Mike Dunleavy Jr., touted as a Warriors player, gets another shot at GM

Golden State Warriors General Manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. shares a laugh with reporters after a 2023 NBA Draft press conference at the Chase Center in San Francisco, Calif., Thursday, June 22, 2023. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

LAS VEGAS — Mike Dunleavy Jr. emerges from the practice room at the Warriors’ Summer League facility and slides into a tall bar stool, a sweat towel draped over his shoulders as the temperature outside pushes 110 degrees.

He hasn’t stopped moving since taking over as general manager just a month ago, and he’s moving with purpose: His trade of Jordan Poole for Chris Paul sparked an offseason that has turned the Warriors’ roster from young and green to old and wise.

Dunleavy took over the GM role from Bob Myers, succeeding the man who brought him in as a scout in 2018.

The pressure is on Dunleavy to preside over a dynasty in its final stages. Of course he hasn’t stopped.

“There should be an urgent issue. I think it’s urgent,” he said. “We’re going to have to eventually find the next Jordan Poole to hand over the keys to, which we thought we would do with him.

“But I don’t see an end in sight for Steph Curry, which is exciting for us.”

To understand Dunleavy as the Warriors’ general manager is to know him as a Warriors player. He knows better than most how bad it was when this team was whistling in the dark. He doesn’t waste a moment the Warriors have in the spotlight.

Dunleavy, 42, did more than experience the darkness. He embodied it. What precedes him is a reputation as one of the most disliked Warriors of all time, loathed by fans from Chris Cohan’s ownership era for not being a franchise savior.

So it has to be asked: Is this Dunleavy’s shot at redemption in the Bay Area?

“Hmmm,” Dunleavy said, wiping some sweat from his brow. “I never thought about it that way…

“I won’t say no.”

Adonal Foyle, his former Warriors teammate and a current team ambassador, was more blunt.

“Sports is about redemption,” he said. “The coolest thing about sports is making the second act better than the first. We always strive for that, and I think Mike is no different.”

Dunleavy’s return to Golden State is ripe for vindication given the way he left. He was booted out of Oracle Arena for reasons only irrational, beleaguered fans can explain.

In 2002, the Warriors had a league-worst record and did not get the No. 1 pick. Their poor lottery luck dropped them to No. 3, where then-GM Garry St. Jean chose Dunleavy – a star at Duke, but maybe not at the NBA level.

“Imagine if their ping pong ball had been drawn and we got Yao Ming instead of Mike,” said Eric Jett, a Warriors fan of 36 years who runs r/warriors, a Reddit community dedicated to the team. “(Still) you expect a lot from a third overall pick.”

Added Bram Feinstein-Hillsman, another longtime fan who runs the Warriors fan podcast “Warriors Huddle:”

“Before Dunleavy ever set foot in Oakland, we were already vaguely disappointed. As the season began, the relationship between player and fan base gradually worsened. It wasn’t that Mike was terrible. Even if he had been, we were used to terrible basketball. It was that he was dispassionate. He responded to every missed shot, bad turnover and mounting loss with the same blank expression.”

But Dunleavy didn’t save the Warriors. They went 164-246 in Dunleavy’s four and a half seasons with Golden State under coaches Eric Musselman, Mike Montgomery and Don Nelson.

Wallowing in the dark ages that saw a decades-long championship drought and no player whose jersey they could wear with pride, fans reviled Dunleavy not for the solid player he was, but for the superstar he wasn’t.

What made it worse – Dunleavy put the target on his own back.

“I’m really sick of the negativity around here,” a 24-year-old Dunleavy said in 2005. “We’re doing our best. We’re playing hard. If they’re going to come out as fans, they shouldn’t be negative.”

Chris Mullin, who replaced St. Jean as GM in 2005, traded Dunleavy to Indiana, where he broke out in his first full season and capped it off with a 15-year career. Golden State fans showered him with boos when he returned as a visiting player.

Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry, right, passes Indiana Pacers’ Mike Dunleavy during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Nov. 30, 2009, at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)

“You come in as a high pick out of Duke, there are expectations,” Dunleavy said. “Not only from the outside, but within myself. It’s disappointing looking back because we could have had better teams.”

While fans may live in the past, those who knew Dunleavy best as a Warrior expect him to win them over as GM. All of the qualities he had as a teammate definitely made him the front office.

“Warriors fans wanted a superstar,” Mullin said in a phone interview last week. “But his best quality was as a teammate.”

From his teammates’ perspective, Dunleavy was committed to making the team better, relying on his strong feel for the game rather than chasing statistics. Foyle remembers long flights spent talking to Dunleavy about team building, the collective bargaining agreement, rosters, X’s and O’s.

“I always felt he was more aware of the nuances behind the scenes in a way that a lot of people weren’t,” Foyle said. “He had an opinion about everything.”

Watching his father, former NBA coach and GM Mike Dunleavy Sr., work with everyone from Magic Johnson to Scottie Pippen gave Dunleavy perspective.

Golden State Warriors General Manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. attends a press conference at the Chase Center in San Francisco, Calif., Monday, June 19, 2023. The Golden State Warriors announced today that Mike Dunleavy Jr. will replace Bob Myers as general manager. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

“He’s seen it all,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s been a high pick. He’s been touted, he’s been traded. He’s run the gamut. And that’s important because the most important part of the job is to constantly put yourself in everybody else’s shoes.”

When it became clear that Myers would not return after last season, Dunleavy was sidelined before and after games. He and Kerr began meeting for debriefs with unspoken context.

“It was unspoken,” Kerr said, “but I think there was an awareness that we could lead this thing together soon, and we wanted to make sure we were on the same page.”

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