There’s a reason Mike Dunleavy Jr. hasn’t acted like a nervous rookie general manager the last few months, even though he is technically new to the role and responsibility.
Let’s run through the recent activity: He traded Jordan Poole for Chris Paul in his first week on the job, which wasn’t exactly a meek and risk-averse opening move; a few days later, Dunleavy ran the Golden State Warriors’ draft like he had the whole thing scoped out for weeks, and I think he did; then Dunleavy re-signed Draymond Green, added Dario Šarić and Cory Joseph and generally put together a very cohesive and, if I may say, Bob Myers-like offseason.
Dunleavy sure isn’t running the Warriors’ basketball shop like he went into this scared and unprepared. He’s running it like he’d been ready to do this for weeks, if not months, and maybe sort of already had been doing it for weeks and months.
When did you know you were ready for this job, Mike?
“Probably at some point in the playoffs where Bob turned to me and said, ‘Dunleavy, you better get ready,’” Dunleavy said with a smile on my podcast earlier this week. “It’s something I’ve given thought to, but certainly when I moved out here (in 2019 to be Myers’ assistant GM) … I never thought I was going to be the next general manager of the Warriors.
“I love being around the game. Love putting the work in, doing the front-office thing. Love collaborating with our group and wanted to get better every day and improve my skill set in this profession and see where it took me. But it wasn’t until recently that I thought maybe I’ll be GM of the team at some point. Just kind of keeping my head down in the sand and working. But Bob decided to depart and here we are.”
Left unsaid is that Dunleavy knew from about the middle of last season that Myers was likely to leave in June, and Dunleavy knew that owner Joe Lacob was likely to want Dunleavy to move into the GM spot. That didn’t mean any of that was guaranteed, of course. Myers could’ve stayed for another year or two. Lacob could’ve looked elsewhere to fill the job. Dunleavy could’ve decided this wasn’t the right time or job for him.
But it all was likely. And in this organization, this kind of thing is usually done in the likeliest, most familiar and most seamless way. When you’ve got Stephen Curry as the center of all things, four recent banners in the rafters and Steve Kerr as the coach, you don’t try to change everything up. That would be reckless. That would not be the Warriors’ style.
And what Dunleavy showed this offseason is that he perfectly fits that style. Which is not surprising since he’s been close to Myers for more than a decade (Myers was his NBA agent) and has worked with Lacob, Kerr, Curry and everybody else for several years. He’s part of this. He’s been part of this.
“I think if I would’ve taken this opportunity right out of my playing career, hadn’t had the experience I’ve had the last few years, it may be a little bit of figuring things out,” Dunleavy said. “And I still have that as we go. But being around our group, I’m comfortable understanding the nuances of this job. I think I have a pretty good idea of it. I feel good about the opportunity. It’s something that as my playing career wound down, I didn’t really necessarily want to do coaching, I didn’t really necessarily want to get into the media side … but just wanted to stay in the game. Was passionate about the game. This has ended up being something I really love and I’m happy about it.”
The basketball operations staff had been planning with Myers before he quit, then met with Dunleavy running the meetings before he was named GM and it all flowed into the moves Dunleavy knew he was going to make.
“It was, OK, this is what’s teed up, this is what’s ready to go, and we’re going to make the best decisions moving forward for our franchise,” Dunleavy said. “I always say for me the decision to (trade for) Chris was easy. I hated having to give up Jordan, who has been such a big part of what we’ve done the last few years. I was here when we drafted him. But in terms of basketball and moving forward, financial flexibility, all that stuff you factor in, it was a relatively easy decision for us. And from there, we had the draft, go on to free agency. For me, there was a good amount of familiarity, which made it easier transitioning from Bob to myself. I think for everybody else it was like a whirlwind, but we were just kind of doing our job.”
So what were Dunleavy’s goals this offseason? To put together a more tied-together roster after the tensions of last season, starting with Draymond punching Poole in training camp. To add some more players who can complement Curry, Draymond and Klay Thompson. And to chop down some of the long-term payroll heading into next season. In some subtle ways and maybe some very non-subtle ways, the Warriors should be different in 2023-24 than they were at the end of last season.
“I think the biggest difference hopefully will be some connectivity — a little more connectivity,” Dunleavy said. “Steve’s talked about it. Last year’s team just didn’t get off to the right start in many ways, record-wise and all the other stuff that went on. And it just like never got off the ground. I think this is a team that’s maybe put together. We’ll have to jell some for sure. … But I think there’s just a renewed sense of optimism and energy. Some of that’s just with a page turned to the next season and some of that I think is with some roster adjustments.”
Was there a thought that Poole and Draymond couldn’t be both on the team anymore?
“I can’t say that’s not an argument,” Dunleavy said. “Can make a good point about that. I think the biggest thing really is just financially we’re in a position where we had to make some decisions. I think we were able to make a decision where we could free some of that while also still being highly competitive and having a chance to win a championship. It just ended up having to be a decision we had to make and so be it.
“At the same time, we needed to get Draymond back, what he brings to this team and what he has meant for the last 10 years. That’s going to keep going. That matters. So we prioritized that. And from there, we knew … another contract probably needed to be moved. And Jordan ended up being that one. But we feel like getting a player back of Chris Paul’s caliber can negate that in some ways or pick up that slack, It’s kind of the business that we do. And we’re in a good spot.”
There’s little doubt that Dunleavy and Kerr are connecting — they started having longer conversations about basketball and the team over the last year or so, and they clearly are on the same page about a lot of things. It makes sense: Dunleavy’s father, Mike Sr., coached four NBA teams over 17 seasons. And Dunleavy, maybe even more than Myers had done, went out of his way to acquire players who fit Kerr’s system and, most importantly, likely will earn Kerr’s trust.
It’s good sometimes to bring a wide array of talents to a roster and let the coach and players adjust to each other, and Jonathan Kuminga still has a chance to flourish under Kerr. But for the Warriors’ short-term window, while Curry is still at the top of his game, it’s almost certainly more practical to add players, like Paul and Šarić, who probably can step right into comfortable roles in this system.
What does veteran Dario Šarić bring to the Warriors?
“I think we see the game in a lot of similar ways,” Dunleavy said of his relationship with Kerr. “We both played 15 years in the NBA. He made a few more jump shots in the finals than I did. But overall, I think we share a vision of how a team should function and play together. Some of this, honestly, coming in, if this was my first month or two on the job, I probably wouldn’t have as good an understanding of who he wants as a player. But having been here four, five years, I think I do have a feel for that. Our group has a feel for that. We’ve learned some things along the way. And to make some adjustments in this offseason was our priority.
“I think our biggest thing when the season ended was listening to Steve and the coaching staff. What can we do better? What do we need to improve on? How can we help you guys? Listened pretty thoroughly on that. I think we made some adjustments that haven’t sacrificed our future too much, haven’t given up too many assets for. And have put us in the position now where we feel like can compete for a championship this year. And this is kind of a year-to-year league. So let’s see what we can do this year, but we’ve got a decent amount of flexibility moving forward. I like where we’re at.”
Some other highlights from our conversation …
• As Dunleavy said, he was part of the group that decided to draft Poole in 2019 and he remained a supporter through Poole’s ups and downs. And in his first move as GM, Dunleavy traded Poole to the Wizards.
“As your first day on the job, you don’t love calling a guy and telling him he’d been traded,” Dunleavy said. “I told him, ‘I think this is a really great opportunity for you.’ With our backcourt set with Steph and Klay, I think Jordan, at his age (24), what he can do with the basketball on the offensive end, I think he needs a little bit of room just to run free and play. And I don’t know that we could’ve completely provided that for him over the next few years.
“So talking with Jordan about it, I think there was some sense of surprise on his end. But at the same time, I think once things settled in, I think he realizes it’s a great opportunity for him. That makes me feel better, trading him to a place where I think he has that, as opposed to someplace maybe where a guy wouldn’t want to go … Jordan’s a smart kid, I think he gets it. I think bright things are ahead for him.”
• Lacob is famously aggressive with ideas and also famously demanding of his GM’s time and energy. But I’ve got no doubt that Dunleavy is built to deal with all the thoughts communicated by Lacob via phone and text, and I’m sure Dunleavy already has been firing off his share of those right back to Lacob.
“I understand the relationship in this league you need to have between owner and general manager,” Dunleavy said. “I also think I have a pretty good understanding of Joe. Over the last few years have gotten to know him. He’s certainly around a lot, he’s involved in our decisions. It’s a great thing to have. From that standpoint, I feel pretty good about us working together, not to mention Kirk and Kent, two of his sons, who I’ve worked with on a daily basis in the front office.
“I think it’s a really good match. I’m excited about it. From an ownership standpoint, I can’t imagine a better guy to work for than somebody who wants to win and is willing to spend money.”
• What were the discussions like with Paul before, during and after the trade? Dunleavy has deferred the answer about Paul starting or coming off the bench to Kerr, but the GM said he’s sure this is the right spot for Paul at this point in his career. Dunleavy: “I think the discussions with Chris go, ‘Hey, listen, I think I know what you’re about in terms of competing, winning, loving the game. This is a group that does all those things. You’re going to love playing for Steve. You’re going to love coming in every day with these guys, going out each night playing at Chase, playing in front of our fans.’
“I think this for him accomplishes pretty much everything as his career winds down. Opportunity to impact a championship team, play with a bunch of guys that are competitive, that know how to play. And he brings the skill set of things maybe we lack. He can add to the mix in a way that’s needed for us. Good conversations with Chris as we traded for him, those conversations continue to happen and will continue to happen. I know there’s been a lot said about the fit. From our end, we really think it’s a great fit in terms of his cerebral-ness, his competitiveness. You put those two things together, play-style for a guy that’s as skilled as he is, he’ll make it work.”
• What were Dunleavy’s summer-league evaluations of first-round pick Brandin Podziemski, who struggled to make shots, and second-rounder Trayce Jackson-Davis, who missed all but the final two games with a hamstring issue?
“Listen, I’ve been there, first summer league, struggling to put the ball in the basket,” Dunleavy said. “Steph’s been there. You look at some of the guys this year … it’s part of it, it’s part of the adjustment, the speed of the game. Overall, I was pleased with (Podziemski). Defensively, I thought he was pretty good holding up in switches, really good team defender. And then offensively, you could just see the feel for the game he has, the passing, just his IQ. He turned the ball over some, but again, that’s another thing where you’ve just gotta adjust to the speed, length and athleticism that maybe you don’t see as much in the (West Coast Conference). He’s just one of those kids I think he’s going to figure it out.
“Trayce played two games, had a little bit of a hamstring deal going into it. … He’s just a guy that goes out there and produces; he did that for four years at Indiana. We see him as a guy that fits the way we play, his passing, his ability to finish, defend, rebound. Pretty good IQ. … So we’re excited about those two guys. Who knows how much they’ll help us this year, but hopefully there’s an opportunity for them to find out at some point.”
• Dunleavy confirmed that the Warriors’ financial goal is to get below the second apron ($17.5 million above the luxury-tax line) by next offseason, which would get them back their taxpayer midlevel exception among other benefits.
“Yeah, I think so,” Dunleavy said. “It’s just so punitive in terms of what it can do with tying up picks and penalize you with (taking away) exceptions and things like that. It certainly makes a ton of sense for us to do it. Now if there’s an opportunity that puts us as maybe the top team in terms of contending for a championship but we have to go over the second apron to do it, I think it’s a discussion to be had. But right now, our planning will be toward getting under the second apron and staying there. As our roster is constructed right now, it’s doable.”
• Finally, this was Dunleavy’s answer when I asked if the team is more committed than ever to riding out the Curry/Klay/Draymond era for as long as it can go: “We go as they go, and they’re still going at a pretty high level. Steph had an incredible year, think he’s comfortably in the conversation as one of the top five players in the league, still, at 35 years old. I thought Klay had some moments last year where he played maybe as well as he’s ever played, you talk about January and February. Once he got going, he was really good. Draymond is still an elite defender. In my mind, he’s probably the best player-defender in the league, especially in the playoffs. On a nightly basis, he’s a top-five guy defensively and does so much for us offensively.
“Those guys are the core of our team. They can still really do it and until that changes, we’ve gotta get behind them, build behind them and keep going for it.”
The TK Show: Go to Tim Kawakami’s podcast page on Apple, Spotify and The Athletic app.
Inside a surprise reunion for Steve Kerr that served as a reminder of sorrow and growth
(Photo: Jed Jacobsohn / NBAE via Getty Images)