The Decision didn’t mean what you thought it meant. It was not the beginning of a new era in the NBA. There is no fundamental shift in the art of team construction. We won’t see scores of free agents accepting below market contracts to play with their friends. The Summer of LeBron occurred for the same reason the Jazz made the playoffs for 20 consecutive seasons, the same reason the Warriors missed the playoffs for 12 straight season and for the same reason we all feel unease when our team is involved in a trade with the San Antonio Spurs: the front office matters.
Heat owner Mikey Arison manages things perfectly. He hires smart people, gives them his checkbook and then stays the hell out of the way. If Dwayne Wade played for the Clippers or the Kings, the Raptors or even the Knicks, James and Bosh would not have joined him. Those front offices range from the worst in the league (Clippers) to merely pedestrian (Raptors), but they’re still miles away from the Spurs, Thunder, Jazz and Mavericks of the NBA world.
Dan Gilbert tried to sell LeBron on the idea of familiarity by commissioning a cartoon in the style of LeBron’s favorite TV show, Family Guy. Gilbert had to do this because he knew that trying to sell LeBron on the competence of his stewardship was tantamount to bringing a Super Soaker to a gunfight. Make all the jokes you want about LeBron disappearing in the playoffs, but who was his best teammate in Cleveland? Zydrunas Ilgauskas? “All-star” Mo Williams? Antwan Jamison? Their best draft picks during the LeBron era were ‘Boobie’ Gibson and JJ Hickson. Rotation players sure, but not starters on a championship-caliber team. The only decision the Cavaliers front office ever nailed was choosing LeBron in the draft.
And yet, Cleveland’s front office isn’t the worst in the league. It isn’t even close to the worst. For seventeen years (1995-2011) only the special brand of crazy that is Donald Sterling prevented by beloved Warriors from winning the both the “Worst Owner” and “Worst Front Office” awards. The Warriors excelled at drafting good players, but failed in every other respect. They traded away good players for ten cents on the dollar, hired bad coaches, gave all-star level contracts to mediocre players, alienated scores of agents and team executives and made disastrous basketball moves to save a couple of dollars, all in the midst of constant infighting, squabbling and political backstabbing. It’s a great time out!
Warriors fans are an adept bunch. They picked up on new owner Chris Cohan’s failings early. From the revolving door of head coaches to the poisonous atmosphere surrounding the team (the star player punched, choked and threatened to kill his own head coach!), Cohan’s poor administration was apparent immediately. The hatred came to a stunning, public zenith when the Warriors hosted the 2000 All-Star Game. Cohan took to the center of the court with his young son and David Stern to present an award to Michael Jordan, and the fans, Warriors fans, his fans, booed him. They booed him long and they booed him hard. They booed him so badly that, with his son by his side, he fled from the arena. As much as I believe that no man deserves the ridicule of 19,000 people in front of his son, I know that if I were there I would have joined in with no hesitation. Chris Cohan took something that I love, something that I have loved for three-quarters of my life, and tried his damnedest to run it into the ground.
So why was my joy reserved when it was announced that Joe Lacob had bought the team? To be sure, I was excited. I knew nothing about Lacob, but nothing was certainly better than Chris Cohan. A drunken monkey making decisions by throwing darts was better than Chris Cohan. After Lacob took over, I waited. He made move after move that I approved of (firing Nelson, hiring Smart, firing Smart, hiring Jackson/Malone, hiring Bob Myers and Jerry West), and yet I waited. The stench of mismanagement was dissipating, but it wasn’t time to take the gas mark off just yet.
One week ago, for my first time as a Warriors fan, the air smelled fresh. The hope in my chest, the hope that is so often restrained by realism, bloomed fully. Joe Lacob made the most significant move he will ever make as owner of the Golden State Warriors: he fired team president Robert Rowell.
He fired Robert Rowell! If you are a sado-masochist of the highest order, please go read Tim Kawakami’s column on Robert Rowell’s 25 fireable offenses. I, however, lived them, and have no desire to re-live them. As Chris Cohan sunk into the shadows after his public humiliation, Robert Rowell administered the Warriors how I imagine Napoleon might have, if only Napoleon had zero talent, charm or self-respect. He was the queen to Cohan’s impotent king, zooming around the board and leaving his pieces vulnerable (Mike Montgomery, Chris Mullin, Baron Davis, Jason Richardson, Anthony Randolph) while never capturing any pieces (Kevin Garnett, any free agent of consequence, a respectable head coach) of his own.
If I wanted to quibble I would ask why it took Lacob eight months to figure out what the rest of us have known for years, but I am in no mood for that. Chris Cohan is gone. Robert Rowell is gone. Our new owner will talk to the media. Oakland is no longer on the “no fucking way” list for free agents. Other front offices will return Larry Riley’s calls. The Warriors will be considered the winners of a few major trades. Players will be signed to reasonable contracts. Stephen Curry will lead this team into the playoffs.
Perhaps I am overreaching. Maybe Andris Biedrins really will be traded for Hasheem Thabeet and Jordan Hill. Maybe the parade of lottery picks will continue. Maybe Lacob, West, Riley and Myers don’t really have a clue. All I know is that, for the first time since 2007, I believe.