One-on-One with Warriors assistant GM Kirk Lacob
For years, the mere mention of that name would illicit laughter among NBA fans and occasionally raise the question, “Wait, what city is Golden State?” When a college player got drafted there, it was as if they were a prisoner being exiled to Siberia, never to be heard of again.
But that was then, and this is now.
After a memorable postseason run this year, it is clear that the Warriors are no longer the doormats of the NBA. With a passionate and intelligent coach and a talented young core of the players, the Warriors have quickly established themselves as one of the most exciting teams in the league, and even title contenders.
Such a quick turnaround doesn’t just happen by luck; it requires patience, structure, and a front office that can put it all together. I recently got the chance to talk with Warriors assistant GM Kirk Lacob, one of the brightest young minds in the league. We talked about the success of last season, the passion of the fans, and even a bit about superhero movies.
TSH: First off, congratulations on an amazing season and postseason run. I want to start off talking a bit about your coach Mark Jackson. He won just 23 games in his first year during the strike-shortened season, but then won 47 games this year with a relatively young team. What has coach Jackson brought to the Warriors and how’s he been able to change the culture so quickly?
KL: Obviously, in year one we only won 23 games, but I think we learned a lot about Mark and the way he handled the season. I think he showed a lot of inner strength, a lot of confidence, and an ability to really be a good leader for the guys. They all played for him, all the way through the year. And one thing we don’t take for granted is very rarely did we ever get blown out in any games. Even though we lost a lot of guys to injuries, and there were a lot of tough places where a lot of teams would have folded, they kept playing hard for him, and they really let us know that they loved playing for him. I think Mark took that and built upon it this year. He worked really hard to restructure our defense a little bit and come up with a couple of new wrinkles for our offense. And then, obviously, having a full slate of healthy guys helps, but he did a great job and I think he’s continuing to grow and improve as a coach, and that’s really what we wanted when we hired him. We saw a great amount of natural ability and work ethic that would hopefully take him from someone talented to an overall great coach.
TSH: Do you think the relatively young age of your team—I believe the average age right now is 26—made it easier for coach Jackson to get through to them and relate to them?
KL: Absolutely. That was by design. When we decided that we were kind of starting over, we wanted to make sure we got a lot of young guys, and really good guys, who would make it easier to buy into our system and to listen to Mark. I think he can really reach any number of guys. We had some veterans late in that season and we had a couple older veterans this year, too, and they respect Mark just as much as the young guys. But young guys are more impressionable; there’s no doubt about it. And when you’ve got a guy like Mark, who was a former player and has a resume, that’s certainly something that they perk up to. They look at his resume online and when he walks in they go, “Oh, I know what this guy’s done! I’m going to listen.” And that’s a lot easier than—not to put anyone down—but sometimes you get a guy who played and other players have got to actually look up his numbers to know what he did.
TSH: The postseason run you guys just had was definitely one of the most exciting ones to watch, especially because of the emergence of Stephen Curry as a superstar. We all knew he was a prolific shooter in college and even his first few years in the NBA, but what do you think it was about the postseason that really brought out the best in him?
KL: We’ve seen the signs for a couple of years. We thought he had a lot of talent and a real drive. I think Mark did a tremendous job in feeling confident in Steph. A player actually told me the other day that in this league, 90% of the guys are close enough in talent that it really shouldn’t matter, but it’s the confidence that’s the difference between a minimum player versus an All-Star or borderline All-Star. Steph, I think, has the amount of ability to eclipse anyone else, and when you put the confidence on top of that, which filters throughout an organization, through the head coach and his teammates, it allows you to take that next step. The guy has unlimited shooting range, but if he doesn’t have the confidence to shoot those shots, he’s not going to be the amazing wonder that he is. But I think that as the team grew, Steph grew, and they really portrayed all their confidence onto him and he kind of took it and ran with it. And success begets success at that point.
TSH: Along with his partner in crime, Klay Thompson, they definitely make for one of the best backcourts in the NBA. Did you envision this happening so quickly when you drafted Klay?
KL: You know, it’s hard to predict anything on a specific timeline, but when we drafted Klay we loved his size, loved his shooting ability, thought he had a lot of great instincts, and we thought he had a great mentality. I think that gets overlooked too much with Klay because he’s looked at as doing this or that mistake, but really, Klay’s hard on himself and works really hard. He really has a mindset that he wants to be great, and when you have two guys like that kind of feeding off each other, and again, a coach who has really instilled confidence in them, they kind of take that and run with it as well. You know, I think it all came together for them this year, and I’m glad. I don’t think they’ve reached their potential yet, though. I think they’re going to continue to get better. I mean, if you look at it, they’ve really only played together one year. I think with a lot of the great duos, it’s not until their third of fourth year that they really get totally and completely comfortable with each other.
TSH: One of the great things about watching the Warriors on TV is the amazing fans you have. You hear from both the media and players alike that Golden State fans might be some of the best in the NBA. Can you talk a bit about the loyal fan base you have and what it means to the city to have a winning team?
KL: I’m one of those fans. I’ve been one of those fans for the 24 years I’ve been on Earth. I’ve been coming to games since I was really young. My dad’s lived here for about 30 years and been a real diehard Warriors fan the entirety of the time he’s lived up here, and we had season tickets for a long, long time. So I know what it was like to be a fan here. It wasn’t easy at times, yet we all kept coming. For whatever reason, we kept coming when the team wasn’t good. We found some favorite players and found some glimmer of hope. I think now that that hope is a little bit more tangible—even for the few people who did kind of jump off the bandwagon—we’re finally all so excited to be back. And it really is an amazing place for basketball. I mean, really, the Bay Area for all sports. You look at how well the Giants been received and the A’s over time, the 49ers, the Raiders—these are very passionate fan bases. But, you know, there’s only one basketball team, and I think the Bay Area really is a basketball area. The state of California really, in general, I’ve always found to have a lot of knowledgeable basketball fans and really excited basketball fans. So giving them a chance to really cheer about something that deserves to be cheered for is our goal, and hopefully we’re getting closer to that. But there’s nothing more fun than walking into Oracle, winning the game, and just seeing that place rocking. It’s a great, great feeling. I mean, you can see all the way down, my dad is on the court and he’s going just as crazy as I am and most of the fans there. I think that kind of feeds into the energy as well.
KL: I mean, there’s no way we can sit here and tell you that everybody is going to be happy with the move. That just simply wouldn’t be true. But you know, we’ve done a lot of research and we believe that it’s going to be just fine. There are a lot of people who are extremely excited about the move. There’s a lot of people who have been coming for years who are also extremely excited about the move. There’s obviously some people who aren’t as excited. But I don’t think anybody’s going to get off the wagon and say, “I’m not rooting for the Warriors anymore just because they moved 15-20 minutes away.” I think what they’ll cheer for is if the team continues to win, continues to get better. That’s what they’ll be most proud about. If we give them a good experience and make it fair and do everything we can to reward them for their fandom, they’ll be just fine.
TSH: What can we expect from the Warriors in free agency? We know Dwight Howard is the big name out there, but what other components does the team need to add to take them to that next level?
KL: We need to continue to add pieces to what we have going on. We love our core, we really do. We like having a young, up-and-coming team that’s going to grow together. You always want to try and add great players. I think we’ve been very clear, whether it’s my dad or it’s Bob [Meyer], about being aggressive and chasing everything. We don’t ever want to say, “We could’ve done that,” and find out later that we had an opportunity to do something great. So we’re going to look at everything. We’re very analytical about decisions we make. We try and do a risk-reward analysis on everything. We understand that sometimes if you chase something that is a risky play, you could’ve done other things. But we also understand that sometimes there are risks that aren’t even worth taking, and you’ve just got to stick with the status quo. So we look at everything. We want to get better. We’re not content. We had a terrific year last year, but we won 47 games and made it to the second round. We’d love to win 50 games, 60 games and try to compete for a championship, and there’s really no reason to stay with what we have and expect that that’s enough.
TSH: So can you say whether or not you think Dwight Howard might be a good fit for your team?
KL: Really, it’s like any other great player. If there’s a player that’s really terrific, he can probably help your team. I wouldn’t limit that to just Dwight. There are a number of other guys who are out there who would be great additions to our team. Hopefully, we’ve built ourselves up and established a reputation now where players want to play for us, and every year that hopefully gets stronger and we can continue to attract “big name guys” who are really quality players and quality people.
Check back next week for part two of our interview.
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