—outplaying Love handily.

Smaller signings have also been a part of the Warriors' rise.

Marreese Speights jumped aboard on a three-year deal shortly after Iguodala, and he's now a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year.

Shaun Livingston has been a terrific value for the mid-level exception this season.

Justin Holiday, a scrap-heap wing, is now a rotation staple on a minimum contract.

Perhaps the most important "trade" was the one that swapped out head coach Mark Jackson for Steve Kerr, a move that came with serious risk because Jackson, for all his perceived shortcomings, had just finished leading Golden State to its first 50-win season in 20 years.

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 5:  Stephen Curry #30 and head coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors celebrate during the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on January 5, 2015 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowle
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

The move has been an unqualified success and served as the ultimate validation that ownership and management will stay patient when it makes sense, but have no fear of high-stakes gambling.

Difficulties Duplicating

All those moves have the Dubs atop the league, smashing the competition, posting the best net rating by a mile and rocketing skyward at a 70-win pace.

They're ridiculously deep, reliant on Curry in the main, with only the struggle of doling out minutes among so many deserving candidates as a problem.

B/R's Josh Martin notes how that may not be such a bad thing: "But any one of those contributors could come up big on any given night. Chances are, at least one of them will. And if that time comes in the postseason, it could be enough to win Steve Kerr's club a crucial game here and there."

You'd think teams around the league would be eager to follow the patient, piecemeal approach that got the Warriors to this point, but it's not as easy as that.

The Warriors started this process in a unique situation. The franchise's fans had seen so many shortsighted moves, failed big swings, hasty rebuild attempts and calamitous failures that a gradual approach was actually welcomed.

Mar 28, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Fans celebrate after a basket by Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) during the fourth quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at Oracle Arena. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 100-93. Manda
USA TODAY Sports

There were periods of anxiety along the way, but having lived in the Bay Area before, during and after this rebuild, it was easy to see fans appreciating the organization embracing a process instead of gunning for immediate results.

Because no other NBA organization has it as bad as the Dubs did before this rebuild, it'll be tough to replicate the environment that gave rise to the reconstruction.

Take the Los Angeles Lakers as an example. Their self-destructive refusal to bottom out may very well cost them a top-five pick in this year's draft (they owe the Phoenix Suns their pick if it falls outside the top five, a result of the Steve Nash sign-and-trade in 2012), which pins the organization's hopes on free agency alone. The Warriors built themselves up by exploiting every avenue of improvement, unfettered by things like legacy and pride.

Because...what was there to be proud of?

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The New York Knicks may be in the best position to copy the blueprint. They're angling for a top pick, clearing the dead weight from the roster ahead of free agency and pursuing trades at every turn. And lest anyone write them off because of Carmelo Anthony's hefty contract, remember the Warriors did all this with Lee's massive deal taking up a chunk of their cap.

Still, the pressure of New York may mean the Knicks don't get a five-year window to build. In fact, it's hard to imagine any franchise getting that kind of leeway.

Just another reason to treasure what's going on in Golden State, where we're now seeing the end stages of a step-by-step rebuild that may never happen again.

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