OAKLAND -- Zaza Pachulia holds his own during competitive games of poker on the airplane alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson - they call it the "Good Guys Table." Andre Iguodala and JaVale McGee, one-time teammates with Denver reunited in Oakland, hold secret chats.
"We're building an empire," Iguodala joked. "We've got secret stuff we can't talk about."
Jonnie West - son of Hall of Famer and Warriors executive Jerry West - joins Curry, Pachulia and Thompson for their card games.
"It depends how Klay feels. If he's tired, then no card game," Pachulia said.
With all that was made before the season about adding Kevin Durant to an already star-studded roster, Golden State's players have jelled just fine. The NBA-best Warriors (47-9) are gearing up for the second half and what they hope is another championship run, and chemistry sure isn't holding them back.
Two-time reigning MVP Curry and KD love to watch each other accomplish amazing things on the floor, along with Draymond Green and Thompson and all of the others who contribute off the bench.
Curry initially allowed Durant to find his groove, then began to assert himself more and increase his shots. Experience playing together is the biggest factor to keep building team bonds, if you ask Iguodala.
"Weathering storms builds chemistry and adversity builds chemistry," he said. "The season's long and you want to have all types of ups and downs. And that's where you build it the most, and off the court, plane rides. I think when you play with teammates seven, eight years, you're still building throughout that time. You continue to learn about each other. You've just got to understand that that's part of the process and you've got to want to learn from one another."
The Warriors are counting on every advantage they can gain, on and off the court. During flights, team dinners, anywhere.
After a heartbreaking Game 7 to end last season's NBA Finals, Golden State's players want nothing short of a championship. Many of them got a taste winning the title two years ago for the franchise's first in 40 years.
Steve Kerr, the reigning NBA Coach of the Year, gets a kick out of watching his teams come together each year.
"It's one of my favorite parts of coaching honestly, is seeing how a team comes together, seeing the relationships develop, seeing guys laughing together, seeing who hangs out with who," Kerr said. "It's great. This team has a really, really good chemistry that developed really quickly. Obviously, we had the core group intact from last year. We lost some key guys, too. The additions have been great. The chemistry is really good."
Pachulia took it upon himself to be a part of that. With constant attention on the Warriors, he knows the importance of sticking together through all of the many challenges that come in an 82-game season - and those things prepare a group for the postseason.
"You wish for the chemistry to come right away because you're kind of feeling pressure, a lot of talk's going on from outside," Pachulia said. "The reality is it's a process. It takes some days, it takes some games. It takes some bumps as well for the team to get on the same page and get the chemistry right. You've got to go through the process. I just don't see it the other way. We couldn't wait for these 40 or 50 games to pass and see where we were going to be. I feel really confident where we are right now, with everything we had throughout this 50 games, even the losses we had unexpected. It made us better, it made us stronger. You can appreciate it, honestly. We care about each other. We're on the same page. Keep going. We're not going to stop."
For Iguodala and McGee, the "chatter" stays between them.
"I have a lot of really in-depth conversations with JaVale McGee," Iguodala said, "about life."
SALT LAKE CITY -- Joel Bolomboy has been back and forth between the NBA Development League's Salt Lake City Stars and the Utah Jazz 15 times since November.
In the old system, the second-round draft pick would have been racking up frequent flyer miles bouncing around the minor leagues and overseas, much like Hassan Whiteside and Danny Green did before him. But in a growing trend around the NBA, the Jazz moved their D-League team closer to home - from Boise, Idaho to Salt Lake City.
Front-office executives are seeing that the closer a D-League affiliate is to the NBA team and its staff, and more integrated into the organization, the better it can be used as a true minor league resource.
"Your average NBA team has a better understanding today than they did four years ago of the caliber and the quality of player that's in the D-League," said Donnie Nelson, Mavericks president of basketball operations. "And that's rising literally every year.
"It's like American Idol in a lot of respects. We have brought the stage to the buyer, rather than having to go overseas and chase down. And those of us that are quote, unquote, the real judges on the American Idol panel, we can see them firsthand."
The NBA Development League has grown from an eight-team, largely overlooked sideshow to a 22-team league inching closer to becoming a legitimate minor league system. The league, in its 16th season, is no longer a final grasp for players clinging to a dream of playing professional basketball but a respected avenue to get to the NBA.
A record 22 teams have direct affiliations with an NBA team this season, including five new ones. The Bucks, Grizzlies and Magic have purchased teams slated to join for the 2017-18 season, when it will be known as the Gatorade League.
NBA teams have learned to better use the system. A record 38 percent of all players in the NBA had spent some time in the D-League at the end of the 2015-16 season.
Nelson believes it's the "fastest, most effective" path to the NBA.
The perception of the league has changed among players, who once tried to avoid it at all costs.
Whiteside is one of the biggest D-League success stories. But before becoming the center for the Miami Heat, his travels took him to Reno, Sioux Falls, Rio Grande, stints in the Lebanese Basketball and Chinese National Basketball leagues and back to the D-League with Iowa. He signed with the Heat in 2014, and in 2016 signed a four-year, $98.4 million contract.
"The D-League's tough," Whiteside said. "If being in the D-League doesn't motivate you, nothing will. It was a really tough to play. ... It gives guys a chance to stay in America and let scouts see them.
"I had a dream and I was just so undeterred. They would have had to move mountains to get me off of my dream. It was going to happen regardless."
Whiteside is one of many D-League success stories.
After being undrafted, Yogi Ferrell landed in the D-League and got a 10-day contract with the Mavericks before signing a multiyear deal in early February.
Green played for Erie, Reno and Austin before being a starter on the Spurs' 2013-14 Spurs championship team.
Rudy Gobert spent significant time in the D-League as a rookie and signed a four-year, $102 million deal with the Jazz in October.
"Reps, particularly with point guards, are huge," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "You can't make up for repetitions. Even in an NBA game, there's a difference between fitting in and playing a role and having an opportunity to get reps and make mistakes.
"I hope our guys get a chance to do that and make a lot of mistakes and get better (with the Stars) and don't make them here."
Compensation, however, continues to be an issue for the league. The NBA took a step toward addressing the concerns in the latest collective bargaining agreement. Players typically can make more money overseas, but the league created a "two-way contract" that allows a team to hold onto a developing young player with a contract that includes a considerable salary increase. The rule increases the NBA roster from 15 to 17, with those final two spots for players going back and forth between the two leagues.
D-League President Malcolm Turner believes the two-way contract can keep more talent from going overseas and expects the new sponsorship with Gatorade to provide additional training and nutrition benefits for players through the company's Sports Science Institute.
The ultimate goal is that each of the 30 NBA teams will own its own affiliate and use those squads as a true minor league farm system.
"I think it's deeper, I think there's more respect on all levels from organizations," Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the D-League. "Players now respect it more, they see that they have a real opportunity if they're in the right place to develop and get a call-up.
"They went to Europe or China before. But each organization is different. We know for us, it is a major component of player development."
It's fast becoming a major component for every NBA team.