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Real Warriors

Golden State is employing Moneyball-style analytics, a groundbreaking farm system, and true grit on its way to its second playoff appearance in nearly two decades.



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Currently, only a small fraction of D-League teams are owned by NBA teams. But that will likely change as more teams see the benefits reaped by the Warriors this season — much as other major league baseball teams copied Moneyball after the A's' success. "Once everyone catches on to how teams are manipulating their minor-league team to help the big club, every team in the NBA is going to want a development team," Weyermann said. "It only creates additional opportunities."

Those additional opportunities appear everywhere. The Warriors gain a major marketing stronghold in a sought-after coastal market. They develop the big club's next generation of assistant coaches, training staffers, promotional pros, ticket sales executives, and — given the devoutly family-friendly atmosphere — fans. The Oakland franchise shares resources and Santa Cruz provides reinforcements.

Kirk Lacob — a 24-year-old Stanford grad who last year joined LeBron James and Usain Bolt on Forbes' "30 under 30 Sports" list — is also trailblazing a sophisticated statistical analysis of the game. He doesn't want to know how many rebounds David Lee had; he wants to know how many he had versus certain players, how many when he's paired with other teammates and against other opponents, what types of errant shots end up where, whether they're coming against the second string or not, and who's shooting, too. "In basketball we've pretended like there was finite amount of information," he said. "The truth is we've barely cracked the surface."

The formula is working. Santa Cruz (32-15 at press time) leads the D-League in gate receipts, home wins, and win-streak length. And the fans are feeding off the success. Santa Cruz is already considered the fiercest home crowd in the D-League — and the Baby Warriors enjoyed a 19-4 home record as of early this week.

Bazemore loves playing there, too. "You get the same love you receive in Oakland," he said. "It helps you love to play. I went to a different [D-League] venue, and it wasn't as crowded, wasn't as upbeat."

And Kirk Lacob loves Bazemore. "He's terrific," Lacob said. "The right attitude to everything. The most important thing to him is for the team to win. He has an unbelievable energy, and it rubs off, when you see him going crazy, and it's all real. In the game or on the bench, he's pumped up every play."

Golden State Warriors Head Coach Mark Jackson and General Manager Bob Myers agree with Kirk Lacob: The last player on the roster exudes so much that is right with the new, young, smarter Warriors, partly because the environment he's in has been carefully constructed to bring out his best character.

Few places are more competitive than the NBA's rugged Western Conference, which is why Denver Nuggets Head Coach George Karl asked the league last week to disregard conference affiliation when deciding playoff seeds: too many strong Western teams get screwed out of playoff spots while weaker teams from the Eastern Conference slide in.

But one place is even more competitive: Silicon Valley. That's where basketball junkie Joe Lacob, who put himself through college and Stanford business school, made partner at marquee venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. There, he blended, and continues to blend, creativity and cunning to wild success in technology and Internet startups — fields in which conventional thinking doesn't exactly thrive. In 2010, he joined Peter Gruber in leading a new ownership group through the purchase of the Warriors for $480 million, once he sold his share of the Boston Celtics.

"He comes from a venture world where a 23-year-old has the best idea in the room — or the city — so it's not a caste system," Myers said. "Our company embraces new thoughts and ideas, not old-time hierarchy. Joe would say, 'There's more than one way to do things.'"

From the beginning, that included Joe Lacob and co-owner Paul Gruber insisting on certain word choices. "They refused to use the word 'good,'" Kirk Lacob said. "They didn't want it to be in anyone's language. They wanted 'great' or 'champion.'"

Every move is made with maximum attention to best practices and minimum attention to status quo, as it was with Joe Lacob's most crucial hire. He wasn't aiming to emulate the NBA's historic GM model. He recruited Myers from the realm of player agents. Myers had zero NBA front-office experience besides a brief apprenticeship with Golden State, and now is one of the three youngest general managers in the league.

"Bob's background is representative of a new breed of GMs in the NBA," Joe Lacob said. "We are building an NBA team ownership and management for the next generation."

But that doesn't mean Joe Lacob doesn't appreciate NBA experience. He also had hired Hall of Famer Jerry West, the most successful NBA executive in a generation and the guy in the NBA logo itself. "Go out and look at the people they've hired," West said of Joe Lacob and Gruber. "It's people at the top of their class. In terms of a business standpoint, that's very impressive.

"They have a different idea of how to run a team," he added. "The league is so different than it was years ago, with so many issues to cover far beyond sport. Financial issues are much greater, with a new collective-bargaining agreement, and you have to be much more responsible to the press and the fans."