Mike Dunleavy Jr.’s climb up the Warriors’ front office ladder reached its latest heights as the franchise’s newest general manager on June 16. The news opened the doors to what was one of the busiest months of Dunleavy’s life thus far.
How hard was the first month on the job? Well, nothing compared to the first month of his playing career for the Warriors, according to the man himself.
“Definitely as a player,” Dunleavy told NBC Sports Bay Area on the latest episode of “Dubs Talk” when asked which month was more difficult. “Going from college to the pros is a whole different level.”
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The former No. 3 overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft found that out in a hurry. Dunleavy as a junior at Duke was an All-American as a knock-down 6-foot-9 shooter, averaging 17.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game behind a 48.3 field goal percentage and 37.8 3-point percentage. Duke won the national championship in Dunleavy’s sophomore season, and he played a major role by scoring a team-high 21 points against Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson, Luke Walton and the rest of the Arizona Wildcats.
His introduction to the NBA was then facing a starting five of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Bruce Bowen, Tim Duncan and David Robinson the night before Halloween at what was known at the time as The Arena in Oakland. Dunleavy watched from the bench while the Warriors beat the San Antonio Spurs’ four Hall of Famers, plus three-time champion and eight-time All-Defensive honoree Bruce Bowen, 106-98, on the back of Antawn Jamison’s 36 points. He replaced Adonal Foyle for the final 18.9 seconds of the first half and never saw the floor the rest of the game.
But Dunleavy did earn bragging rights over Steve Kerr, and for more than the final score. Kerr, in the final season of his 15-year NBA playing career, was given a DNP (Did Not Play) from Gregg Popovich.
Though Dunleavy was on the winning end of his NBA debut, winning quickly took a backseat. The Warriors lost their next six games, including a 20-point bashing where Dunleavy was held scoreless in 20 minutes against the Spurs six days after that season-opening win. Golden State played 17 games in Dunleavy’s first month as a pro, and only won six of them.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors wound up winning 38 games in Dunleavy’s rookie season, a 17-victoryimprovement over the previous season. The Spurs won the championship against the New Jersey Nets in six games, giving Kerr his fifth and final ring as a player.
Dunleavy did appear in all 17 games over that first month and played all 82 as a rookie. But he also failed to score six times in his opening month. Dunleavy scored in double figures just twice in that span. First he did so by scoring 11 points off the bench in a 43-point win against the Orlando Magic on Nov. 16, 2002, and then did so two nights later in reserve by putting up 15 points in a 10-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Both of those figures were much higher than what Dunleavy averaged through the end of November in 2002.
His averages in that time were a lowly 4.4 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. Dunleavy did shoot 39.3 percent from deep (11 of 28), but only 31.1 percent overall (23 of 74). The Duke standout was 12-of-46 shooting on 2-pointers (26.1 percent).
“At least in this position, it's a team I've been with for four or five years now,” Dunleavy said. “And there's familiarity, and granted, taking the job in kind of the funnest part of the year where there's so much to do, there's transactions to make, so I really enjoyed it.
“It was a lot coming at us as a group but much, much harder, making that adjustment going from 'OK, I played in the ACC and now I'm in the NBA.' "
Dunleavy was introduced to the media at Chase Center three days after officially being hired as the Warriors’ GM. Six days after his hiring was the NBA draft, as well as Dunleavy pulling off a blockbuster trade to make Chris Paul a Warrior. Free agency began 15 days post Dunleavy’s promotion, and Draymond Green signed a new four-year, $100 million contract in the opening minutes. Dunleavy’s first month concluded with the Warriors’ final summer league game in Las Vegas, a 108-101 loss against the Toronto Raptors.
In Dunleavy’s first month as GM, he added one player through a trade and sent three away to the Washington Wizards. He signed three free agents, including Green, and brought in two more players through the draft. There wasn't a grace period, at all. Dunleavy had to dive head-first into a crazy part of the NBA offseason, and didn’t do himself any favors in the pressure category of it all.
Championship or bust always is the motto for a Warriors team that is coached by Kerr and has Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Green on the roster. Trading for future Paul, a Hall of Fame point guard and all-time Warriors nemesis, poured even more gasoline on the Warriors’ expectations. Does any part of Dunleavy wish he could have eased into the job instead of opting for such an explosive start?
“Honestly, in a lot of ways it was an easy move because I felt like it would make our team better and it gave us a decent amount of flexibility moving forward,” Dunleavy said. “So to me, it wasn't that tough. The hard part was letting go of Jordan [Poole], who I was here when we drafted and has meant so much to our franchise. Obviously Ryan Rollins and Patrick Baldwin Jr. were included in that as well.
“Losing those guys is tough and making calls to guys, you just never want to do that but it's part of the business and again, to have an opportunity to address some needs and to clear up some financial relief for me, honestly, didn't lose much sleep over that one.”
It was later that same day where Dunleavy felt he really found his voice as Golden State’s GM. The Warriors pride themselves on making collaborative decisions. Trades, signings and draft picks aren’t done by one single person. The franchise even routinely has higher-ups speak to divisions that don’t particularly pertain to their job or responsibility to create more cohesion.
Warriors owner Joe Lacob and the rest of the front office wanted to instill trust into Dunleavy leading up to the draft, and they did exactly that.
“I'd say probably on draft night,” Dunleavy said. “Leading up to a few hours before when we finalized our board and we were kind of down to a few guys and everybody debated and gave their take and said, ‘All right Mike, your call, depending on who's there, what direction are we going in? It’s your call.’ And at that point, I was like, all right, well, here's the job.”
The previous person who held the job is someone Dunleavy grew a lifetime relationship with years ago. Bob Myers was Dunleavy’s agent before going into the front office for the Warriors where he spent one year as assistant GM and the next 11 as the lead man in charge, building a legacy and winning four championships along the way. Dunleavy certainly hasn’t lost his number.
He just isn’t calling Myers at all times of the night like Lacob used to. Dunleavy now has the honor, if that’s what he’ll refer to it as.
Dunleavy since taking the job after Myers’ decision to step down has called him a handful of times, but basketball, for the most part, has been secondary.
“Well, I've called him a decent amount, but I'm more curious to see what he's doing,” Dunleavy said. “Like, are you bored yet? Yeah, a few times I’ve been like, ‘What do you think here, what do you think there?’
“We've got a great friendship and always have, so I'll rely on him for some stuff but for the most part, just curious about what he's doing, what he's gonna do with his life.”
At 21 years old, Dunleavy was drafted by the Warriors and carried the burden of a top draft pick for a franchise searching for hope. He’s now 42, fully understands the only outcome that’s seen as a positive Warriors season and as well as anyone, Dunleavy also realizes the pressure players carry in a league that never stops.