The game had been over for about a minute on Monday, and, maybe a bit surprisingly, Joe Lacob was walking off the court by himself, smiling quietly at nobody at particular and just a little bit lost in reverie. Surrounding No. No backslapping buddies.
Just Lacob himself, moving slowly as everything went fast around him.
Chase Center was still exulting and echoing. The Warriors players were still passing through the tunnel to their locker room, whooping and laughing in celebration of their powerful 126-106 victory over the Denver Nuggets to take a 2-0 series lead. Lacob, usually not so much about keeping to himself, mostly was doing exactly that.
What it looked like: This is just about everything Lacob had planned for this new arena to feel like during the playoffs. Luxurious, loud, immensely profitable and the proper home of a championship contender. He was taking a moment. He was absorbing everything.
Then I asked him what he was thinking.
“This is the team we paid for,” Lacob said. “We never really had the team together all year. So I’m excited to see them all play together. We never really got to see it. I think it’s exciting to see it.”
He paused for a second and added:
“The biggest thing I’m really happy about is the revelation of Jordan Poole. He’s just playing incredible. … He’s arguably been our best player for a month and a half. He’s really emerging. He’s got tremendous talent.”
There’s a lot happening for the Warriors these days, and Poole’s leap to an elite level is clearly the most significant of them all. But Saturday and Monday were the first two Warriors playoff games ever held at Chase, and it was a success. Stephen Curry is back healthy for this series after missing the last two weeks of the regular season. Draymond Green is fully back after his own long injury absence. Klay Thompson is really, really back.
And the lineup of Poole, Curry, Klay, Draymond and Andrew Wiggins is closing halves with lightning: For the second consecutive game, that group, I’m calling it the Death & Maxes unit, absolutely destroyed the Nuggets in the second quarter.
“It went about as well as we could’ve hoped and planned, I guess,” Lacob said. “The arena was great. Team played great. And I think it was a little louder than the other night.”
Said Steve Kerr: “The crowd feels it when we are playing well, and we feed off of each other at that point.”
The crowds on Saturday or Monday weren’t as uproarious as classic Oracle Arena thunder, but that was never going to happen at a new building, in San Francisco, not Oakland, and lined with luxury suites and multi-millionaire fans. It still got pretty loud, though, during the Warriors’ stampede in the second quarter, with Poole, Curry and Klay taking turns roasting the Nuggets defense and Lacob doing some shimming and fist-pumping of his own.
“I thought the energy was good,” said Draymond Green, who also tried to do some revving up of his own a few times to make sure the energy stayed at a peak level. “There were times it felt like Oracle. There were times it was super loud. … As fast as we can, we all got to get rid of the idea of Oracle in our head. That’s a very special place. It’s a very different place.
“I mean, even the makeup of the building, like, it’s going to be louder, you know, and so we kind of all have to remove that thought from our head that this place is going to be Oracle. It’s a totally different place. Nevertheless, it’s a great one, too, and we need to continue to establish it as the best home court in the league.”
I asked: Did you notice Lacob on the sideline?
“It’s hard not to notice Joe on the sideline,” Green said. “Whether you’re going good or bad, it’s hard not to notice Joe on the sideline.”
This is what Lacob and co-owner Peter Guber have wanted for years, from the negotiations to get it built, the years they waited and then missing the playoffs in the first two seasons after Chase opened. Now they’ve had two playoff games with several more likely to come.
“The building’s incredible,” Lacob said. “Everyone who comes through here thinks this place is amazing. When I get on the court, that’s what I’m thinking, ‘This place is amazing.’ We’re pretty proud of it, obviously.
“And everyone who questioned whether our fans are going to show up in the playoffs, you can make your own judgment about that.”
Poole’s incredible play is a big-picture issue, too. He’s eligible for a contract extension this summer, though the Warriors have his rights through the end of next season.
Either way, adding in his 29-point, 8-assist performance on Monday to his 30-point tally in Game 1 and it’s hard to see Poole getting much less than the maximum allowed — which could start at $30 million a year. That is some complication for a team that already this season is due to pay more than $300 million in payroll and luxury taxes.
I asked Lacob: What happens if re-signing Poole might take your payroll above $400 million?
“I’m not worried about that — certainly not now,” Lacob said. “We only have one thing on our mind now, which is to win, get to the next round and see how far we can go in these playoffs.
“I’m not going to talk about salary because it’s irrelevant right now. We’re in this year. After the year’s over we’re all evaluating where we are, and we’ll try to put the best team on the court we can for next year. And we’ll see what that is.”
But here’s what could pay for all those max salaries: Chase Center itself, a cash machine unlike the NBA or just about any other sport has ever seen. If the Warriors keep winning and the building continues to churn massive profits, there is some chance that Lacob would be willing, and could afford, just about any semi-rational payroll number.
So I asked Lacob about these playoffs, with the Warriors now set to play Games 3 and 4 in Denver starting Thursday. Do you think this team, now that almost everyone is finally healthy, can win the championship?
“I’m not going to make any judgments yet,” Lacob said. “Let’s take it a little further and see where we’re at. Let’s go to Denver and at least get one of them out there and get this series behind us and then we’ll see from there. I can make a few more pronouncements if we get there, but right now we just want to stay healthy and play the best we can.
“I think one would have to certainly look at what we’ve done in the first two games and say it looks pretty good.”
What were you thinking when the team went through several tailspins late in the season, including a 1-7 stretch in March?
“I would have to say I was a little concerned,” Lacob said. “We were struggling hard towards the end of the season. But I think once we reset, had a week off before the playoffs started and got everyone back together on the court for the first time this season … we just haven’t seen that.
“This isn’t baseball. This isn’t football. This isn’t 50 guys or 25 guys. One guy can make a huge difference. You add Steph Curry to what we were doing at the end of the year, it’s pretty good.”
Finally, I asked Lacob about the Warriors’ somewhat controversial desire to succeed on two timelines this season: Build around Curry, Klay and Draymond for at least one more run with the old guard … and also accumulate a group of very young and very talented players who could take over in the future.
Almost impossible, right?
Right now, Poole, at 22, is the only younger player in a major role, though rookie Jonathan Kuminga still could get some rotation time at some point this postseason. And the Warriors are 2-0 so far in the first round.
Is this part of the two-timeline project?
“I’ll let you make the judgment on that,” Lacob said. “You know where I am on that. You know what my view has been from the beginning with Bob (Myers) and the rest of our group. I don’t see it as a two-timeline thing. I view it as what we need to do to be the best team we can be now and for the future. We have to think of both. I really believe in that.
“There are a couple teams, I’m not going to say who, there’s some other teams that went all-in on older players. And older players do get injured. That’s the thing you have to remember. Suppose we had made a trade, traded away all our youth, for I don’t know, you name the guy, and they’re injured, out for the year. Anytime you’re over 30, 32, 35, these people get injured. It’s data.
“Having a Jordan Poole emerge at 22 and a Kuminga, who obviously is incredibly talented, isn’t playing so much so far yet in this series, but I think he will have his role … and (James) Wiseman coming back next year, (Moses) Moody … I just think we’re set up for the future. And yet we’re really good now.”
Then Lacob smiled again and headed into the owners’ lounge, where music played and his guests were in an extremely good mood. There will be tougher times ahead. Maybe immediately. But on this night, after the Warriors’ first playoff games at Chase Center, there was also a little bit of serenity.
(Photo: Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)