As NBA free agency begins, it's time to rediscover value of Warriors culture

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Time to rediscover value of Warriors culture in free agency originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

When the Warriors came calling last summer, free agent forward Nicolas Batum politely declined and re-signed with the Clippers.

Free agent guard Patty Mills appreciated Golden State’s interest but signed with the Nets, then considered a championship favorite.

Free agent wing Kent Bazemore could’ve returned to but decided to go elsewhere. He signed with the Lakers.

All three players picked teams coming off playoff appearances, perhaps thinking they’d provide a better chance of winning a championship.

Eleven months later, with their chosen teams either missing the playoffs or making a quick exit, they could only watch as the Warriors rolled through the postseason, pulling off an NBA Finals triumph and celebrating with their fourth parade in eight seasons.

Is that enough to restore the cachet missing the past three summers and once again make the Warriors the prettiest team in the league?

Golden State’s culture goes on trial Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m., when the doors to the free-agent market swing open and negotiations commence. Examinations and cross-examinations going through July 6 and likely beyond. There are plenty of witnesses willing to testify on the team’s behalf.

Andrew Wiggins, who has one season remaining on his contract, didn’t bother waiting to make a statement.

"I would love to stay here,” he said after The Finals. “Being here, this is top notch. The way they treat the players, the way they treat your family, we're all one big family. I know a lot of places might say that, but here, their actions show it. So, I would love to stay here."

As recruiting pitches go, this ranks at least an 8 on a 1-to-10 scale. And there was no mention of having what most players want, a chance to win. Nor did Wiggs feel the need to mention by name the other magic word: Culture.

Culture and winning are why the Warriors have a reasonably good chance to re-sign Kevon Looney and Gary Payton II. It’s why another season of Otto Porter Jr. is conceivable. All three will get offers, but the Warriors have restored some lost luster.

“I hope that our players will give us a chance to respond to an offer,” general manager Bob Myers said. “They don’t have to. They don’t owe it to us. But that’s what you get if you win, and you create a good environment. You might get a chance to match something.”

Culture and winning are why David West, Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee accepted not one but two vet-minimum deals in successive seasons. Culture and the chance to win big are why Shaun Livingston re-signed in July 2017 and why Andre Iguodala re-signed that same week – and returned last summer after two seasons away.

With Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Iguodala and Livingston not on the 2019-20 roster and, therefore, depriving any realistic chance to win big, the Warriors signed Alec Burks, Willie Cauley-Stein, Marquese Chriss and Glenn Robinson III and hoped the culture would allow them to flourish.

When Stephen Curry, aka Mr. Culture, went down in the first week, that season was doomed to failure. The Warriors finished an NBA-worst 15-50. No culture, no winning.

So eager to regain what they had lost, the Warriors spent roughly $80 million in salary and luxury taxes to add Kelly Oubre Jr. The move was not unanimously popular within the walls of the franchise, but the shot-callers were eager to regain some semblance of a contender.

The Oubre deal was a disaster, as was Brad Wanamaker. Bazemore had his moments and was good for the culture, but he didn’t foster success. Those Warriors bumbled through two play-in game losses and went slinking into last summer.

Vowing to get it right last summer, the Warriors dangled Curry coming off an MVP-caliber season and the long-awaited return of Klay Thompson. Winning was possible.

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That was enough to lure Iguodala, who was such an important component in the old championship culture. They signed Porter, who was looking for a place to maximize the value he had lost after three seasons of misery due to injuries.

Porter filled the roster spot that might have gone to Batum. The desire for Mills led to the signing of GP2. The Warriors, the scent of champagne still wafting through their nostrils, have no regrets.

“Given that we just had a two-year opportunity to refill our cups and reenergize, I think we'll be really motivated going into next year,” coach Steve Kerr said. “And the guys will have a great chance to have a hell of a season again.”

When the doors open, the Warriors will plant themselves in front of Looney while also reaching out to GP2 and winking in the direction of OPJ. They’ll also have backup options.

They are validated, holding a championship trophy and reestablishing their culture. Their swagger is back. Well, a lot of it. The coming days will determine how much.

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