As should have been expected, the thinning of the Golden State Warriors is now well in season.
Jerry West, who ought to have a statue outside one of the team’s facilities for all the times he whispered the right thing in the right ear, has decided his future lies back in Los Angeles -- with the Clippers -- as the consigliere to Steve Ballmer rather than Joe Lacob.
His contributions to the Warrior powerhouse have been told often, so repeating them here is pointless. He was the conscience of an organization that needed one, the encyclopedia in a room of newbies. He helped Lacob escape potential traps, eased general manager Bob Myers through the tight moments, was the sounding board with reverb.
Without him, the Warriors are 42 years without a championship rather than basking in the glory of their second parade.
But now his independent voice is gone, as former assistant general manager Travis Schlenk took his to Atlanta to seek his own fortune.
This, then, is the first of the many paper cuts the Warriors will have to endure, avoid or insure against in defense of what they have built. In sports, as in most corporate structures, the sincerest form of flattery is not imitation, it’s talent brigandry, and since Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, the Warriors have only front office figures to poach.
Toward that end, Myers becomes the next target for an acquisitive owner. He can have more power if he wants it, he’ll certainly get more money if he wants it, and he might even get a piece of the team a la Billy Beane if he wants it . . . and why wouldn’t he? The idea that things are too good in Golden State and he loves all his fellow workers too much to leave is laughable, because owners never mind overpaying for something they really want, and in the NBA where everyone is flush, money is the easiest thing to splash around.
See “refuse, an offer he can’t.”
This is not to say Myers will absolutely leave. He may know that this is that once-in-a-career opportunity, and that reveling in it is the smart play. Plus, he is contracted through the 2020 season -- though contracts have a funny way of changing as circumstances change.
But this is to say he will absolutely listen to and think about an overwhelming offer somewhere down the line. Hell, maybe that offer comes from the Clippers if/when they decide to whack Doc Rivers.
And then there is Steve Kerr, who won’t be healthy again until he is. If his war with his spinal fluid can be won, there is no reason why Lacob wouldn’t sit down and offer him an eight-figure extension or, if Myers leaves, an extension with a bigger title. Or maybe another team decides to over-over-overpay for his wisdom and team-building and sound-bitery.
Or maybe if Myers leaves, Kerr goes with him, as they are the most kindred of all the Warrior spirits.
These are a lot of ifs to process, some of them preposterous longshots, but they are no less conceivable than the more orthodox “Warriors are going to win five titles in a row” blather. In a world where money is hurled around at breathtaking speed and volume, the only certain thing is uncertainty, and the only guarantee is the next contract. The Warriors know this; hell, they’ve done it themselves. After all, they stole Kerr out from beneath Phil Jackson’s nose three years ago.
We’ve gone far afield from the entirely predictable departure of Jerry West, true, and it’s still far better competitively and economically to be a Warrior than an Anything Else. Players make teams, basketball executives find players, and owners do what they can to keep everyone happy. So far, these things have meshed well in Oakland. Very well indeed.
But now that the parade is done and the promises of eternal victory are made, West will serve as a reminder that change is perpetual, and there are more bright front office people in the market than there are Kevin Durants or Stephen Currys.
And that grass isn’t the only thing that’s green.