Golden State Warriors team president and COO Rick Welts says, after June’s NBA Finals loss and the free agency departure of Kevin Durant, his team are relishing being cast as underdogs this season.
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The Warriors, who have reached the last five NBA Finals, winning three, start the 2019-20 campaign with a dramatically revamped roster. Ten of the 17 players on their 2018-19 roster are no longer on the team.
The new-look Warriors will also have to get used to new surroundings after the team moved from Oakland’s famous Oracle Arena to the brand new Chase Center in San Francisco.
Warriors president Rick Welts shows off the Larry O'Brien trophy at an LGBT parade in San Francisco
Hall of Fame executive Welts, who managed the team’s move across the Bay and the development of Chase Center itself, refutes the suggestion that the Warriors’ summer of transition leaves them on the outside of the NBA title picture.
“There has been a lot of speculation about how good the team will be this year,” he said. “I think there is a real quiet confidence in our locker room about what the season is going to be like.
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“We have three core players – [Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green] – who were part of our first championship [in this era] in 2015 and they, I think, feel the challenge that there is an opportunity here – a new arena, a new start, a new chance to see if we can recreate the same kind of magic we’ve enjoyed the last five years.”
Two-time MVP Curry laughed off summer suggestions that the Warriors will struggle to reach the playoffs this time around, a sentiment wholly endorsed by Welts.
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“The goal is always the championship. We’re being cast by the media as underdogs this year. Our guys like that,” he said.
“There is a real comfort in being in that role as opposed to being seen as the presumptive favourites to win the championship. We’re better suited for it. I think that not having such a media circus around us every day at the beginning of the season is going to be a nice break for the players.”
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One feature of the Warriors’ championship dynasty has been the seamless manner with which their players, coaches and front office have been able to work together to create success. Welts revealed preserving that relationship was essential as the team moved to San Francisco.
“That goes right to the core of our culture,” he said. “When we were in Oakland, the players, coaches and administrators were all working out of the same facility. They all went to the same place every day to work.
Welts poses with Steve Kerr after the Warriors coach was named Coach of the Year
“That doesn’t really happen in the NBA anymore but we chose to replicate it at Chase Center. We built our new practice facility as part of Chase Center. Normally, you wouldn’t choose to do that and add the additional space needed for our business offices to have everybody in the same place.
“We go to work together, we win together, we lose together. We think, culturally, that has made a big difference in our performance in the last five years and we didn’t want to lose that in the move. We’re trying to maintain the cultural ideals that contributed to our great run.”
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With 40 years’ experience of working in the NBA, Welts knows better than most how a strong culture throughout an organisation can help develop on-court team chemistry.
“It is an incredibly difficult chemistry that either happens or doesn’t happen with a team. It’s not always just talent,” Welts explained. “Do you have players who are willing to think about the greater good over individual stats? Are players happy to take one more pass rather than taking a shot?
Golden State Warriors president Rick Welts says their new home – the Chase Center in San Francisco – will be an arena like no other
“In my experience, that has been a characteristic of every team I have been involved with. People who will put individual accomplishments on the back seat in favour of the team’s success.
“The Warriors are one of the great modern sport examples of that kind of chemistry. It’s so difficult to attain.”
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While he remains bullish about the Warriors’ hopes of reaching their sixth successive NBA Finals, Welts believes the volume of summer player movement and the formation of superstar duos across the league will create more a more competitive title race.
“Conventional wisdom is that it is going to be a more unpredictable season and that creates more excitement,” he said.
Welts addresses the audience after being inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame
“The expectation is that we have more teams able to compete for a championship than we have had in a long, long time. I think there will be a lot of compelling storylines with the player movement that happened this summer. What are the Brooklyn Nets going to look like? What the Clippers going to look like? What are the Lakers going to look like?
“It is one thing to look on a roster and see the names of great players. It’s another to have that translate into oncourt success.”
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Is there one storyline that excites Welts more than any other this season?
“I think one of the best stories in the league this year might be Klay Thompson because his durability and work ethic are such that he only wants to get back on the court and play basketball,” Welts said.
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“I think he has a chance to be a huge difference-maker in this season but it won’t happen until later in the year. I think it could be a great story.
“I have witnessed some remarkable performances but I think the most remarkable was Klay’s 39-point quarter [against the Sacramento Kings in January 2015]. It was the most astounding thing I’ve ever seen in sports. Period. Just amazing.”
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