Back in 2014, the Golden State Warriors made three key acquisitions in the offseason as they sought to pursue the organization’s first championship in 40 years. Steve Kerr joined up to coach a young team led by Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, while Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa were signed to bolster the bench and provide veteran leadership alongside Andre Iguodala.
The result, famously predicted by Barbosa, was that their championship quest was a success.
Livingston and Barbosa are back
Fast forward six years and a little bit of history is repeating itself. Just as the Warriors look to renew their championship ambitions around a now veteran trio of Curry, Thompson and Green, this week they announced that Livingston and Barbosa would be returning to the organization.
This time though, Barbosa will be part of Kerr’s coaching staff. Kerr described Barbosa, who will be a Player Mentor Coach, as not only a fan favorite but also “a favorite in the locker room”, adding that he is “excited to add him to the staff and to see him help mentor our young players, and still be out on the floor with them.”
As for Livingston, who spent some time over the last year taking a Harvard Sports Business course, he will take on what he called a “hybrid role” in the Warriors front office as Director, Team Affairs and Player Engagement. Kerr called him “one of the rocks of our foundation here in Golden State over the last six years… What he adds to us in the front office is leadership and the ability to communicate.” Drawing on all that experience, Kerr added, “I’m looking forward to Shaun being a mentor for our younger players, because Shaun saw it all as a player.”
That veteran mentorship arrives at a critical juncture for the Warriors, who are in the midst of turning over their supporting cast around Curry, Thompson and Green. Not only are the Warriors heading into the draft with the second pick and the chance to add a potentially franchise-altering young talent to their team, but they will also need to get the best out of key new addition Andrew Wiggins, who Barbosa has already linked up with.
Then there’s their breakout rookie, Eric Paschall, whose fine player saw him rise from 41st selection in the draft to being named on the All-Rookie First Team this week. The prevalence of youth on the roster underscores the importance of adding in respected voices who have been there, seen it, and done it, all in a Warriors jersey.
Doubling down on culture
But beyond that immediate need, there’s an even larger factor. One of the hallmarks of Kerr’s early teams was that they were greater than the sum of their parts, fused together by a culture that elevated everyone.
It’s a culture that Barbosa described yesterday as “totally different. I feel here like I never felt anywhere… here with the Warriors I feel like I’m in a family.” Despite the losses piling up last season, the Warriors have managed to keep that sense of culture strong.
Organizational culture isn’t a given though. It takes work. It relies on the people involved buying in across the team and organization. So the Warriors need not just veteran mentors, but also people who know that culture and can re-inforce it. They won’t find two more suitable pieces in that mission than Livingston and Barbosa.
Next week sees the Warriors players coming together in a much-needed mini-camp, which will be the first time they have spent together in six months. In particular, it will be the first time Thompson will be on the floor since his devastating injury in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, and the first time alongside Wiggins and Paschall.
But in an interview with The Athletic, Kerr stressed that the on-court work was not the only thing they’re looking to build. Indeed, in face of uncertainty over when next season will start, Kerr emphasized that their pending gathering is “almost more about our culture than about any strategy.”
Same as it ever was, the Golden State Warriors are setting out on a mission to win a championship with culture at the heart of their success.