The Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings and a top-down change in culture

Harrison Barnes throws down  on the break. (Photo: Steven Chea)Monday, Nov. 5th feels like ages ago.

At the time, both the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings seemed headed in the right direction.  With playoff aspirations ahead of them, the Warriors were 2-1, coming off a statement victory over the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center.  Meanwhile, the Kings opened the season 0-3 following a three-game road trip.  But progress seemed apparent despite the winless start as each game was competitive thanks to an improved focus on defense.

When the two teams met at Sleep Train Arena for the Kings’ home opener, it wasn’t shocking that Sacramento earned their first victory of the season over their Northern California rivals.  These two squads played each other tough last year with seemingly every game coming down to the wire.  That last contest was no exception and was just a Klay Thompson jumper away from tilting in the Warriors’ favor.

Now 20 games later and these two Pacific Division foes have gone in completely opposite directions.  At 17-8, the Warriors have vaulted up the standings and are off to their best start in nearly 20 years.  Their pieces, talented but not extraordinary, fit well and have gelled together for head coach Mark Jackson.

The Kings, on the other hand, have spiralled out of control.  They’re currently riding a five-game losing streak that they’ll attempt to snap tonight.  Their roster is full of talent that each garners respect individually.  But together,  they’ve been a drawer full of mismatched socks that Keith Smart has struggled to pair.  They’ve played, as former King Kenny Smith might say, like a group of looters in a riot.

However more than roster fits, there is a difference in culture between these two teams.

“The last couple years of my career were tough, playing on some teams that were struggling and trying to rebuild,” said former-King-turned-Warrior Carl Landry prior to the last meeting between these two squads.  “But this team is not a rebuilding team.  This team is a team that’s destined for success and that’s hungry for success.  I think that’s just the difference.”

Give kudos to Smart for at least trying (but so far failing) to change the losing mentality of the Kings.  But a team-first focus can’t just come from the ground level.  It has to run rampant around an entire organization.

And that begins at the top.

With the exception a magical playoff run in 2007, the Warriors have been cellar-dwellers in the NBA’s basement for the last 20 years. Ping pong balls and lottery odds are no stranger for fans of the team in the bay.  But that started to change with an infusion of new ownership.

Joe Lacob and Peter Guber took over the reigns from owner Chris Cohan roughly two years ago.  They paid $450 million, a record sale for an NBA franchise, and outbid billionaire magnate Larry Ellison to purchase the Warriors.  That action alone is enough to demonstrate a commitment to winning.  Here is an excerpt of an interview Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News just recently conducted with Lacob:

I knew I had be a face of the franchise initially. We had to make a lot of changes and someone had to get up there and take the heat.

I don’t mind doing that. So I try not to think about it at all, to be honest with you. I’m just trying to do a good job, trying to move us forward. And then we can all contemplate the results later on and decide whether we’re happy or not or hoist a drink for ourselves or not…

Success starts at the top.  And when you have owners like Lacob willing to be the catalyst, it’s likely to happen sooner rather than later.

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