BOSTON — Bob Myers, barefoot with a champagne bottle full of Michelob Ultra, settled into a courtside chair near the visiting bench at TD Garden. This was about an hour after his Warriors had clinched a fourth title on the parquet floor. Myers, a minute earlier, had spilled a splash of beer near the free-throw line. Cigar smoke filled the air. The arena had turned into a rager.
Parts like these morph into a time of reflection. Conversations turn to pivotal moments in the climb. Myers’ mind was directed toward last year’s draft. The Warriors had two valuable lottery picks, established stars who preferred veteran help and a coach who wouldn’t have minded any additional rookies be selected with the current task in mind. Trade? Reach for an older prospect?
Myers, Joe Lacob and the front office went teenager-teenager with both selections — Jonathan Kuminga at No. 7, Moses Moody at No. 14 — the loudest statement yet that, while financially devoted to the Steph Curry present, they also remained protective of the future. It was a commitment to the two-timeline plan that’d come to define the season. Could they win now and develop now?
“Whoever we drafted, we didn’t think they’d be a reason we won the championship or not,” Myers told The Athletic. “So we thought, let’s just draft the best players who were on the board. A lot of people wanted us to trade them for a star. This is not said in the vein of ‘I told you so,’ but we did think Andrew Wiggins could fill that role. We did. Not a lot of people did. But we wanted to see him in that role of the fourth guy.”
The day after the draft, at the Kuminga and Moody introductory news conference, Lacob — in a declarative interview with The Athletic — fought back against the idea that, by using the picks instead of trading them, the Warriors were sacrificing Curry’s last best chance at a championship. His belief was that the current roster had enough to win it.
“If we can’t, then you should look at Joe Lacob and Bob Myers and Steph Curry and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins and say you weren’t good enough,” Lacob said then. “You’re paying all that money, and you weren’t good enough. They need to be good enough, and they should be. They’ve won before. They’re a little older, but they’re still really good. Clay will be back. That’s the key. I think we’ll be good enough. Yes.”
In the late-night haze on that Celtics floor — having absorbed the full impact of Thompson’s return and Jordan Poole’s emergence and Wiggins’ ascension and the combo brilliance of Curry’s offense and Green’s defense — it’s easier to look backward and script the path. But when Lacob belted out that confidence last July, it was an unpopular opinion.
The biggest believers had the Warriors finishing in the middle of the conference, a fading semi-threat. Their biggest skeptics had them out of the playoff picture.
“They were doubted,” Lacob, dress shirt drenched in champagne, told The Athletic. “But these guys are not 40 years old. We believed in that core. Not many teams have a core four. A lot of people say core three. I say core four. We’re spending the money to do that. Then, we supplement and surround that team. I know some people thought we could’ve done more, got another star. But who were we going to get? Who was available that would make a difference? We didn’t think there was, and we really wanted these young guys to be developed and learn from these guys. They have learnt. We are going to be even better as a result of that in the years going forward.”
Wiggins, in retrospect, was the key to the win-now, develop-now plan succeeding. He was the 27-year-old bridge between the two eras. Curry, Thompson and Green needed a fourth high-impact playoff player to get back to the top. The external thought was that Wiggins’ salary, attached to assets, could be used as a vehicle to get that fourth player. But the internal belief was that Wiggins could become that player.
“Absolutely,” Lacob said. “I’ve said that from Day 1, and Steve Kerr said the same thing. He’s a prototypical wing who just played for a not-so-good team, didn’t get perhaps the best culture. We thought if you put him in our situation, he could be great. He didn’t have to be 1A. You saw what he did in these playoffs. He was really, really great.”
Wiggins averaged 16.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in 22 playoff games. He shouldered the lead defensive assignment against Luka Dončić in the Western Conference finals and Jayson Tatum in the NBA Finals, holding both to their least efficient series. He had big scoring nights at massive moments. He hammered the dunk of the playoffs on Dončić. He had 35 rebounds over the three-game stretch that put away the Celtics. He was a two-way force worth every penny of his max deal.
“I’m so proud of you,” Lacob told Wiggins as he walked past him in the hectic postgame scene, a Canadian flag draped over Wiggins’ shoulder.
The Wiggins contract is the symbol of the Warriors’ payroll excess. They were always going to spend on Curry, Thompson and Green. The D’Angelo Russell sign-and-trade max that turned into Wiggins was the choice of management to keep a salary slot alive, despite punitive tax penalties, under the belief they’d eventually rise back to the top.
“We’re always assessing,” Lacob said. “We wouldn’t spend that kind of money on the roster if we didn’t think we had a chance to win. When you do think you have a chance to go far and compete for a championship, our belief is we are going to do everything we can, use every last dollar. A lot of teams can’t do that or won’t do that, I guess. We have great revenue. Our business side is so good. We generate revenue at a great rate, so we’re able to spend a little more. There’s no doubt about that. But we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t think we had a chance to win.”
Did the Warriors buy their way to another title?
“Oh, come on,” Lacob said. “That’s a joke; I think it’s ridiculous. All of our players are guys that we drafted or minimum signings except for one (Wiggins) trade. One trade and no free agent beyond the minimum. How can you say we bought the title? It’s crazy.”
But there are some obvious examples where Lacob’s willingness to spend does separate him from most other owners and gives the Warriors a competitive edge. Look at their 15th man.
Gary Payton II played 203 playoff minutes, and it would’ve been double that, at least, had he not cracked his elbow in the middle of the run. The Warriors were plus-49 with him on the floor. He became a vital defensive threat and slashing scorer. In most other situations, he wouldn’t have financially fit on such an expensive roster.
“GP was a 15th guy that cost us $12 million,” Myers said. “That was a debate. A lot of owners would never have done that. We went into camp saying we’re not signing a 15th guy. That’s $12 million. We’re not doing that. It’s not a minimum contract. But Gary was so good. We went to Joe and said it’s going to cost us $12 million. And he thought we were keeping 14. It’s the little decisions. We are trying to win a championship. We have a payroll that states that. You can’t have a payroll like that and not be in that title conversation. We wanted to see if we’d be beaten. Maybe we would be beaten. But we wanted to give it all we could financially with our resources.”
The Warriors partied at a restaurant adjacent to TD Garden until early Friday morning. They’ll fly back to the Bay Area around 11 am local. The parade comes Monday in San Francisco. Curry, Thompson and Green will savor this title in the weeks ahead.
But it’s back to the grind quickly for Myers, Lacob and the front office. The draft is Thursday. Free agency comes a week after that. The Warriors have the 28th pick and then several key roster decisions regarding their veterans. Payton and Kevon Looney are unrestricted free agents, having just played themselves into bigger paydays. Poole becomes extension-eligible. Green and Wiggins could come calling for veteran extensions.
“We don’t know what the market will be for our guys,” Myers said. “We’ll make an effort to keep the team together. It’s a good balance of young, old and in the middle. There isn’t a guy we don’t like. So, we’ll try.”
“You’ll have to see what we do,” Lacob added. “We got the draft and free agency coming up. We’ll form our team for next year after a lot of discussion the next couple weeks. We have a good idea of what we’re going to do, obviously. We have a great roster. I don’t anticipate a lot of changes.”
This playoff run, which included 12 games at Chase Center, reopened the financial floodgates that help the Warriors pay for their roster. That should help in the retention of this core. But however everything is reconfigured, Myers and Lacob have probably earned some extra trust with this fourth title and the decisions that led up to it.
“Thankfully in our market, people are rabid about our team,” Myers said. “We won this one, but 10 games into next season, if it’s not going well, they’ll be on us. I’m lucky to work for a team people care so much about, but we have to do what we think is right, even in the face of people second-guessing. We don’t get everything right, but this one worked out.”
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(Photo of Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber: Kyle Terada/USA Today)