What The Warriors Can Learn From The Thunder: It’s All About Chemistry

No way out

It’s really tough to not let yourself get sucked into this Warriors team right now. They’re a side which wasn’t expected to do much at all this season by pundits or fans, with an awkward combination of very raw kids; over-the-hill, injury-prone vets clogging salary space and head cases in their line up. They had just changed captains in the off season, and there were whispers about the coach and the front office staff – John Hart in particular.

So to find ourselves well inside the eight in mid-July is surprising to say the least. Even better, they’ve done it with most of their salary cap on the sideline. The team which won against Parramatta two weeks back had an average age of 23, and around 50 NRL caps apiece under their belt. Apart from Brisbane’s injury-ravaged start, there won’t have been many greener sides fielded this year. They were without captain Simon Mannering, Steve Price, Brent Tate, Joel Moon, Lance Hohaia, Jacob Lillyman, Kevin Locke, Sam Rapira and Wade McKinnon, who they’d parted company with earlier in the season. They’ve gotta be $2.5m, easy.

They got Mannering back for the weekend’s match away to Penrith, and turned out the most heroic defensive game I’ve ever seen. Shayne Hayne’s preening, patronising, astoundingly incompetent performance was exactly the kind of spanner which would have seen a slender 12-6 half-time lead become a 12-40 full-time thrashing in pretty much any previous Warriors team. We’ve never handled adversity particularly well round here. But despite what no less an authority than Bob Fulton called “the worst refereeing performance in the last 20 years”, those young dudes just put their heads down and tackled like animals for most of the second half. It put this year’s Origin to shame for tenacity, and created some of the most infuriating, enthralling sport you’ll in this or any other year.

It was a game that will become part of the side’s lore, that will live in the memory of fans forever. But it should also be a salutary lesson in where this club’s strength lies at the moment, and how it should spend its money. This winning streak is not being created by the big dollar Australian imports (though the attitude and work ethic of Michael Luck was written all over that win). It’s young, hard, unflashy home-grown kids who are doing it. They are deserving of their spaces, they’re playing together and for each other, they have incredible chemistry, and it is precisely the latter which I think is most valuable, and makes the rumours swirling around the likes of Steve Matai all the more worrying.Matai is a great footballer, no doubt, but when you have a core of quality utility backs like Hohaia, Ropati (who is in the form of his life) and Locke – with more bubbling up around the edges – to complement Vatuvei, why would you want to bring in a guy with a dodgy agent (one of the infamous Orr bros.) and attitude into the mix? To my mind, the lessons of the Oklahoma City Thunder should be looked at hard by this Warriors team.

They both have a marquee star who is a freakish physical specimen and on his day close to the best player in the game (Durant/Vatuvei), talent no-one saw coming in key positions (Locke, Maloney & Brown vs Westbrook, Ibaka & Green), and the chance to start over with a clean slate. For the Thunder it was moving from Seattle with no expectations and a incredibly smart GM/coach. For the Warriors it’s all that cap space – Price, McKinnon and Tate all off the books in one year, with more likely to follow. They’ve signed Inu, Mateo and Steve Rapira, which look like reasonable decisions, but with the way the rest of the team’s playing, they should be spending this off season extending the contracts of all these local guys who are playing their hearts out for minimum wage.

Because this could be a dynasty like the one building in OKC. These guys seem to love playing together – that much is manifest in all they do on the field. Like Oklahoma, who hang out in a pack off court and watch the rookies in Summer League rather than partying in South Beach, this Warriors side seems tightknit – a colleague told me that Ropati, Locke and others spend their free time training with talismanic former Warrior Ruben Wiki. Which is a pleasant change from the Monty Betham era’s getting smashed and smashing dudes at Pony Club, right?

It just feels good right now. Like we’ve got some bad apples out of the clubhouse, and the side is here to play league. Rather than rushing to fill up that cap space with whoever’s available, maybe we sit tight and believe in what our side’s leaving on the field every week at the moment. Because the way they’re playing, this could be the best team we’ve put together since 2001-2002. That side ended up falling apart prematurely, but here, with these kids, we have a shot at redemption. Let’s not blow it up just yet.

– Duncan

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7 Comments

Filed under Fandom, NBA, NRL, Rugby league

7 responses to “What The Warriors Can Learn From The Thunder: It’s All About Chemistry

  1. 100% agree, great post. Would love to see Warriors have unprecendented 1st option on any of our local players.
    Shame about John’s injury but there is another exciting local development in a key position. Really looking forward to both OKC and Warriors next few seasons…you’re right, it’s starting to feel good..

  2. Duncan

    I reckon take the whole NBA salary cap structure and impose it here, with Bird rights, ability to match other teams offers, team options etc. It’s complex as, but makes sense. And trades! We should have been able to get something back for McKinnon. But w/out a draft that’s unrealistic I guess.
    John’s injury was horrible. He was looking fantastic. Sucks how all our good young guys seem extremely injury prone. But he’ll come back – it’s the kind of group who’ll help you through something as dispiriting as that. Like the way Kevin Locke went off the boil earlier this year and rather than get dispirited and leave the group seemed to lift him back up. I’m excited, I have to say.

  3. I like the fact that you are back on the wagon Duncan, but disagree with some of your opinions which seem more than a slight warped to me.

    Firstly, let’s not got too carried away; a likening of our local league club to an NBA franchise is step too far for this Warriors fan and many others I suspect. With aid of some glamour protective sunglasses so as to see some perspective, I continue.

    Yes, we have won four on the trot, but to assume we are “well inside the eight” is incorrect. Admittedly we do have control over our destiny, and if we keep winning, then we are playoffs bound. However we are currently only a single result in the eight, and a loss this weekend could see us slip to ninth. Our points differential is poor, and thusly we must continue to win to have any hope.

    I’m not sure who all of our “over-the-hill” players were at the start of the year; as far as I can recall, Steve Price might have been the only over 30 we had, with maybe Jess Royal turning 30 within the season.

    Your expectations which perhaps mirrored those of the pundits who didn’t care to look too closely were never representative of my own. I thought we recruited extremely well in Seymour (world class pro), Maloney (a young and undeniable talent in leading Central Coast to the NSW Cup last season, and only kept out of Prem grade by Finch/Cronk) and Lattimore (impressive size and handling, who played a significant bit role for Parra last season, as he was kept out by Tim Mannah – NSW State rep this year), and felt the side would benefit from having the spotlight off them, and some distance from the Sonny Fai tragedy.

    Then there were the guys we unearthed last season. Even watching online from Europe, I thought the prospects of guys like Locke & Brown (both mentioned by you as “talent no one saw coming” both players who you watched from the stands last year) as well as Isaac John, Aaron Heremaia, Russell Packer, and Ben Matulino, gave us a real shot at being competitive this year.

    The “whispers” you mention, that surrounded our “coach” in particular, as well as our “front office and John Hart” was more than likely a series of stealth like disemboguements, emitted from the most over reactionary of fans and media, who think that a league team “should” win every week, and because we clearly hadn’t in ’09 the boat deserved a bit of a rocking.

    Next of all Steve Matai: what are you basing your opinion of his “dodgy attitude” on? A quick trawl through a few of Manly’s forums will reveal Matai as a very popular player, who is credited as a significant part of their success. The past few years Steve has experienced tremendous success with both Manly (two grand finals, and a title) as well as the Kiwi’s (RLWC’08); I tend to think his calibre alone would have positive impact on young guys like Kevin Locke, Joel Moon, Patrick Ah Van, Bill Tupou, Ivan Penehe et cetera. Whether or not his agent is “dodgy” should be the least of our concerns; surely he is looking for his own best interests financially, and Steve’s by proxy (or hopefully vice versa). But the last time I checked, a player agent never kitted up to take the field anyway.

    I think you will find we did get something in return for Wade McKinnon’s departure; cap space. Other than that, I’m not sure what you would like? Both parties agreed to terms. Deal done.

    I do agree with you as far as to give praise to our injury ravaged, and largely inexperienced side coming up with goods against the odds, but to opine that because of this past month we have hope for a dynasty is a slight over excited, and I fear it can only lead to a continued disappointment. The results can turn just as quickly, and lead one to stop attending the games or perhaps even cancelling their season pass (heaven forbid!). This is the NRL; a good year is often winning only 50% of your games. Many people cannot handle this fact, and find solace in supporting the 60 – 80% gratifications in either the dreary Union, the EPL, or the consumptive U.S.

  4. Duncan

    Hi Kane
    Good to have you here! And good to have a league-wonk commenting too. I’m going to refute point-by-point, just because I do feel quite strongly that I’ve been misconstrued here, rather than being wrong:
    Well inside the eight: Sixth only by points differential (and tied for fourth) is well inside the eight to me. Any team that loses goes down the ladder, that’s sport.
    Expectations: I feel like I covered this pretty well. Steve Price is super over-the-hill, so much so that he hasn’t played a game for us this season. Brent Tate is 28 and has missed half of his career through injury. Those are the two highest paid guys at our club. Not a great base. And Saying that Seymour is a world class pro ignores the fact that he’s had major drinking problems his whole career.
    Ultimately those arguments are fairly trivial, I said that heading into the season there was little reason to be overly excited – I was hardly alone in that, and many people more qualified than me were of the same opinion – like Phil Gould who picked them as wooden spooners.
    The main thing I think you’ve missed the point on is the young player’s development, and this is where the Oklahoma City comparison comes into play. Their starting line-up is guys drafted second, fourth, fifth, 13th and 24th in the past three-four years. You would hope you’d get one starter and a couple of rotation players for that. They’ve got the nucleus of a squad which will, as Henry has pointed out recently, become a team which wins championships. The Warriors nurturing of home grown talent, rather than buying established talent, mirrors that approach. Of course I watched and was thrilled by Locke, Brown, Matulino, John, Packer etc etc etc over the past few years… But what I meant was when rookies make their debut, you don’t expect them to become as good as this group has proven to be. Going into the season I didn’t anticipate them growing as a group, playing for each other and handling adversity this well. And sure, four wins in a row is just enough to get us where we’d like to be. But it’s also telling that only four other Warriors sides have ever strung more wins in a row together.
    The whispers about John Hart I was told by a reliable source, who heard them from a club stalwart directly. And I’ve similarly heard the same person quoted as saying something very similar to someone else in conversation. Maybe it’s nothing, but the way the whole Steve Price saga has played out too has made me a little leery of the club.
    And as far as Matai goes – sure, I’m basing it on nothing more than seeing that he’s got a legendary asshole for an agent (something he has in common with many NZ players, but still), and knowing what Sydney’s culture is like. And that if you introduce any outside element into a culture it inevitably changes that culture. You gamble, mostly, that it’ll be for the better.
    Anyway, I stand by what I wrote, as you can see. And if you’d ever like to contribute, because I lknow you know your shit, and can write, email dgreive@gmail.com

  5. Hey Duncan,

    I appreciate your response, and respect that we do have a difference of opinion on some points. I would also like to mention that upon re-reading my initial response, I am surprised as to how aggressive I sounded; this was not my intention, and I am relieved that the pro in you saw through this. I am thrilled to read any perspective on the Warriors (particularly yours) and am always excited to engage in debate.

    Point for point, because you went to the effort:

    I acknowledge your stance on our current ladder placing; I think largely it is quibble over the semantics of language.

    I guess I was surprised to read your lack of expectation for the year, and this highlights a difference of personality. Gould, Greg Alexander and possibly others did tip the Warriors for the spoon – I thought this exposed the fact that they don’t pay too much attention to what our team does, unless it makes a preliminary final. I always felt we would be in the thick of the playoff log jam (placing anywhere from 5 – 14) and was thusly hopeful for an encouraging season, and optimistic to bordering on convinced that we would largely be better than ’09.

    Despite being injury prone I can’t undestand Brent Tate as being labelled “over the hill.” His form this year has been exceptional, and we will go better for having him back this week. Again, maybe we are talking semantics.

    Fair point on Brett Seymour; nobody really knew what was going to happen, but I always thought reports of his progress were encouraging.

    The Steve Price issue is perhaps one we could have a beer over sometime; I’ve heard some unpleasant things, and I’m sure you have too. It is perhaps the only thing I would like to question the club over, and I suspect there is a story there somewhere.

    I take you for your word regarding Hart – there was a time at the start of the season where a lot of rumours were popping out about Cleary having 5 games to prove he shouldn’t be sacked et cetera. It even made it on to the Footy Show segment “Around the Grounds” with Andrew Voss and went as far as mentioning Cleary’s replacement. Any mention of whispers tends to rub me up the wrong way.

    I still question your stance on Matai. In every way I look at it, he would be an asset for our team – scum bag agent or not.

    Finally, I still struggle to travel the symmetries you present between Oklahoma, and the Warriors. Perhaps this is because I have not followed the NBA since Patrick Ewing retired without a championship ring (I swear that John Starks 3 – point buzzer beater was half way down on during game 6 of the ’94 Finals Series), but this is more than likely because I am a little slow. Draft vs. development, Chemisty = Chemistry, 4 seasons vs. 4 weeks…

    Anyway, keep it up. I lurk around here often and enjoy your work.

    Cheers.

  6. Duncan

    X2 for the hindsight aggression bro. Maybe mine was reflexive, but still jars to re-read it. Just to quickly tail it off: I know absolutely what you mean about whispers – they seem like some weird club only the media’s invited to, and only ever end up making sense half the time if you’re lucky. Nevertheless my extremely peripheral Warriors sources (talkback plus, basically) tell me there have been odd situations. Regarding Steve Matai I’m pretty much conceding the point. If he was the first signed out of Mateo, Inu and him I’d have been pumped… Now I’m just deathly afraid of something snapping our good spirits. He’ll probably turn out to be amazing. Or not sign. And in terms of the commentators – I wholeheartedly agree. It’s a variation on the glamour club syndrome (Alan Mac noted on RSport today that the Storm have won 81% of the matches Steve Lyons has reffed!!). People don’t pay all that much attention, therefore when a variation to the expected occurs they overcompensate in case it’ll reflect on them. Same way this Cavs vs Bulls game from 1990 I just watched featured a few obvious Jordan calls.
    But as far as the Thunder goes – I strongly recommend you watch them next year. You might find a team to treasure.
    PS – seriously, write for us!

  7. Tim

    Coming to this a bit late, but, tend to agree with your original comment Dunc about Matai (not so much about discipline but more generally). I think maybe if we didn’t have Inu locked in he would be a good option. Problem is we are/potentially filling up our roster (and salary cap space) with a few above average, but not great, outside backs. As it stand for our 4 wing/center positions next year we’ll have Inu, Ropati, Vatuvai, Ah Van, Locke, Moon and a few others coming through who can fill in if needed). If we’re gonna go out and get someone else, they need to be one of the top 3 or 4 guys in the league. Matai is good, but he’s not worth the salary if it means Moon (who i rate as a center) and Inu are sitting on the bench.

    I think we are looking pretty good in most positions (starting plus 1 x deep). Obviously we need to a good prop (would love to get Blair) but if we can’t fill that this season, I think we’ve got enough depth there to wait till end of 2011. Better to wait, then lock in someone who isn’t ideal (prokhorov style). Presuming Rapira stays fit, I think we’ve already got enough for next season so that the front row won’t be the reason we don’t do well. Plus then we’ve got salary cap space to upgrade a few of the young guys coming through who show potential (there are quite a few) and hopefully keep Vatuvai.

    I’m pretty happy with the state of the roster as it is. Mateo will add a lot, and for the first time in ages I’m happy with the halves combination – esp will Johnson coming through.

    Just on Price. It’s hard to say anything bad about the guy, but i think the decision (possibly not the way it went down but i find it hard to believe Clarey would have done anything below the belt) has shown to have been justified/neccesary. Mannering was always the future. He’s done a good job. Price hasn’t even got on the field. The last contract extension was a mistake (easy to say now but I think alot of people saw the writing on the wall before it happened). Luckily it doesn’t seem to have cost us too much.

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