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Chronically undervalued Zaza Pachulia key cog and sudden ‘star’ for Warriors

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2004: Magic general John Weisbrod called Zaza Pachulia into his office and told Pachulia his value to the team.

It wasn’t necessarily much, but Pachulia had just finished his rookie season and was on a minimum contract. Charlotte was entering the NBA that summer, and Pachulia said Weisbrod assured him Orlando would protect him in the expansion draft.

The Magic didn’t. Charlotte picked him.

2016: Warriors coach Steve Kerr called Zaza Pachulia on the phone and told Pachulia his value to the team.

Golden State couldn’t offer much, just the room exception, but the team wanted Pachulia badly. Kerr assured him he’d start at center to complete a star-studded lineup that just added Kevin Durant to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

“I just told him, I knew that he could make more money elsewhere and that we were lucky that he was even considering coming here,” Ker said, “but that we had a real need for him.”

After being misled earlier in his career, Pachulia trusted.

“That was a deal-maker for me,” Pachulia said. “I kind of feel like I always wanted to go somewhere where I’m wanted.”

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Pachulia, who has spent about half his career as a starting center and most of the rest as a prominent backup, has never earned more than $5.3 million in a season. His salary this year: $2,898,000.

He won’t say how much he left on the table to join Golden State – he was reportedly discussing a two-year, $20 million deal with the Wizards – but calls it a “pretty significant amount” between repeatedly saying it doesn’t matter.

“The decision I made, I told myself, and I told my wife and close people who I’m with and my family members, that we’re not going to look back and say I wish,” Pachulia said. “Because it’s a risk. There’s nothing guaranteed. So, we’re never going to look back and say I wish we’d taken the other offer. I thought about it. I had time to think about it wisely, make the right decision.”

Pachulia will be a free agent next summer, and the Warriors will be squeezed to re-sign Curry, Durant and maybe Iguodala. Fitting in Pachulia will be a challenge, and the offseason could become another referendum on his value – if he chooses to test the market.

There are at least indications he’ll have suitors. Zach Lowe of ESPN:

But if those executives valued Pachulia so greatly, why did they never pay him more or trade for him? All those years as an undervalued commodity opened the door for the Warriors to poach him.

Pachulia is glad they did.

It helps that he spends most of his minutes with the Curry-Thompson-Durant-Green foursome on the floor, but Pachulia is doing his part. He plays sound positional defense, crashes the glass, sets effective screens and passes well out of the high post. He’s a little sloppy with the ball and his subpar athleticism limits him, but the Warriors will gladly take the entire package. Their starting lineup has been about as good as their vaunted death lineup (with Andre Iguodala in for Pachulia).

Pachulia does all the little things a super team needs, playing the role that never receives enough credit.

Except, paradoxically, Pachulia is getting outsized credit in All-Star fan voting.

With help from his native Georgia (the country), he ranks second to Durant among Western Conference frontcourt players. In previous years, Pachulia would be on track to start the All-Star game. But, likely with an eye on Pachulia’s stunningly strong finish in last year’s voting, the NBA changed its process this season. Now, players and media also have a say, making Pachulia a huge longshot to start.

“I respect it,” Pachulia said of the format change.

The league never appeared bothered by fans voting in Kobe Bryant years after he declined far below star production. Dwyane Wade getting similar, though far less pronounced, treatment now doesn’t cause an uproar.

Yet, a little recognition for Pachulia turns the system on its head – and he doesn’t complain.

Pachulia doesn’t gripe about any of the times he’s received the short end of the stick.

Immediately after picking him in the expansion draft, Charlotte flipped Pachulia to the Bucks, and he embraced it.

“Milwaukee is a perfect place,” Pachulia said. “Nothing much to do there. It’s cold, so you’re thinking about basketball. You can spend as much time as you want in the gym.”

After one year with the Bucks, he signed in Atlanta and played a supporting role in the Hawks’ rise. He eventually signed back with Milwaukee and was quietly instrumental in the Bucks’ breakout 41-41 season two years ago. They outscored opponents by 6.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and got outscored by 3.1 per 100 when he sat – hardly a coincidence. Pachulia’s basketball intelligence boosted that team.

Yet, Milwaukee essentially gave away Pachulia, trading him to the Mavericks for a top-55-protected second-round pick – or, as new teammate Dirk Nowitzki joked, for “a case of Gatorade.”

Does Pachulia hold a grudge about the trade or feel insulted by the return? Nope. He still raves about Bucks coach Jason Kidd – “I learned so much from that guy. Genius” – and appreciates Kidd sending him to Dallas, where Rick Carlisle (who previously coached Kidd) taught Pachulia even more.

Pachulia stresses how badly he wants to keep improving, even at age 32. He finds the Warriors’ players and coaches to be a wealth of knowledge, and his fifth-Beatle status allows him to fly under the radar and enjoy Golden State’s strong basketball culture.

It’s a long way from Orlando and Weisbrod, who – seemingly to Pachulia’s delight – now works for the Vancouver Canucks (yes, the hockey team). Pachulia takes a rare moment to gloat about his staying power in a league that has only lately – and still reluctantly in important corners – revered him.

“The guy was obviously doing his own things,” Pachulia said. “Not necessarily was the smartest thing to do, I think about it looking back.”

Mike Brown still waiting on Tyronn Lue to pay up overdue bet

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Mike Brown is ready for Tyronn Lue to pay up on a nearly two-decade-old bet. Yep, Lue owes him $100 and Brown plans to accept it at long last – perhaps even during the NBA Finals when they see each other.

All this time Brown never wanted the money he earned by beating Lue in a shooting contest when the Cavaliers coach was an NBA newcomer, yet Golden State’s acting coach – who spent two stints leading Cleveland – joked how Lue can surely afford it these days.

“I’m glad he finally admitted that he owes me money because for many years he wouldn’t admit that he owed me money. He does owe me $100 and since he got his new deal hopefully he can afford to pay me now,” Brown said Saturday post-practice. “I asked him many time for it but he’s denied it. He’s denied that the game ever took place.”

Lue insists he has tried to pay up – time and time again, to no avail.

“Mike, I owe him $100 from when I was a rookie. That’s all I ever know about Mike,” Lue said Saturday. “I tried to pay him and he wouldn’t take the money so he says I always owe him. He’s always been a great guy.”

The 40-year-old Lue was rewarded with a contract extension after the Cavs’ championship run last June for the city’s first major sports title in 52 years. Cleveland overcame a 3-1 Finals deficit to the Warriors, and now the teams are preparing to face off for a third straight year.

“I think what it has to do with, it has to do with the fact he’s got a nice, long, fat contract with the Cavs and he realizes that he can finally afford to pay me the money that he owes me for the shooting game back in 2000 or whenever it was,” Brown said with a grin.

Brown acknowledged he cannot recall any other details such as how many shots each man made, saying: “I don’t even remember, that was back when I was in shape and a good shooter. He’d kill me now”

“Yeah, he was with the Spurs and I was with the Lakers and we had a little shooting contest and I lost,” Lue said. “He wouldn’t take the money so from now on 19 years in a row always says, `You owe me $100.’ He won’t take the money. Always been close to Mike and I like Mike a lot, respect him a lot.”

 

Bob Myers’ care for people goes long way as Warriors GM

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — When Bob Myers hosts a dinner party, he is the guy who once it’s all over has a pretty good read on the entire evening: who had a great time, who held something back, which couples are getting along, who might be dealing with a life challenge but chose to keep it private.

“All those things go through my mind, without me trying to. Some people, none of that goes through their mind,” Myers said. “They ate, and did what they did. I don’t know why those things are. I don’t know how you are. … We all have different intuitions and skills.”

Usually, he is spot on. And his instincts also carry over to the workplace.

The Golden State Warriors’ general manager has that same kind of feel for his entire operation – from those staffers behind the scenes, to the coaches, the MVPs and the role players, helping to forge a tight-knit team in its third straight NBA Finals.

“There’s a lot of things I have no clue on and then you bring people in to your blind spots and say, `Look, I’m not good at this, can you help me in this area?”‘ he said. “That’s also being self-aware. What does it mean? It just means we’re attentive to people. Everybody wants to feel appreciated. Everybody wants to know that they matter. We all matter in our own unique ways. So, does that help our team? I don’t know. It helps that we have really good players.”

Myers has found a balance being involved just enough in the day-to-day. Hands-on when needed while knowing when to back off.

One day, Myers stands in the middle of the center practice court meeting with Steve Kerr. He might be speaking to Andre Iguodala or Draymond Green. Another time, he leans against a back wall checking in with Mike Brown, who has been coaching the team during Kerr’s absence following a procedure to repair a spinal fluid leak stemming from complications after two back surgeries in 2015.

Myers does sit-ups on a stability ball while chatting up Stephen Curry, antsy for practice to wrap up so the GM can get to hooping himself.

That genuine care for the person and not just the basketball player that Myers shows in all he does went a long way in Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City last July to join the Warriors. Sure, a star-studded roster didn’t hurt either.

“He doesn’t walk around like he’s the leader. We know he makes the big decisions but we work together, all of us, him and Steve especially. If you see Bob walking with a group of Warriors employees, you wouldn’t know he’s Bob Myers, the president of the team. He just fits in with everybody,” Durant said. “We talk so much about great leaders being just ahead of the pack most of the time but sometimes that doesn’t have to be your personality. It could be encouraging, working with others, learning and listening. All those traits he has, and I think that’s why he’s ahead of the pack.

“That’s what drew me here.”

In a pre-playoff practice, the 42-year-old ex-sports agent and former player at UCLA stood holding a basketball while wearing sweats and no shoes – his typical, understated NBA executive style. He pulled on some bright blue high-tops and started stretching out his quadriceps for one of those regular staff pickup games he so enjoys because it allows him a break from being “leashed” to his smartphone.

Myers picks his moments, or, in some cases, Kerr assists. After Golden State fell behind 2-1 at Memphis in the second round of the 2015 playoffs, the coach called Myers over afterward and sought his input, a gesture the GM appreciates to this day.

He respects his role and the specific jobs of everyone who works with him. He doesn’t look at it as if he is above the rest.

“The best thing we can do is be who we are, whatever that is,” Myers said. “We’re all drawn to authenticity. We like people who are real. Sometimes real people are flawed, we’re all flawed. I think we connect with people who are open, exposed, willing to admit things they’re good at, things they’re not good at, try to be humble, try to be collaborative.”

Golden State wound up coming back to beat the Grizzlies on the way to winning it all in `15 for the franchise’s first championship in 40 years. The Warriors squandered a 3-1 Finals lead last year to Cleveland to miss a repeat title. Then, Myers – with help from Curry, Green, Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Kerr – lured Durant away from the Thunder to make another deep run. An acquisition accomplished as a team, in Myers’ mind.

“He’s a listener and an observer and that’s what I love about him,” Kerr said. “He’s really, really bright and he understands people. The reason he understands people is because he watches and observes and doesn’t have to dominate the conversation.”

Myers might spend extra time watching the backups, who often stay late for extra scrimmaging to keep sharp.

He doesn’t interfere, yet they know he’s there.

“He’s got a really special quality of being here and then staying in the background at the same time,” Kerr said. “He gets it. I think that’s the way he approaches his life. He’s very modest and yet he’s very confident. He’s very knowledgeable and yet he listens. He’s never the know-it-all guy who has to show he’s the smartest in the room but he actually is the smartest in the room.”

When Myers moves about team headquarters in downtown Oakland he also blends right in with any group. That’s how easy he is to have around – and much like the scene at one of his dinner parties, he has a gauge on the vibe.

“He understands how important it is for him to be aware of everything that’s going on, how everybody’s feeling,” Curry said. “It’s a tough job, for sure, to have to balance, manage, all these different personalities and the ups and downs of the season. He’s bridged the gap between upstairs and downstairs. All that responsibility, it all pays out when we all succeed, and a lot of that goes to what Bob does on a day-to-day basis. … He finds a way to be personable, to be connected to every single person in our organization. And it’s very genuine. That goes a long way.”

 

Report: Warriors, Jerry West nearing deal to keep him with franchise

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The Warriors decision-making process as a franchise is one of inclusion: A lot of voices in the room, a lot of discussion from different points of view, all ultimately synthesized by GM Bob Myers.

One of the most trusted voices in that room belongs to NBA legend — as a player and a front office mind — Jerry West. He was one of the strong voices against trading Klay Thompson for Kevin Love a few years back (in hindsight a move that was central to the kind of team the Warriors became). His deal as a consultant to ownership in Golden State is up after this season, and there were some rumors he could be leaving that role.

Doesn’t sound like it. Warriors’ co-owner Joe Lacob spoke to Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News and made it sound like West will be around for a while.

There is a growing sense that West and the Warriors are headed toward agreeing to extend his relationship with the franchise–Lacob confirmed he and West have spoken about a new contract and have now paused the discussions until after the Finals–but nothing has been finalized….

His contract is up, as you know. We have met; we have discussed the future. And it’s really something that I’m sure at the end of the season we will return to and figure out what Jerry wants to do.

We want him back. We love him. He’s been a great contributor to the organization, someone I consider a personal friend as well. We would love him back (beyond this season), and we’ve made that known.

There had been some buzz about West returning to the Lakers, but with Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka now firmly in charge there West’s return to the team where is jersey is in the rafters seems highly unlikely.

Sometime this summer, expect a quiet announcement from the Warriors that the deal got done and West is sticking around. For their management style, he is a great voice to have in the room.

Watch Michael Jordan’s best highlight from each of his playoff runs (video)

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I’ve become a sucker for this highlight format.