SAN FRANCISCO — Arguably the most memorable moment in Mike Dunleavy’s four-plus seasons as a Warrior came just over 18 years ago. In a home game against the Mavericks, at what was then known as The Arena in Oakland, he drove in transition and stuck his shoulder into Dirk Nowitzki’s chest. He was whistled for an offensive foul on the play, which was the fourth.
Dunleavy lost it.
His sermon got him fired, and that made him even more so. Baron Davis was forced to hold him back. It was the most animated fan Dunleavy had ever seen. The moment was permeated by the tearing of his number 34 jersey as he walked off the field and tossed it into the stands. The crowd’s roar escalated, as it lunged bare-chested forward. It was probably the most joy he brought to Warriors fans.
“I would do it again today,” Dunleavy said with a smile after being introduced as the Warriors’ new general manager.
Longtime Warriors fans remembered Dunleavy, the 2002 third overall pick, as a disappointment. His ejection was notable because it contrasted with a player Warriors fans knew as deeply passive and unemotional. However, on Monday afternoon, a player widely known in these parts as one of the Warriors’ most notable bad team decisions was his hiring by Joe Lacob as the organization’s “Best Basketball Decision Maker.” Oh, the odds.
What’s even wilder is that it makes perfect sense.
Dunleavy was groomed for this, as heir to a throne that was Bob Myers’ diamond-encrusted Jason of Beverly Hills.
Dunleavy is an American professional basketball player. He spent his formative years behind his father, Mike Sr., who became an NBA coach and executive after his playing career ended. Dunleavy Jr. then played 15 NBA seasons, 10 after being traded by the Warriors in 2006, a move that ushered in the “We Believe” era. He played under seven general managers and 12 coaches – including Don Nelson, Rick Carlisle, Tom Thibodeau, both Tyrone Law and Mike Bodenholzer in his final season.
In 2018, 17 months after his last game in the NBA (when Washington’s John Wall and Bradley Bell combined for 73 points to end the Hawks’ season in the first round of the playoffs), Dunlevy was hired as a professional scout by the Warriors. In 2019, he was promoted to Assistant General Manager and Myers’ right-hand man. Over the past four years, he has been increasing his workload and relevance in the Warriors front office.
So much so that the warriors never met another candidate.
“Things kind of get complete,” said Dunleavy. “Even though that circle I was in when I played, it was almost like a different organisation. A different city. A different team. Much less success. It probably wouldn’t be accurate to say it was done.
He continued, “I’ve learned that in this league, when you leave a position or get traded, transfer, things come back. My dad played for the Milwaukee Bucks. He coached for the Milwaukee Bucks as an assistant. He came back as a head coach. Then I went there as a player. I moved to and from Milwaukee four times.” I’ve learned in this business that you don’t write anything out of the books.”
He was introduced to the Warriors fan base with a mountain of pressure on his shoulders. To his left, evidently already hovering above him, Dunleavy had his chief’s desire to stand out relentlessly. He’s probably on a golf course somewhere, has a jelly star with a few years left in the prime to make the most of it. In the rumor mills, he has a talented guard in Jordan Poole – in whom Dunleavy has been a firm believer – coming off a tough season and will need convincing in a rebounding year. In the rank above, he has a defending champ in Denver and a new super team in Phoenix, and perhaps a better Lakers team than the one that eliminated the Warriors.
Taking on one of the NBA’s wizard franchises, Dunleavy has a championship thirst intensified with a rare second-round exit. And emphasizing the combustibility of it all, hours before his introduction, Shams Charania informed us that Draymond Green was opting out of his contract and becoming an unrestricted free agent.
No doubt Dunleavy has been in the job for the last 20 days since Meyers stepped down last month. Green’s becoming a free agent was a predictable move. However, the news brought to the fore the fact that Green could be leaving and, according to head coach and former GM accounts, taking the Warriors’ title hopes with him. His big day, usually ceremonial in nature, illustrated the enormous risks he’s taking for Dunleavy and provided a first glimpse of how he handles being in the Instant Pot that is GM’s life for the Warriors.
Dunleavy said: “I think I would say, Steve (Kear) said it and I’ll repeat it – we really want Draymond back. What it means in terms of this organization and this team, winning at the highest level, we feel we have to have it. So that’s very important.”
A confident and relaxed introduction to new GM Mike Dunleavy
However, the elephant in the room was not green. She was white. On this new federal holiday, Juneteenth, a celebration of African American freedom, Dunleavy is being honored as the new face of the Warriors’ still-fighting diversity front desk.
Shawn Livingston, the beloved hero in Warriors lore, is leaving the front office for Golden State. He’s technically under contract until June 30, but after three seasons as Director of Player Affairs and Engagement, he’s picked up other opportunities and more family time. He was someone seen on the path to the highest position in the organization.
The Warriors were already so enamored of their young talent at the front desk that Mojtaba Judeh, a team development director who worked closely with several young players, left the franchise a few months ago. Gama Mahalela, the face of the Warriors’ revamped player development, recently took a job as a senior assistant in Toronto.
All six executives on the Warriors’ basketball operations team are all white males: Dunleavy Jr. and Kirk Lacob, Larry Harris, Kent Lacob, Jonnie West, and Nick U’Ren.
Beneath it, the Warriors still have some talents that they love at the lower levels. Ryan Atkinson, Director of Team Development, has been with the organization for 10 years. David Fatuki, general manager of the Santa Cruz Warriors, has long been slated as a future CEO. Onsi Saleh, a veterans salary cap expert, and Babel Sido, head of analytics, have become integral parts of the front office, while data analyst Hannah Herring is seen with a bright future. Lamont Peterson and Reggie Rankin were longtime scouts. One of the NBA’s Future Basketball Operations Stars, Tatiana Lampley, will be full-time on the Warriors’ basketball operations team starting in July.
“We are constantly striving for diversity,” said Dunleavy, “and we are looking for smart, talented, hard-working people of different races and genders in our front office. I am really confident we will achieve this by hiring outside or promoting from within over the coming years.”
Add him to Dunleavy’s to-do list, which already topped Thursday’s NBA draft and a vital free agency period for the Warriors, who are trying to improve their roster while running a sizable tax bill.
About 21 years ago, Dunleavy was presented under similar pressure, and there may have been greater odds against him. The Warriors had won just 21 games in 2001-02, tied with Chicago for the worst record in the league. It was the Warriors’ fifth straight season with 21 wins or fewer, but this time it was hopeful because the Warriors got a shot at the #1 pick. This season, Yao Ming was the prize, the real big guy the Warriors always desired. . Instead, the draft lottery landed Golden State in third place and chose Dunleavy.
The Warriors had two first-round picks the previous season — Jason Richardson and Troy Murphy — and found a second-round gem at Gilbert Arenas. The 2002 selection was seen as an opportunity to consolidate the new youth nucleus. The Warriors improved, winning 38 games the following year. But they maxed out there, never winning more than 37 games until the year of “We Believe.”
Dunleavy averaged 10.6 points on 43.2 percent shooting as a Warrior. He had a great sense of the game and was versatile as a winger at 6-foot-9, which the next ten years proved. But the Warriors needed him, the fans wanted him, to be a lifesaver. At least make a difference. That’s what comes with picking you high in the draft. The 2002 draft wasn’t quite as amazing, but a few gems went behind Dunleavy. Amar’e Stoudemire was the obvious mistake. Tayshaun Prince, a four-time All-NBA Defensive selection, and Caron Butler, a two-time All-Star, were closer to what the Warriors needed than Dunleavy. You can make a case for Nene. Even Carlos Boozer in the second round, as the Warriors selected point guard Steve Logan from Cincinnati.
Dunleavy’s tenure as a Warriors player was drawn by unmet expectations. He was a better player than he could be remembered for in these parts because the Warriors context was in harsher lighting. Leaving privilege as one of the symbols of his incompetence. And now he’s back to form, Lacob hopes, the face of Warriors’ exceptionalism, proof that as a franchise they are the elite at finding, shaping and locating talent.
Golden State is trying to win another championship and they have assigned Mike Dunlevy Jr. to lead them. Oh, the odds.
(Photo: Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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