SAN FRANCISCO — Arguably the most memorable moment in Mike Dunleavy’s four-plus seasons as a Warrior came a little more than 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 out his shoulder into Dirk Nowitzki’s chest. He was whistled for an offensive foul on the play, his fourth.
Dunleavy lost it.
His tirade prompted an ejection, and that turned him up even more. Baron Davis had to hold him back. It was the most animated Warriors fans had ever seen Dunleavy. He punctuated the moment by ripping off his No. 34 jersey as he exited the court and threw it into the stands. The roar of the crowd escalated, showering the bare-chested forward. It was perhaps the most joy he delivered to Warriors fans.
“I was gonna do it again today,” Dunleavy said with a smile after his introduction as the Warriors’ new general manager.
Dunleavy, the No. 3 overall pick in 2002, is remembered by longtime Warriors fans as a disappointment. His ejection was riveting because it contradicted the player Warriors fans knew as being too passive and dispassionate. Yet, Monday afternoon, the player widely known in these parts as one of the Warriors’ most notable poor decisions was being anointed by Joe Lacob as the “top basketball decision maker in the organization.” Oh, the odds.
Even more wild is that he makes perfect sense.
Dunleavy has been groomed for this, to be heir to a throne Bob Myers had encrusted with Jason of Beverly Hills diamonds.
Dunleavy is an NBA lifer. His formative years were spent following his dad, 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 set up the “We Believe” era. He played under seven general managers and for 12 coaches — including Don Nelson, Rick Carlisle, Tom Thibodeau and both Tyronn Lue and Mike Budenholzer in his final season.
In 2018, 17 months after his final NBA game (when Washington’s John Wall and Bradley Beal combined for 73 points to end the Hawks’ season in the first round of the playoffs), Dunleavy was hired as a pro scout by the Warriors. In 2019, he was promoted to assistant general manager and right-hand man of Myers. For the past four years, he’s been increasing his workload and significance in the Warriors’ front office.
Such that the Warriors didn’t even interview another candidate.
“Things kind of come full circle,” Dunleavy said. “Although, that circle that I was in when I played, it was almost like a different organization. Different city. Different team. Far less success. To say it’s come full circle probably wouldn’t be accurate.
“I have learned that in this league,” he continued, “when you leave a situation or are traded, move on, things come back around. 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 you don’t really cross anything off the books.”
He was introduced to the Warriors fan base with a mountain of pressure on his shoulders. To his left, and already clearly hovering over him, Dunleavy had his boss’ relentless bent for excellence. Likely on a golf course somewhere, he has a generational superstar with a few peak years left to maximize. In the rumor mills, he has a talented guard in Jordan Poole — whom Dunleavy has been a big believer in — coming off a rough season and will need to be coaxed into a rebound year. In the standings above him, he has a defending champion in Denver and a new super team in Phoenix, and potentially an even better Lakers team than the one that eliminated the Warriors.
Dunleavy is taking over one of the NBA’s glamour franchises, under a championship thirst intensified by a rare second-round exit. And underscoring the combustibility of it all, hours before he was introduced, our Shams Charania reported Draymond Green was opting out of his contract and becoming an unrestricted free agent.
No doubt, Dunleavy has been on the job in the 20 days since Myers stepped down last month. And Green becoming a free agent was a predictable step. Still, the news brought to the forefront the reality that Green could leave and, per the accounts of the head coach and former GM, take the Warriors’ title hopes with him. His big day, usually ceremonial in nature, illustrated the massive stakes riding on Dunleavy and offered a first glimpse of how he’ll handle being in the Instant Pot that is life as the Warriors’ GM.
“I think I will say,” Dunleavy said, “Steve (Kerr) has said it and I will reiterate it — we really want Draymond back. What he means in terms of this organization and this team, winning at the highest level, we feel like we have to have him. So that’s very important.”
A confident, relaxed introduction for new GM Mike Dunleavy
The elephant in the room, however, wasn’t Green. It was White. On this new federal holiday, Juneteenth, a celebration of African-American freedom, Dunleavy was anointed as the new face of a Warriors front office still struggling with diversity.
Shaun Livingston, a beloved champion in Warriors’ lore, is leaving Golden State’s front office. He’s under contract until June 30, technically, but after three seasons as director of player affairs and engagement, he’s opting for other opportunities and more family time. He was someone considered on the path to the top position in the organization.
The Warriors were already down one of their young talents in the front-office pipeline as Mujtaba Elgoodah, the manager of team development who worked closely with several of the young players, left the franchise a few months ago. Jama Mahlalela, the face of the Warriors’ revamped player development, recently took a job as a top assistant with Toronto.
The six executives in the Warriors’ basketball operations staff are all White males: Dunleavy Jr., Kirk Lacob, Larry Harris, Kent Lacob, Jonnie West and Nick U’Ren.
Beneath them, the Warriors still have some talents they like at the lower levels. Ryan Atkinson, director of team development, has been with the organization for 10 years. David Fatoki, general manager of the Santa Cruz Warriors, has long been identified as a future executive. Onsi Saleh, the Warriors’ salary cap guru, and Pabail Sidhu, head of analytics, have become integral in the front office, while data analyst Hannah Heiring is considered to have a bright future. LaMont Peterson and Reggie Rankin have been longtime scouts. Tatiana Lampley, one of the inaugural participants in the NBA’s Future Basketball Operations Stars Program, will be full-time on the Warriors’ basketball operations staff starting in July.
“We are constantly striving for diversity,” Dunleavy said, “and looking for smart, talented and hard-working people of different races and genders in our front office. I’m really confident we will satisfy that through outside hiring or promoting from within over the coming years.”
Add it to Dunleavy’s to-do list, which is already topped by Thursday’s NBA draft and a vital free agency period for the Warriors, who are trying to improve their roster while managing an exploding tax bill.
Some 21 years ago, Dunleavy was introduced under similar pressure, perhaps even greater odds stacked 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 consecutive season at 21 or fewer wins, but this time it was hopeful because the Warriors had a shot at the No. 1 pick. This season, Yao Ming was the prize, the true big man the Warriors had long coveted. Instead, the draft lottery landed Golden State at No. 3 and they chose Dunleavy.
The Warriors had two first-round picks the season before — Jason Richardson and Troy Murphy — and found a gem in the second round in Gilbert Arenas. This 2002 pick was seen as the chance to bolster their new young core. The Warriors did improve, winning 38 games the following year. But they maxed out there, never winning more than 37 games until the “We Believe” year.
Dunleavy averaged 10.6 points on 43.2 percent shooting as a Warrior. He had a great feel for the game and was versatile as a 6-foot-9 wing, which the next 10 years proved. But the Warriors needed him, the fans wanted him, to be a savior. At least a difference-maker. That’s what comes with being chosen so high in the draft. The 2002 draft wasn’t exactly incredible, but a few gems went after Dunleavy. Amar’e Stoudemire was the clear miss. Tayshaun Prince, a four-time All-NBA Defensive selection, and Caron Butler, a two-time All-Star, were closer to what the Warriors needed from Dunleavy. Could make a case for Nenê. Even Carlos Boozer in the second round, where the Warriors selected point guard Steve Logan out of Cincinnati.
Dunleavy’s tenure as a player for the Warriors was painted by unmet expectations. He was a better player than how he was remembered in these parts because the Warriors’ context is in much harsher lighting. He left the franchise as one of the symbols of its ineptitude. And now he’s back as, Lacob hopes, the face of Warriors’ exceptionalism, proof that as a franchise they are elite at finding, molding and positioning talent.
Golden State is trying to win another championship and they’ve tabbed Mike Dunleavy Jr. to lead them. Oh, the odds.
(Photo: Noah Graham / NBAE via Getty Images)