OAKLAND, Calif. — Just a few minutes before the Golden State Warriors pounded the Indiana Pacers 142-106 on Monday night, spurred on by Klay Thompson's inexplicable 60 points through just 29 minutes, Warriors general manager Bob Myers sat in a suite deep inside Oracle Arena thinking about last season versus this one.
A quarter of the way through the 2015-16 campaign, the Warriors were the NBA's darlings, off to a 21-0 start and still basking in the glow of having won their first title in 40 years.
The record was perfect, but not much else was. Head coach Steve Kerr was still recuperating from complications due to offseason back surgery and would be sidelined for another 22 games. The team had to adjust upon his return yet still won a record 73 games. Then MVP Stephen Curry suffered multiple injuries during the first round. The Warriors clawed back from down 3-1 to Oklahoma City in the conference finals, they lost Andrew Bogut to a knee injury when they were up 3-1 in the Finals, Draymond Green was suspended and...
Well, we all know what came next.
This season, the Warriors are 18-3, three games off last year's torrid start but still good enough for the NBA's best record. With Kevin Durant now clad in Golden State blue and gold, the team is putting up scoring totals not seen in the league for more than a quarter-century and an offensive efficiency that is heretofore unprecedented. Even on off nights, they never seem truly out of any game, no matter the opponent.
At their best, well, just ask the Pacers how that goes.
But before Thompson's historic feat, Myers sat down with Bleacher Report to discuss the team's dominant start to the year, the recent hullabaloo surrounding Draymond Green's physical play, how it's possible the Warriors seem to get along so well and the hardest deal he's ever had to pull off. (Hint: It wasn't signing Durant.)
On the Warriors' 18-3 start and how this season feels compared to last:
I think with last year, you learn from success and you can learn from failure. We had both last year. We had a ton of success, especially regular-season success. We've had that the last couple years, but then we didn't finish the way we wanted to. Separate from losing the Finals, I don't think we were playing our best, as a team and individually. I think that gave us some perspective. You do want to play well the whole year—that's the goal for every team—but I think it taught us that the best and most important thing is to build toward something that is sustainable in the playoffs.
We're not measuring ourselves against last year's team. It's a different team. We want to hold ourselves to a standard that we think we should be able to meet while integrating and assimilating with a lot of new players and coaches. Anyone that's played or been around the sport knows it takes a little time, as it should. It should take time for any team to jell. It shouldn't take five games for a bunch of new players to integrate. I think we're on our way. We've had some games where we've shown it, some games where we've struggled. I do like the fact that, for the most part, we compete night in, night out. Players in the locker room get along. It's a pretty selfless group. I don't think it's ego-driven or individual-driven.
It's early, too. We're in one lap around the track, a quarter-mile, which, when you think about it, isn't a ton to go on. The record's good. We should never take that for granted; it's a good record. Our losses are magnified, but we knew that would happen going in, and some have been bad. But the last loss, Houston, was good; they earned it. We try to learn. Last year, by winning so much, I think from the coaches' standpoint, it's a little bit harder to teach when you don't have many losing events, and then when those moments come in the playoffs it becomes more difficult.
On having Steve Kerr back on the sidelines to start the season, after watching games with him inside the arena last season:
We would only be about 15 feet away [from the entrance to the court]. It was unusual. I'd watch games with him on TV, which was kind of nice in a weird way. A GM and a coach watching a game together that their team is playing is probably really healthy; it just never happens live. I haven't really thought about it until you asked. Those moments, I think, were important for our relationship because you learn, how do you view this and how do you view that? He wasn't the Wizard of Oz in the back pushing buttons; Luke [Walton, as interim coach] was out there substituting guys and they'd speak at halftime and before and after games, but he wasn't telling Luke, for example, at the six-minute mark you have to do this or that. It wasn't to that degree, but Steve couldn't have coached. He did want to, but he just couldn't do it for the first 40 or so games.
I think people think Steve has been coaching in the NBA for 15 years. This is his third year. But because of the familiarity with TNT and him as a player, if you quizzed the fans and asked how long has Steve Kerr been a coach, I'm sure some would say 10 years. Some would say five. Nobody would say three. I've only been a general manager for five years. To think that you've figured anything out in that short amount of time is a little naive. It's nice to watch him grow, and it's been nice to watch our staff grow. I think he enjoys the group. I think they enjoy him. He's a great leader, and I think he keeps getting better and better.
The most important thing, when you sit in our seat up in the front office, is that your players respond to your coach. There's no doubt that our team responds to him. He's got the right balance of having this competitive edge, and he's got this great feel for the pulse of the team—when to push, when to pull and how to sustain that through the whole season. I don't think a team can win 73 games without enjoying what they do. There are just too many "schedule losses" in the NBA. I think he's done a great job so far, and I think he's going to keep getting better.
On the Warriors' workplace culture and why everyone seems to get along:
A collection of people is what creates cultures—good, bad, ugly. It's not words on a wall; it's not the name of your company or your team. It's the people that live in it, breathe it. Players, coaches, owners, people in the front office, people in the office place. Steve, as someone in his position, he leads. He's a leader. The coach of the team should be a leader. His humility and his authenticity are something that the players can easily see. He's coaching for them; he's not coaching for his own accolades. He's won championships; he's not seeking redemption as a coach.
Many coaches and people in their profession are constantly seeking this holy grail, and it can grate on your personality. It can create paranoia, can create insecurity. He had accomplished so much as a player. Not many guys can put a ring on each finger of a hand, but that gives you confidence and a self-assuredness that isn't arrogance or cockiness but a level of confidence. A lot of players in the NBA that are seeking a championship, they trust in him that he can provide a pathway for them to try and get that. It's very hard to do and everything has to come together, but I think in him they see a person that has their best interest in mind, that has a perspective on basketball versus life. I think it's refreshing for them.
On if the organization is concerned with the recent events concerning Draymond Green's physical defensive play:
Just talking to [Draymond], talking to Steve, I'm not concerned at all. I think there are a lot of things that go on in any organization or company that are internal and that maybe don't become external that you need to deal with. Then there are things that are more external that you don't necessarily need to deal with unless they tip over into an internal issue, and they really haven't. I don't think he's doing anything intentionally, and he's aware of it. Everything that's needed to be said or wanted to be said has been said.
I don't think he's doing anything purposefully. I worry more about areas like, if he wasn't bringing effort. That would be a concern. If he stopped competing, if he cared about how many points he scored—somebody that sits in my seat, you worry about things that players or people do to grab credit or serve their own ego. Those are the areas that can split a team up. A guy playing hard and ends up getting a technical foul because he's too emotional? That can hurt you if it spills over to a certain degree, but I think he's been good this year. I think he has a lot of emotion that he clearly displays, but I think with the referees he's been good.
Every day's different, every game's different, but I feel like he's in a good place, and the hardest lesson he or we have had to learn in those areas, we've hopefully learned. We got to move forward. There's always going to be something. I honestly don't think that one—from my standpoint, at least—is one that requires a lot of energy and effort right now.
On how the new-look defense is coalescing, despite the loss of Harrison Barnes, Bogut and Festus Ezeli during the offseason:
We're getting better defensively. I think patience is important. It's hard to be patient, but it's important to be patient. We played 20 games with five or six new guys in our rotation. The concern would be if we were at 25 [in defensive rating]. We're 10th now. Maybe, in two weeks, we'll be in the top eight. I don't know. I think we have the potential. A lot of guys are learning new schemes. It's important that we're showing improvement. We need to improve on turnovers. I think we're still working with our rotation as far as how we're playing guys. There are some positives defensively—being first in blocked shots is not something that I think a lot of people saw coming—but it can be better. I think the players know that.
On the importance of the complicated Andre Iguodala sign-and-trade deal with Denver and Utah in July 2013, which not only brought aboard a key player but also established Golden State as a viable free-agent destination:
There were a lot of particulars to that transaction. Like anything, there's a confluence of events. Andre wanting to play for us, that was big. We had just played [Denver] in the playoffs, and it's interesting. He saw something in us maybe that we didn't even see in ourselves. He saw a chance to be a part of something special. He intuitively was willing to wait. He forewent some other opportunities as far as money. But as far as I knew it wasn't going to happen. I knew he was going to sign somewhere, I just didn't think it would be with us. Joe [Lacob] was constantly supportive. Jerry West, as someone who has done a lot of big things, was always encouraging. All of us combined to do our part, but Andre, to be fair, he was the visionary in that area.
Getting the deal done was extremely difficult. Moving $24 million in that era was even harder than it would be now because the salary cap wasn't what it is now. It represented more than a third of a team's entire salary. I'd only been GM for a year, and it taught me a lot about what can be done, what can be accomplished even if you didn't think it can happen, so it was a lesson. If it hadn't worked, we would've been OK in the fact that we would've given everything we had to get it done, but I kept thinking it wasn't going to work.
What it showed people outside of our organization was, wow, somebody actually went to the Warriors on their own accord! Andre has a great reputation throughout the league as a player, as a person, so for him to take that step was big for us. It was somewhat transformative.
He was really the GM of that move more than any of us. I told him, "Go take something else because we can't do it." He said, "Well, give me a little more time." I said, "Don't lose anything."
If you would have heard the conversations, you would have thought Andre and Rob [Pelinka, Iguodala's agent] were being irrational by waiting. The last thing we wanted to do was mislead them and leave them hanging, so I kept telling them, "We can't do it, we can't do it, take whatever else you have." He kept saying he'll wait a little bit longer, one more day, one more hour.
Finding a partner in Utah was the key. For them, they drafted Rodney Hood in 2014 and they're going to have our pick this year and they're drafting well. They still benefit. Honestly, for them, I think they made a really good decision on their end as far as capitalizing in a year when they had to meet a floor of salary. They were letting some guys go, they were kind of hitting a reset button, and they got a couple draft picks that were unprotected. Denver getting in was good. We then had the cap flexibility to sign Marreese Speights. There's nothing wrong with a trade being good for both parties or two other parties. There's nothing bad about that.
On life with Durant and how the former MVP is adjusting to life as a Warrior:
What word do you want to use? Which superlative?
To see the camaraderie amongst the players, to see them come together in a pretty short amount of time and watch the process evolve as to him assimilating with our guys without any pretense or anybody complaining about shots or things like that, it's been very, very positive. He seems OK in the process. It's a long season, but based on early returns, I think the team still has a lot to figure out but that adjustment period has gone pretty smoothly. Obviously, individually, he's a fantastic player, but you don't know how that ever works amongst the team until it happens, and it's been pretty seamless.
Warriors Insider's Notebook
Thompson's 60-point effort against the Pacers immediately vaults to near the top of his lengthening list of personal career accomplishments, right there with the NBA-record 37-point quarter against Sacramento in January 2015 and his playoff-record 11 threes during Game 6 of May's Western Conference Finals.
For a player who came into the season proclaiming he wasn't going to sacrifice, uh, anything, and then struggled mightily to start the season, it was a spectacular performance to witness.
I asked Thompson in the postgame news conference whether the Warriors have reached their peak offensive output or whether this team—which is outscoring the next closest team, the Houston Rockets, by more than nine points per game—still has another gear.
“We’re only 21 games in. There’s definitely another gear," he said. "We’re still relatively new to playing with each other, but it has been a smooth transition obviously. That’s a big testament to the character of the guys we’ve got. We’re very unselfish. Guys like Kevin and Zaza [Pachulia] and the other guys we’ve brought on, too. They don’t care about the numbers. They just want to win."
Within five minutes of Golden State's win over Indiana, the Warriors public relations staff handed around a sheet of Thompson facts that were downright mesmerizing:
• Thompson joins Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry and Joe Fulks as the only Dubs to ever reach 60 points in a game.
• Per the Elias Sports Bureau, Thompson's 60 points in 29 minutes made him the first player ever to score that much in fewer than 30 minutes of play.
• The 40 first-half points for Thompson were his career best for one half of play, which is surprising considering he once scored 37 in one quarter.
• He's now the seventh player in franchise history to record multiple 50-point games. The other six are Chamberlain, Barry, Curry, Purvis Short, Antawn Jamison and Phil Smith.
Regarding the 60 points in 29 minutes, Curry deemed it "a feat that I would put money on to probably never be touched ever again in the history of basketball."
On The Road Again
Thompson seemed sure he could've scored 70 or more had the game been more competitive and if the Warriors weren't about to hit the road for five games in seven nights, including their sole stretch of four games in five nights this season. Thompson sat out the fourth quarter, as did Curry, Durant, Green, Pachulia and Iguodala.
"It’s all good," Thompson said. "It’s good to get rest before we go on this road trip. It’s going to be a beast."
Erik Malinowski is the Golden State Warriors lead writer for B/R. Quotes are obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. You can follow him on Twitter at @erikmal. All stats via NBA.com/Stats and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate through Dec. 6.