How the Golden State Warriors came to be the strongest unit in the NBA

Recounting the story of how Golden State created their incredibly strong roster

As the legendary jerseys of Nate Thurmond, Rick Barry, Al Attles and Wilt Chamberlain sat in center court at the Oracle Arena, Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob took to the mic amid a chorus of boos during what was supposed to be a celebration of Chris Mullin's career in the Bay Area.

The man who spent 13 years with Golden State was having his number 17 jersey retired by the franchise - in turn becoming the sixth player in Warriors history to receive the honour - it was supposed to be a celebration, however, the night turned sour as the crowd showed their frustration with the current state of the franchise.

The event came off the back of a hugely significant trade in the history of the organisation. Fans' favourite and the leader of the Dubs Monta Ellis had just been traded to the Milwaukee Bucks - alongside Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown - for an injured Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson in March 2012.

After just one playoff appearance in 18 years, no championship since 1975, and languishing outside the playoff positions with just a month left in the season, the fans had just seen their favourite player and most prolific scorer - and the 2007 Most Improved Player - shipped away.

Golden State Warriors v Charlotte Bobcats

The Warriors faithful had seen enough. It was history repeating itself all over again. Tim Hardaway, Chris Webber and Mitch Richmond had left California to find success with pastures new and Ellis was just another name to add to the list. Or so they thought. Unfortunately for Mullin, it was his big night that was used as the platform to voice discontent.

However, four years down the line, Lacob's decision is heralded around the NBA and those same fans that booed the owner are now experiencing success the franchise has never felt before. Holding a 2-1 series lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Dubs are looking to go back-to-back. Not to mention their 73-win regular season campaign that eclipsed the all-conquering 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.


Trading away Ellis, their most exciting player at the time and the man who played a vital role in helping the eighth seed Warriors oust the first seed Dallas Mavericks in the 2008 playoffs, was a huge risk to take, but it was part of a process that has seen the Warriors become the strongest team in the league.

"Change is inevitable, it is going to work out just fine with your support and patience, and use that passion in the right direction." - Chris Mullin to Warriors fans [2012]

There were questions over Stephen Curry's fitness after a number of frustrating injuries since he was drafted in 2009, and there was talk in the stands that maybe, just maybe, he should've been a trading piece instead of Ellis. The addition of Bogut was, for all their young attacking players, the first real defence-first addition the organisation had made to their roster. Despite his injuries, it was clear to see what the Australian could bring on the hardwood.

Milwaukee Bucks v Los Angeles Lakers

As Mullin said on that now infamous night in Warriors history: "Change is inevitable, it is going to work out just fine with your support and patience, and use that passion in the right direction. This thing is going in the right way, I've got great confidence in Joe. Everything will work out just fine."

Well, everything has worked out more than fine. In fact, the past 24 months have been better than any Warriors fan could have expected. But the story behind their rise to the top saw them take a different path from what has become customary in the NBA.


There are two tried and tested routes to the top of the NBA that have worked in the past on numerous occasions. The number one pick in the draft is usually a strong way to reach the top. Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose all made their teams title challengers without managing that final step, whereas Tim Duncan, well, his influence speaks for itself.

The other method to announcing yourself as a real competitor is to make a huge move in free agency. Miami Heat's acquisition of LeBron James and Chris Bosh really sent a statement to the league that they meant business - two rings in four years saw them accomplish that mission.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Miami Heat - Game Five

Shaquille O'Neal's arrival in Los Angeles led to a dominant three-year period as the Lakers completed a three-peat behind the Diesel and Kobe Bryant. However, the Warriors have been down a road less travelled. A journey that, quite frankly, a number of organisations would not have the patience to see out.

It began years before Mullin's jersey retirement. It started the moment Lacob stepped into the Oracle. The fans just couldn't see it yet. The rebuild constructed in the Bay area is a thing of basketball beauty. A blueprint that all franchises are now trying to copy. An idea that has created the most dominant franchise since the Shaq and Kobe Lakers.


There was always a plan with the Warriors, but like any championship-winning organisation, there is some form of luck along the way. Throughout their rebuild, they never claimed a top five lottery pick, but they still acquired two quality players in 2009 and 2011.

Curry was not always the superstar we see today. In fact, seven years ago there was not even a suggestion he could be the MVP. It was outlandish. He was a shooter. And that was all he could ever be.

Portland Trail Blazers v Golden State Warriors - Game Five

There were question marks over his ability to compete in the NBA given his physical stature. Such were the doubts, the Minnesota Timberwolves passed on him - not once, but twice - selecting Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn with the fifth and six picks, respectively, in what has gone down as the biggest mistake in franchise history.

Klay Thompson was similarly passed up on two years later. The Milwaukee Bucks selected, then subsequently traded the much-hyped college shooting guard Jimmer Fredette. Thompson dropped to 11th and the rest, as they say, was history.

The trade of Ellis for Bogut allowed Thompson to get more time on the court. Another upside that many angry fans failed to see, but it was 2014 when the shooting guard really came into his own.

Having decided against including the now two-time All-Star in any trade for the Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Love - a player they were seriously considering to bridge what the front office deemed a gap of quality between their front and backcourt - he came back with something to prove. A chip on his shoulder, if you will.

2011 NBA Draft

Thompson and Curry's advancement has gone hand-in-hand. Steph, the older of the two, has gone from a primary guard to the first-ever unanimous MVP over the past two seasons, while Klay can also be considered a top five backcourt player in the league, and possibly the best two-way shooting guard in the NBA right now.

While the point guard was taking the plaudits for his record-breaking three-point campaign as the Warriors ended their 40-year trophy drought, his backcourt partner was going about re-writing his own records. For one, his record-setting quarter during a win over the Sacramento Kings was a sight to behold and really announced his arrival at the top table of NBA stardom.

Dropping 37 points in the third quarter as the Dubs saw off their conference rivals was simply incredible, but his 100 percent shooting clip made it quite unbelievable. Klay was known for his ability to heat up, but a perfect 13-13 from the field and 9-9 from behind the arc saw him almost blow the roof off of the Oracle Arena.

But the Splash Brothers are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the juggernaut of a roster that is the 2015-16 Warriors. It was the year of 2012 that really saw the team take the first major step to becoming the franchise we see today.

Sacramento Kings v Golden State Warriors


Just months after Bogut had been added to the ranks on the west coast, the Warriors went into the draft led by a new general manager - Bob Myers, whose influence on the trajectory of the franchise cannot go understated - and had real hope of producing something special with the four picks they had accumulated.

Some smart trading prior to the event, which possessed one of the strongest draft classes seen in recent years, put Golden State in a good position. It was time for rookie GM Myers to show why he had been promoted from assistant after just 12 months in Oakland.

We try to find people that exhibit the highest character. It's hard because we are constantly seeking the best talent, but character, in moments of adversity, is revealed." - Bob Myers

Stephen Curry's injury-plagued campaign during the lockout-shortened season saw the Warriors finish with an abysmal 23-43 record and enter the draft lottery for the fifth consecutive year. They came out seventh and secured their two other vital draft picks - the 30th and 35th - via some very smart trading.

Moving Stephen Jackson - a man who was instrumental in helping the Warriors reach the playoffs during the 'We Believe' era, but had not suited up again since returning to the Bay alongside Bogut - to the San Antonio Spurs, in exchange for Richard Jefferson, T.J. Ford and a future conditional first-round draft pick was great foresight.


A year earlier they had also given up Brandon Knight and Dan Gadzuric to the New Jersey Nets, in exchange for a future second-round pick and Troy Murphy. In two trades, the organisation had acquired two solid draft picks without parting company with any piece that played a major role in their building plan.


Anthony Davis was the standout talent of 2012 and there was no questioning New Orleans' decision once they came out of the lottery with the number one pick. However, the draft ran deep and second round picks were more valuable than ever.

The Warriors selected Harrison Barnes out of North Carolina with their lottery pick, but it was their second round selection that has really paid the most dividends. Festus Ezeli - a man who scored his first ever points in his own basket in high school and had never played basketball before arriving in America in 2004 - took up the final spot in the first round, before Draymond Green was selected in the second.

The forward has been the glue for the championship-winning Warriors and general manager Bob Myers summed it up perfectly in February by simply stating: "I don't know that we would be a championship team without him [Green] and his firebrand personality."

2016 NBA Finals - Game Two

While Curry and Thompson have taken all the plaudits in this quite incredible two-year period, Green has truly been the definition of an unsung hero. His star has risen somewhat with his inaugural All-Star selection for February's game in Toronto and his triple-double output during the campaign, however, he had flown under the radar throughout the 2014-15 season as he dominated the front court with his brash, bold, smash-mouth style of basketball that gave the Warriors the edge and grit needed to overcome tight situations.

"I don't know that we would be a championship team without him [Green] and his firebrand personality." - Bob Myers on Draymond Green

How a player of Green's ability - a man who can occupy a number of positions, play both ways, score at the rim, from the line or behind the arc and is capable of stuffing the stats sheet - is incredible. But that is the nature of the beast, and hindsight is a brilliant thing.

As many other owners and general managers will, Cleveland Cavaliers' Dan Gilbert rues his decision to pass up on Green - they selected Bernard James and Jae Crowder with the 33rd and 34th picks - every day, saying: "I still wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat that we didn't take him."


Some will argue that the forward is a product of his environment. Able to flourish in a system that allows him to play his best style of basketball and to be himself. A player that would not enjoy the same success were he to leave the Warriors.

2016 NBA Finals - Game Two

But is that not what every player wants? A platform to continue doing what had brought them to the cusp of the NBA in the first place. A franchise to make them feel confident in the abilities that had defined their game.

Green potentially wouldn't be the same monster if he were to leave the Bay, but thankfully for both parties, he is tied into a lengthy contract with the franchise and will continue to produce the level of basketball that saw him come second in the race for Defensive Player of the Year and reach the top ten in Most Valuable Player voting. Put simply, the situation is perfect.

More importantly, not only was Golden State a good fit for Green, he was perfect for what the organisation was searching for. Myers previously said: "We try to find people that exhibit the highest character. It's hard because we are constantly seeking the best talent, but character, in moments of adversity, is revealed."

He added: "We try to find people that will rise up when things are not going well because sports brings out the best in people and the worst in people. When you've lost three games in a row, you're going to find out who is that person sitting next to you and what are they all about, so when we build a team, it's not just how is this person going to be when things are good but when things are rough, then who are you."


Draymond certainly has the ability to bounce back from adversity. As does everyone on the roster. Their showing in the Western Conference Finals, where they recovered from 3-1 down to advance past the Oklahoma City Thunder, is a testament to the never say die attitude and belief that has been harboured in the dressing room.


Every member of the Warriors organisation brings their own special element, but the attitude is key. It starts with the owners and has worked its way down into every facet of the franchise. There is nobody that epitomises what we are witnessing more than Andre Iguodala.

"There were so many opportunities for him to be disgruntled, to say something behind the scenes but for the entire season he kept his head above ground" - Bob Myers on Andre Iguodala

The 32-year-old had been an out-and-out starter throughout his career, starting every game he had ever played in the NBA since being drafted in 2004 all the way until the start of the 2014 season. He picked up All-Star honours in 2012 and was voted to the All-NBA Defensive first team in 2014, however, one of Steve Kerr's first decisions as head coach was to bench him.

It's no secret that benching a guy is seen as a huge demotion in the world of basketball. Iguodala still has the ability to be a starter on 99 percent of the franchises across the league but, instead of moaning about his predicament, he knuckled down, did his role for the franchise and came up trumps when it mattered most.

2015 NBA Finals - Game Six

As Myers perfectly explained: "There were so many opportunities for him to be disgruntled, to say something behind the scenes but for the entire season he kept his head above ground, he did all the right things, he didn't just say the right things, he did the right things, then to play the whole year as the sixth man, not start one game, then when we needed him, he blew the roof off the whole NBA Finals."

Iguodala proved to be the perfect man to match up with LeBron James and allowed the Warriors to go extreme in their small-ball game plan and execute it to perfection. He scooped the Finals MVP award and showcased the importance of a good bench to a championship-winning team.

The Illinois native saw what was being put together, wanted to be a part of it - even if that meant sacrificing his position in the starting five - and ensured he was prepared to do the business when called upon, but he is not the only member of the Warriors' bench who has bought into the system.


Marreese Speights, Shaun Livingston, and Leandro Barbosa are all players with a wealth of experience around the league but have brought their styles of play to the west coast to compliment the superstar talents of Curry, Thompson and Green.

2016 NBA Finals - Game Two

Livingston, in particular, was a man searching for a place to call home after a serious knee injury threatened his career. His niche style of excelling in mid-range jumps shots is seen as ineffective throughout the league but, as our very own Mark Deeks analysed last week, himself and Barbosa have found life at Oracle Arena with their ability to help the bench tick over through valuable scoring minutes.

Speights - or Mo Buckets as he's affectionately known by Dub Nation - plays a vital role from the pine, along with Barbosa, in being a natural shooter. The ability for the second unit to keep the score ticking over when the superstars need rest is what makes the franchise such a juggernaut. Their deep ability was emphasised during game one of the Finals as Livingston and the Brazilian Blur combined for 32 points as they dominated the Cavaliers' supporting unit.

It has been a long hike to the top of the mountain for the Warriors. Joe Lacob and co have stuck to their guns despite the obvious displeasure from the crowd early on. They are now heralded as heroes for returning the good times to the Bay. However, it all could have been so different had they not fallen to conference rivals, the L.A. Clippers, in the first round of the playoffs two years ago.

The Clippers advanced after a seven-game thriller, Mark Jackson was sacked and in came Kerr. The pieces to the puzzle, on the floor, were already in place - barring Livingston - but the new head coach was the icing on the cake. The catalyst they needed to take that next step and become the franchise that would go on to break the Chicago Bulls' single-season wins record and be two games away from getting their hands on the Larry O'Brien trophy for the second year running.

Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs - Game Two

They may have suffered a humbling defeat to the Cavaliers in game three, but we have seen countless times in the past how the players react to adversity. Curry has had a relatively quiet series while the strength of their roster has carried them through. Expect the unanimous MVP to announce himself on the grandest stage at some point before the Finals end.

Joe Lacob and Bob Myers wanted to build a team that could cope in the moments of pressure and come back stronger. They have shown that to be the case already, now is the time to do it once again. The Warriors are on the verge of history and their story as a dynasty is only just beginning. Those dark days seem like a lifetime ago.