Early on Wednesday, with most of the NBA expecting him to either stay silent or publicly eat crow in the wake of a game that may have passed him by, and a coach that spurned him, Phil Jackson hopped on Twitter to offer some dad-thumbed text congratulations to the Golden State Warriors:
Congrats to Warriors/SKerr and staff. great D,court awareness,team play and it's a wrap.
— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) June 17, 2015
No mention of three-point shooting, everyone pointed out. Stubborn until the end. Defiant in his attempts to cling to the 20th century.
This is not to defend Phil Jackson, who has been at best tone-deaf and at worst absolutely wrong on all manner of subjects since money, Los Angeles, extended fame and oh yeah money mixed with the typical baby-boomer entitlement to turn him into the rare intelligent and incorrigible-type that doesn’t charm.
His tweet, though it looked like something your dad spent five minutes putting together, was also spot on.
The Warriors had the NBA’s best defense, it was in place since the beginning of 2014-15 and it only got stronger once the playoffs hit. The Warriors saw the court expertly, they moved from last to a top-10 ranking in passes this year, and these dishes weren’t the sort of fruitless ones that dot some of the more old-school “mistaking activity for achievement” offenses we saw in the campaign that just ended.
They also utilized “team play,” whether you want to chalk that up to the endless movement the team encourages on offense, the constant communication on defense, or the off-court selflessness that led to several key players taking rotation “demotions” at various points in the year.
They also added three-point shooting. Second in makes, fourth in attempts, first in three-point percentage, first in the NBA, first in our hearts. Let’s be honest, we all have favorite teams, but most of our favorite teams did not get to spray champagne on Tuesday night. Golden State, from stem to stern in its 103-game season, was just about everyone’s second-favorite team.
That’s a rare one. We may have loved the Spurs in 2014, or left home happy at the idea of LeBron James shutting the basic cable TV dolts up in 2012 (not the case, as it turns out), but most of our second-favorite teams never ended up as champions. Steve Nash’s final NBA contract will expire in two weeks, and he will retire without a ring. Sorry for depressing you.
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The happiest take in this, though, is not the idea that Golden State will not only have a fantastic chance to keep this up over the next few years with this enviable core. No, the best part about this is the notion that the league will continue to work toward developing teams like the 2014-15 Golden State Warriors.
Full of unselfish players that wield five-tool gifts (you see Draymond Green leading the break? You see Stephen Curry getting those offensive rebounds? Andre Iguodala, Finals MVP?), a coach that eschews insecurity on his way toward getting the job done in the wake of others putting their hands down. Spacing, defense, versatility, cool uniforms and a rabid crowd that those of us that wasted their youth watching League Pass in 2000-01 saw cheering heartily for Chris Porter and Paul McPherson. A cute kid, too!
So, this is the one, right?
The Warriors have it, and they won’t want to hear this after the team’s eight-month slog, made. The Clippers just traded for Lance Stephenson, in a last-ditch attempt at not ruining Chris Paul’s career, in a move that will most assuredly ruin Chris Paul’s life. Portland will try to re-sign LaMarcus Aldridge this summer, and they’ll have his best shot, but if he returns at the full max, what’s that team’s ceiling? If LMA goes to the Mavericks, what’s that team’s ranch house?
The Spurs and Rockets and Grizzlies are all run by smart people who have given themselves credible flexibility should things go wrong, but time is running out. The Pelicans just hired a hoped-for Finals coaching candidate, but if anyone here trusts the team’s front office, duly log off and head over to the books and periodicals you’ve ignored since March.
The Warriors just may have topped the West at its best, which is saying something. A 67-15 record and 16-5 playoff run (12-3 in the West alone) may look better and better as the years move along, and though we’ve gone down this path before (sorry, Oklahoma City), this team could be set to dominate.
The NBA, as a result, will attempt to replicate.
Position-less players. Shooters! Players that seem ready to adhere to a role that a well-prepared coach that they remember from TV (whether those appearances meant season-saving work on the court, or fantastic sideline work in a booth), and a backcourt that can shoot 44 percent from behind the arc and chew gum at the same time.
That’s a correct – and in the case of the league in its current permutation – approach.
What these team-builders will eventually forget, though, is that champions have always been built upon playing to your strengths. That auteur theory results in failure as much as it does sustained success. And that commitment to an idea will only lead you so as long as you are ready to think on your feet and question yourself on the fly.
Time and time again, asked by local radio hosts about why their particular team is cursed, I’m forced to give the same response. Your city isn’t cursed. Your team doesn’t have to burn a jersey. Your past or even current owners meddled too much. Your general managers stunk. It really is that simple, and even the bright and shining example of these Golden State Warriors will produce some horrible attempts at copycat franchise ascension as the league moves on to its newest game-winning trend some time down the line.
NBA owners and general managers, every single time out, think that they’re hiring the smartest and most capable person in the room when choosing a coach. They always think that the next draft lottery pick is going to be The Guy That Changes Everything. The next addition that they move assets around for will be The One to Push Things Over The Top. These supposed answers have been strongly committed to since teams were pulling dispersal players’ names out of a hat because Bob Cousy wouldn’t play for six grand with the Tri-City Blackhawks.
The point here, in a league lusting over the Golden State Warriors in the same way it once lusted over the 1986 Houston Rockets, is to never be satisfied. To never admit that you know how it’s all run, now. To anticipate change and admit failure when it hits, while listening to everyone in the room. Except for the owner.
The NBA will be in a wonderful place if a series of Golden State copycats pop up. In a way, those copycats already abound, as the league learns from the successes of the old Phoenix Suns (despite those lack of rings) and recent San Antonio Spurs (just a decade removed from making Nazr Mohammad their crucial championship addition). Injuries aside, this was a fun season.
Finesse, even to a player after an elbow to the kidney on a drive or to a GM after a shot to the bow when the lottery balls don’t go your way, has always been a necessity in this league. That’s going to sustain as the NBA continues to evolve, and as the Warriors-bred era takes hold.
Until we have to change it all, yet again, and move on to the next approach. Let’s just hope, prior to that moment, that this era ticks on for a long, long time.
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