At this point last year, the Warriors appeared to be stuck in no-man’s land. They had three quality players — Stephen Curry, David Lee and Monta Ellis — but were well on their way to missing the playoffs for the 17th time in 18 years. On top of that, they weren’t even bad enough to land one of the draft’s top three picks, where superstars such as LeBron James, Tim Duncan and Anthony Davis are usually selected.
Yes, things appeared to be business as usual in Warriorsland, despite coach Mark Jackson’s guarantee that he would lead the team to the playoffs in his first year at the helm.
But on the eve of All-Star weekend in Year 2, Jackson’s promise suddenly appears realistic, albeit a year behind schedule. The Warriors are entering the break with a 30-22 record, holding down the Western’s Conference’s No. 6 spot, five games ahead of the ninth-place Portland Trail Blazers entering Wednesday’s games.
The cynics are still expecting a late-season collapse, especially now that the Warriors have lost five games in a row, surrendering an average of 118 points per contest. But regardless of how the season ends, there’s no question that a culture shift is taking place at Oracle Arena, marking the beginning of a new era of Warriors basketball.
If anyone deserves a midseason MVP award this year, it’s general manager Bob Myers, Jerry West and the rest of the Warriors’ front office. Somehow, they orchestrated this 180-degree flip without the luxury of a top-five pick or a big-name free agent signing.
The most significant move the Warriors made in the past 365 days was, ironically, a subtraction, trading Ellis to Milwaukee in a package for Andrew Bogut.
Sure, Bogut has only been on the floor for 10 games this season, but the Warriors could have received a bag of spare tires in exchange for Ellis and this still would have been a good deal.
Ellis is a dynamic, creative player, but he’s also a ball-stopper. The offense quits moving when he receives the basketball and the team lives and dies according to what kind of night he’s putting together.
Now, the Warriors are an actual T-E-A-M, and Lee and Curry are both All-Star-caliber players without Ellis on the floor.
The Ellis trade also helped the Warriors slide down to the No. 7 position in the draft last year, allowing them to keep their pick and select Harrison Barnes.
The front office should also be commended for bringing in Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry. Both are instrumental role players, logging crucial minutes in crunch time. They also hit a swish when they drafted Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green.
But these moves would be insignificant if they hadn’t hired the perfect guy to change the locker room mindset. This team is winning because every player contributes and buys into the hard-nosed team game that Jackson sells.
Let’s say the Warriors do fall apart and miss the playoffs this season. They’re still young, eager and filled with potential. It’s safe to say the franchise isn’t wandering around in no-man’s land anymore; the momentum is definitely moving forward.
Paul Gackle is a regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner and also writes at www.gacklereport.com. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.