Mike Dunleavy Jr.’s way back to the Golden State Warriors, the franchise that once drafted him, came because of his former agent.
Bob Myers represented Dunleavy early in his playing days. They became close friends. Myers joined the Warriors in 2011. He became general manager in 2012. Dunleavy left the Warriors in 2007 after a turbulent run, but ended a 15-year playing career in 2017 after bouncing from Indianapolis to Chicago to Milwaukee to Cleveland to Atlanta.
Right around the time Dunleavy retired, the Warriors’ front office moved around Myers. Jerry West left for the Clippers. Travis Schlenk left for the Hawks. Myers felt he needed another trusted voice beside him in a decision-making room that included Joe Lacob, the opinionated majority owner, and Kirk Lacob, his eldest son, who rose through the ranks.
Myers got the green light to hire Dunleavy, who quickly settled on his next career path. They added him as a pro scout in September 2018 with the expectation that it would become more over time.
“The one thing he knew he didn’t want was coaching,” Myers told me at the time of Dunleavy. “Which is a little bit surprising because I think he would be a good coach. But he was focused on the front office.”
As announced Friday, Dunleavy is now the Warriors’ next general manager. He replaces Myers, a franchise legend. Here’s a timeline of how Dunleavy got to this point, starting with a complicated start to his relationship with Golden State.
Prepared in 2002
The Warriors lost 61 games in the 2001-02 season. So did the Bulls. They tied for the worst record in basketball, giving them even odds — 22.5 percent — to win the draft lottery. Yao Ming was the prize. Knowing the kind of player and marketing opportunity Yao represented, the Warriors and their fans desperately wanted to win.
They didn’t. The Rockets did so with an 8.9 percent chance. They got Yao. The Bulls, who were drafted second, got Jay Williams. The Warriors, who draw third, got Dunleavy.
He went on to have a better career than Drew Gooden or Nikoloz Tskitishvili or Dajuan Wagner, the three guys drafted right after him. But Warriors fans weren’t worried about the alternatives. They saw Yao, an immediate star in Houston, and Dunleavy, a steady role player with an obvious long-term ceiling under the All-Star floor. The team kept losing because of much bigger problems. The organization had more damaging problems.
But Dunleavy often felt the brunt of the Oracle Arena boosts due to the third overall selection and then the five-year, $44 million price tag — negotiated by Myers’ agency — on his extension. He notoriously criticized the fans for the constant booing, raising his temperature.
“Looking back on it, I probably didn’t have the right mindset to be the third pick,” Dunleavy told me upon his return to the franchise in 2018. “You have to go out and put up the numbers, and I was probably for team- oriented and interested in making the team better, playing with my teammates. I probably should have been more aggressive, should have launched, done all that.”
The Warriors weren’t terrible during Dunleavy’s four and a half seasons. They were just perennially bad enough to live below the playoff streak and continue to disappoint the fan base: 38-44, 37-45, 34-48 and 34-48.
Near the trade deadline for his fifth season, Dunleavy was sent to the Pacers in a deal that brought Stephen Jackson to the Warriors, turning the team into the “We Believe” race and quickly washing away memories of the Dunleavy era. He stayed in the Eastern Conference for the rest of his career and was living in New York City when the Warriors hired him in 2018. He rejoined a franchise that was very different from the one he left.
“It really is,” Dunleavy said. “When I was here, I felt pretty confident that we had a strength in two areas. Our two best things were our equipment guy (Eric Housen) and our PR guy (Raymond Ridder). Ironically, those are the two things that have remained. Everything else has changed and everything else has accelerated.”
Thompson: A toast to the Bay Area’s own, Bob Myers
Scout in 2018
Dunleavy spent much of the first year in the front office, attending NBA games in Brooklyn, gathering information and getting into the job. As the college season progressed, the Warriors’ scouting department, led by Larry Harris, deployed him as a college scout in that area of the country.
Dunleavy attended Villanova games and practices to watch Eric Paschall. He went to the Big Ten tournament and got a closer look at three Jordan Poole games. His advice and information was used on both elections. The Warriors took Poole 28th and Paschall 41st in the 2019 draft.
“At these practices, sometimes you see guys do things they don’t necessarily do in games,” Dunleavy told me in 2019 of Paschall. “So being able to see some things Eric was doing — especially with the ball in his hands, making plays — made me feel a little bit better about his overall skill level.”
Dunleavy became particularly bullish on Poole.
“We had Jordan for two practices,” Dunleavy said at the time. “I think he did really well in the first one. Then we brought him back for a little bit, got him going against some bigger, more physical guys. More two/three than one/twos. He handled the ball a lot and his ability to play — maybe it was something you don’t see as much in his college environment — was impressive. Then it felt like watching him, there were some concerns about his physicality holding up in the NBA. He did really well in that training. It was kind of a moment where everyone felt comfortable saying, ‘You know, this kid, he’s going to be able to hold his own.'”
These two evaluations (delivered back in 2019) give you a quick insight into Dunleavy’s ethos as a talent evaluator. He prioritizes skill and playmaking. He was a versatile wing who could do a little bit of everything back in his prime – pass it, shoot it, push it back, score it in a variety of ways. He has a respected eye and feel for the game. His father was a former NBA head coach and general manager.
This is what Myers said about Dunleavy after the 2019 playoffs: “He has a great breadth of skills. He can go to Steve Kerr and talk about our offense and have a good platform to talk about it. Because he’s played for some good coaches, was a really smart player, his dad was a coach, he does it in a very humble way.
“Even I sat with Mike in some playoff games and asked him, ‘What do you see out there?’ I’m not arrogant enough to think I know more than he does about an NBA offense. So I’m just asking him questions. He’s looking deeper — kind of like Andre (Iguodala) and Shaun (Livingston) — just a brilliant basketball mind . It kind of comes naturally.”
Assistant GM in 2019
Kevin Durant, recovering from a recent Achilles tear, was in New York City when free agency started in the summer of 2019. So that’s where Myers had to camp. The Warriors’ chances of keeping Durant were dying, but Myers wanted to be there in person to see it through. He maintained the best relationship in the organization with Durant.
Dunleavy was living in New York at the time, so it worked out well. Dunleavy bonded with Myers in the frantic first few hours of free agency and was in the same Ritz-Carlton room as Myers when the Warriors were able to pull off a sign-and-trade with Brooklyn that brought back D’Angelo Russell , eventually leading to Andrew Wiggins and the pick that became Jonathan Kuminga at the next trade deadline.
“It was crazy. Crazy,” Dunleavy told me in 2019. “We’re in a hotel room, locked in. I’m taking tons of notes, pulling Ritz-Carlton pads next to the phone and jotting down information. If I’m talking in the phone with someone and he’s on the phone with someone, I’ll write him notes like, “This is what this guy’s saying.” It was strikingly unfashionable in the sense that we had a couple of phones and an iPad , but we weren’t set up as well because the rest of our team was back west.”
Added Myers: “I remember my laptop charger was plugged into my phone because you couldn’t keep the phone charged at all. Multiple conversations going on, merging calls, trying to get everyone on the line and in consultation on decisions. Different time zones. So much information. Pretty overwhelming.”
At one point in a quiet moment in the chaos, Myers looked at Dunleavy and asked a question.
“This is what it is,” Myers said. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
And Myers recalled the situation: “I think it was maybe 1 or 2 in the morning. Because by then we were deep. It was a race. The earth kept moving. Which happens. It’s just such free agency goes. You try to keep so many different scenarios in your head and mind. It all comes down to your relationships and your trust, because none of those things are formalized. But he looked at me with that sharpness in his eyes: Absolutely. I think it drew him into it more than it pushed him away.”
Vice President of Basketball Operations in 2021
Dunleavy moved from New York back to the Bay Area prior to the 2019-20 season. He decided to cannonball into the deep end of the job. This is what Myers had hoped for Dunleavy when he targeted him as something of a West/Schlenk replacement. Dunleavy soon became a raised voice. He was given the title of vice president of basketball operations in 2021.
Over the last few seasons, Dunleavy has absorbed more and more of a general manager’s day-to-day responsibilities as Myers had taken a bit more of a backseat and spent the last year or more considering his future.
Dunleavy stood in for Myers during the league’s general manager summits. He led meetings and guided initiatives on site. When the Warriors hired Kenny Atkinson and gave their analytics expert, Pabail Sidhu, more of a voice over the past two seasons, it was Dunleavy who often served as the front-office representative between Atkinson and Sidhu as the Warriors tried to implement more of an analytical approach to the floor.
It wasn’t hard to see where this was headed. Dunleavy was often the most visible member of the front office during in-season road trips. He would spend 15 minutes after a shootaround in a long discussion with Kerr or be seen on the sidelines in conversation with a player.
After the Warriors’ Game 1 loss to the Lakers in the second round last month, Dunleavy was seen deep in conversation in the weight room with Myers, Steph Curry and Draymond Green. It felt like a representative passing-the-torch moment — Myers was preparing both Dunleavy and the franchise’s executives for the type of challenging conversations they would need to navigate together once Myers was gone.
That time is now. Myers announced his departure a few weeks ago, approving the promotion of Dunleavy in the process. Dunleavy was officially announced as the team’s next general manager on Friday. Joe Lacob will still have a strong veto vote, as always, and Kirk Lacob is expected to have some degree of increased clout, even though he already had plenty of weight.
But it’s Dunleavy stepping into the most prominent front office role just as the Warriors prepare for a monumental offseason.
(Photo by Mike Dunleavy and Jamal Crawford: Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images)