by Peter A. Arthur-Smith, Leadership Solutions, Inc.®
“Bolstered by Durant, Captivating Warriors win second title in Three Years,” sub-title of article by Scott Cacciola, NY Times sports section, June 2017.
June 2017 brought about the Golden State Warriors’ vision to win another NBA Championship. It was finally grasped with a 4-1 series win over arch rivals the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Warriors first two wins on home court in Oakland were quite decisive. Their third game in Cleveland was a close call in the Warriors favor, whereas the fourth was a decisive victory for Cleveland when it hit back hard. The two teams’ fifth and final game back in Oakland see-sawed at times, although the Warriors hung on for a nine point victory.
What a contrast from a year ago, when the championship series went for the whole seven games and Cleveland ended up winning the last two. Warriors’ fans were stunned. Their team had just completed a record breaking season of 73 wins and was on a run during their 2016 post-season
games. Many reporters gave them high marks for team leadership, strategy and their quality team members. Stephen Curry was their star player with a strong supporting cast of players. Their coach, Steve Kerr, was also given strong endorsements by commentators. It would be unforgiveable for them to lose out on the 2016/17 season, again.
LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love came together, as Cleveland’s most talented players, during those final 2016 games to cause the tremendous upset. Warriors’ fans will point out how they lost Draymond Green in the crucial fifth game, due to a suspension, and Curry wasn’t playing at his best because he was recovering from an ankle injury. So with such an upset, the question was: ‘What were the Warriors going to do differently going forward into the 2016/17 season, if they were going to return as champions once more?’ Clearly they had some soul-searching to do by way of our pathfinding – Simple Success Strategy – model depicted above – Vision-Strategy, People-team, and Leadership. The Warriors’ thinking in each area dribbled out into view over time.
Their Vision-Strategy: to be the best basketball team for years to come, was still very much in place: as confirmed in the same New York Times article quoted above. Its author also wrote: ‘The Golden State Warriors will forever be known as one of the most talented teams in the history of the NBA…’ However, in June 2016, it was quickly announced, after their record breaking 73 wins during the regular season, that their strategy wouldn’t be to top that number in their 2016/17 run. As a team, it realized that by aiming for that 73 number again, it would just exhaust players before the playoffs.
When it came to their People-Team: they had a stroke of luck. Although the Warriors were comfortable with Curry’s talent and that of many of its other players, it realized that it wasn’t practical for him to take Cleveland’s full defensive as a lone star player. He had to miss games in the 2016 playoffs due to an ankle injury, but those playoffs also showed his weariness after their tremendous regular season record run.
To the Warriors extreme good fortune, Kevin Durant, a star player of the Oklahoma Thunder, was becoming a free agent at the end of the 2016 season. Durant was approached by Golden State which had a great team culture and the potential to win another title. He had never been part of a champion team or the holder of a highly-prized championship ring, even though he was in the finals against Miami a few years previously.
Although there were concerns about having two gifted stars on one team – he and Curry – its selfless team approach appealed to him. So he jumped ship and neither he nor the Warriors have regretted it one bit. Durant has now earned his first championship ring with his winners cap. He’ll also get a trip to meet the US President, as all winning teams do. All the things he had been denied during his days at Oklahoma, despite his considerable talent.
Durant put up some outstanding, consistent point numbers during the playoffs, especially during the final series. His cool demeanor and clever talent has been a boon for Curry, who has been able play under less overall pressure; even though the Cavaliers did double team him during game four in Cleveland.
When it comes to leadership: it would appear that the ownership board and Warriors coach, Steve Kerr, have all remained in place to provide leadership stability. Game followers were made aware that Kerr has had a tough time since late 2015 when he underwent back surgery. That surgery apparently didn’t go well, to the point where he had to be absent from court sidelines in recent weeks. To cover an associate head coach, Mike Brown, was brought in to bolster coaching efforts and lead courtside efforts when Kerr was unable to be there.
Ironically, Brown was the former coach at Cleveland Cavaliers for two stints in recent years. He was the primary courtside coach for the Warriors during Game 1 of the final series, while Kerr sat it out in the players’ locker-room. There must have been undoubted irony in Brown’s mind with coaching against his former team. Who knows whether LeBron James helped spike Brown’s departure at Cleveland, since it’s more than likely James plays a prominent part in off-court player calls; which, Winston Lue, the relative rookie Cavalier coach, probably goes along with? That wouldn’t have happened with Brown, who seemed to perform well in his cameo finals appearance for the Warriors. His team won that game by a large margin.
Having won its second championship inside three years, Golden State now has to start preparing for the 2017/18 season and the possibility of another championship run. In fact, it will likely only have a matter of days to enjoy its current 2017 victory before starting to seriously think about next season. It will have to go through re-examining and integrating its whole cycle again: Vision-Strategy, People-Team, and Leadership.
Successful teams like the Warriors have to operate in the same way as successful businesses and institutions. If they seek ongoing success, they must regularly review their pathway. Too often they don’t because they become too immersed in the here and now. They take care of today’s games and let tomorrow’s games take care of themselves. One of the chief reasons that teams like Golden State can win two championships inside three years, with the promise of more to come, is because they devote sufficient time to thinking about “tomorrow,” too.
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