The San Francisco 49ers can learn some valuable lessons from the newly crowned NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors.
The Golden State Warriors are champions of the basketball world, knocking off the Cleveland Cavaliers 129-120 in Game 5 to take home the franchise’s second title in three years.
Across the San Francisco Bay, well, further south from Oracle Arena in Oakland, the San Francisco 49ers are hoping someday, somehow, they’ll be able to replicate the same sort of magic that has seen the Warriors go from perennial laughingstock to the elite of the elite.
The last time the Niners were in this kind of boat, it was the 1980s.
San Francisco 49ers
There was another sprig of success in the middle of the 1990s, culminating in the team’s final Super Bowl victory, and even some near misses just a few years ago. And then the wheels fell off.
Of course, there were the overtures from 49ers CEO Jed York back in 2015, when he prematurely believed a newly promoted Jim Tomsula could emulate the same kind of head coaching success Steve Kerr had with Golden State his first season.
Yeah, not so much. The lowly Niners then went 5-11 and Tomsula was out the door. And his replacement, Chip Kelly, didn’t last but a year after going 2-14.
For anyone who followed the Warriors for the better part of two decades before this recent string of success, it sounds all too familiar — a carousel of ineptitude, poor decisions and nothing on which to build.
It changed with the Warriors, and the 49ers are learning these lessons too.
Tough Decisions at Head Coach
Remember when Warriors CEO Joe Lacob fired former Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson back in 2014 and replaced him with Kerr — a media type with zero head-coaching experience?
Yeah, it might not have been seen as the most popular move. After all, Jackson had instilled some success for an otherwise unsuccessful Warriors squad.
In hindsight, this was a brilliant move. And maybe York learned a little here (no, not Tomsula).
Firing Kelly after 2016 was going to be equally controversial in one way or another. By doing so, the Niners would ensure they’d be on their fourth head coach in as many years. Revolving doors are usually a telltale sign of a franchise in turmoil.
Not firing Kelly, of course, would have been the only worse thing York could have done. Retaining him — and refusing to admit the mistake — would have kept San Francisco heading down the wrong path.
Instead, York swallowed his pride and went with general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Oh, for what it’s worth, neither had experience in their respective categories either. But the early results are, from almost any viewpoint, pretty spectacular.
So maybe the Niners have already learned a lesson from Golden State here — make the tough calls.
The Draft, the Draft, the Draft
Some may view the Warriors as the next “super team,” laden with All-Star talent and capable of bringing in big-name players, like Kevin Durant, on mega deals.
Well, the only reason Golden State was able to pull that off was due to the NBA Draft selections of players like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green — the latter a second-round pick, who has surpassed any and all expectation levels.
This was the core around which general manager Bob Myers could build. And they have, welcoming in more than just Durant, with various role players and supporting cast members.
One of the reasons San Francisco has fallen on hard times is due to the lack of success and hits in previous NFL Drafts. Former general manager Trent Baalke missed on more than just a few players, leaving the Niners bereft of talent over the past few years.
There was no core in 2015 and 2016 and few, if any, pieces to build around.
Granted, perennial MVP-caliber players don’t wind up in teams’ laps each season. But it’s not hard to see just how crucial a run of successful drafts needs to be for the 49ers under this new regime.
Lynch appears to have hit a couple of home runs in his first class. He’ll need a few more over the next couple of years or so.
Make Players Want to Play for You
Durant went to Golden State to win a championship. And he did.
Think about that, regardless whether you like the decision or not. The second-best player in the NBA wanted to join a franchise that, five years ago, won only 23 games. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a long time.
In a way, the Niners are already ahead of the curve on this one — all thanks to Lynch, Shanahan and the new regime.
San Francisco already landed proven veterans like wide receiver Pierre Garcon, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and, most recently, prolific pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil.
These players wanted to join a team coming off a 2-14 record. Let that sink in. Like the Warriors, who now attract stars and role players alike, the 49ers have some drawing power.
Trust the Process
Curry, who back in 2009 on that 23-win team, tweeted a message of promise to Warriors fans everywhere, must be relishing in the words that have now paid exponential dividends:
Now, the hope is 49ers fans can chew on this pre-NFL Draft message from Lynch:
“Brick by brick,” or so the saying goes… the one Lynch so often uses in this process.
And it’s a process Niners fans have to trust as well. But at least San Francisco, for the first time in what seems like a while, sings point to there being a legitimate process behind which fans can get.
That’s good, but it won’t happen overnight.
Golden State’s current dynasty took more than a year or two to build. While NFL parity suggests the 49ers could be good in a year or two, the realistic viewpoint suggests it might be another three-plus years.
We don’t know, but it’s OK as long as the road leads there.
This calls for patience, which is rarely an attribute used to describe a passionate fanbase. And yet this is exactly what the 49ers and their fans need to be — patient.
If anything, the Warriors have proven what can happen when the pieces are all put in place and the appropriate time is allocated to let the eventual reward develop.
Soon, Niners fans. Soon.