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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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Myers, a one-time walk-on who played his way onto UCLA's 1995 NCAA national championship team (full disclosure: I became acquaintances with Myers at UCLA), steeled his business savvy with thirteen years of intense player contract negotiations and salary-cap and luxury-tax complexities with Arn Tellem and the high-powered Wasserman Group in Los Angeles. He also acquired media chops as a talk radio host doing the UCLA Bruin post-game report, and, with the Warriors, makes himself remarkably available to the press.

He also has vindicated Joe Lacob's trust in him, orchestrating the continental shifts that have the Warriors at about 25 games better in the standings this year than this time last season The team is on pace to finish second in the Pacific Division for just the second time since 1977 — before any of its current core rotation of players were even born. And the team has done all this despite the season-long loss of wingman Brandon Rush, a premiere shooter and the team's best perimeter defender, and the frequent absence of Andrew Bogut, an All-Star scoring and shot-blocking center.

Myers engineered the trade for Bogut, clearing the way for should-be second-half MVP Curry to establish himself; landed invaluable super subs Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry in the offseason; and led a draft that harvested a bumper crop of three rookies (not counting Bazemore) who are each playing meaningful minutes — something no other team in the league can claim, this year or in recent memory.

"Myers has dealt with so many players," noted San Jose Mercury News senior sports writer Tim Kawakami, who has been watching the whole way. "He has an understanding about the ones who want to play hard and the ones who might not."

Those decisions reflect another skill that Myers imported from life as an agent with Tellem: Don't make a deal solely based on money. "When we draft or sign a player," Myers explained, "we're asking, 'Do they have room for growth? Are they competitive? Do they care about the craft?'

"Our job is to win, but I think one of the components of winning is hiring and signing players who are quality people and individuals," he continued. "We ask, 'When they face adversity, are they willing to look in mirror and see what they can do?'"

Last week, Warriors power forward David Lee, the league leader in 20-point, 10-rebound games, delivered a fierce elbow to Dwight Howard's lip, provoking Howard into a technical foul and the Warriors' longtime torturers, the LA Lakers, into a 63-40 halftime deficit from which they would never recover. Lee also had a key — and acrobatic — tip-in on a Steph Curry miss, a range of nifty jumpers, a number of nice dishes to Klay Thompson, and a cool head when the game got heated. But after the game he told reporters, "Rebounding is my most important job."

Same goes for the Warriors, in more ways than one. When they are rebounding, they are playing their best basketball, as they are at the moment, ranking second in the league at press time in rebounds per game, with 44.9. When they outrebound their opponent, they're 33-10.

And when they suffer sluggish streaks and embarrassing hiccups — most painfully, of late, the Bulls game in which only Bazemore's energy prevented a season-worst defeat — they needed to rebound even more. Rebound, as in bounce back.

The day after the Bulls blowout, the Warriors were scheduled to face the Rockets in a dangerous rematch. Golden State had lost to Houston three straight times, including a record-setting thirty-point defeat on the road, and another even more painful loss at home because it was bungled by bad Warriors ball management late in the game.

Before the Rockets rematch, the team had a day off. Players had the choice of doing anything they wanted to clear their minds of basketball, the team's four straight road losses, or the tenuous half-game edge over Houston in the playoff standings. The entire team showed up to the gym instead. "You can't teach that," Head Coach Mark Jackson said. "You certainly don't want to preach it. You want to have it on the inside of guys, guys who refuse to quit, who refuse to settle — high-character guys that love the game of basketball and love each other."

That kind of gospel from Jackson can sound hyperbolic. But there's also truth to what he says. During the offseason, most of the team joined Jackson at his church in Los Angeles for two weeks straight. "I think it united the team," he said. "This is a together group. You're gonna have stretches where you can't get a stop, but we keep our principles and correct habits. In those tough times, who you are really shows."

The team also showed up at Toyota Center in Houston — and showed the Rockets the business end of a 108-78 beat down. The game may very well have saved the season, and it certainly served as a reminder that, for all the promise the Warriors' pioneering progressivism holds, hard work comes first.