Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Once awed by MJ, Curry aimed to top him

OAKLAND, Calif. — Many kids growing up in the mid 1990s dreamed about meeting Michael Jordan.

Not too many had the ability, as Stephen Curry did, to go to NBA games as the son of a longtime NBA player and be able to wait to see if his paths would cross path with Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman or the rest of those legendary Chicago Bulls teams.

"I do remember going to the Charlotte Coliseum and watching my dad play," Curry said recently. "That was a game you'd try not to miss. … I remember as a kid being in the back, in the tunnel, waiting to hopefully cross paths with Jordan, Pippen, Dennis Rodman, (Warriors coach Steve) Kerr. That was something that was a special time as a kid."

It's one thing to have the opportunity to meet Jordan as a kid. It's another to have the ability to surpass one of his greatest achievements — leading the 1996 Bulls to 72 regular-season wins. That's what Curry and the Warriors had the chance to do Wednesday night, when they hosted the Grizzlies with a shot to finish the regular season 73-9. For the result of the late game, visit tampabay.com/sports.

For the Warriors, a team filled with players whose first memories of pro basketball were watching those great Bulls teams, Chicago holds a reverential place in their hearts and minds.

That's why, even when members of that Bulls team belittled the Warriors — including Pippen saying those Bulls would sweep Golden State — the Warriors can't help but give them a different level of respect.

"With (Pippen) coming out and saying what he said, that's cool," Draymond Green said. "At the end of the day, we respect those guys."

Part of that respect, inevitably, is because they are coached by one of those players. No one has a tougher time with this situation than Kerr, a member of that Bulls team 20 years ago and the coach of this Warriors team. It has left Kerr unsure of how to talk about both teams at the same time.

"I don't even know what to say," Kerr said. "It's crazy. It just feels like a right-place, right-time type thing to be part of two teams that have performed like this and have won at this level for the entire season. I'm pretty lucky really, just to play next to Michael and Scottie and Dennis and play for (Bulls coach Phil Jackson) and come here and inherit this whole group. Steph and Klay (Thompson) and Draymond and Andre (Iguodala) and everybody else as my first coaching job … (that's) a pretty good draw."

When Kerr arrived with the Warriors a little less than two years ago, he inherited a group that hadn't made it to a conference finals in 39 years and hadn't won a championship in 40.

Kerr promptly led the Warriors to a 67-win campaign last season, powered by an MVP performance from Curry, and Golden State captured the title. For an encore, the Warriors won their first 24 games this season — all while Kerr sat out due to complications from back surgery — and are on pace to win more games than any team in history.

Curry is set to capture a second straight MVP award, Green could be the league's defensive player of the year, Iguodala could win sixth man of the year and Kerr could win coach of the year. Plus, with a win Wednesday over Memphis and a title in June, the Warriors will be able to deservedly say they are the greatest team in NBA history.

It's an opportunity that anyone growing up watching those Bulls tear through the league in 1996 could only dream of having.

Now, with 48 minutes standing between them and history, Curry and the Warriors know what they have to do to achieve immortality.

"We have the opportunity to do something that no one has done," Curry said Tuesday. "So many great players have suited up, and for us 15 guys to say we've accomplished something as a group that's never been done before, that's remarkable. We earned the right to have a 48-minute game to eclipse the mark, and we have to go out and finish the job."

KARL HEADED OUT: With the Kings concluding another disappointing season against the Rockets, the team's front office won't waste time in its quest to reshape its coaching staff.

The first matter will be to fire head coach George Karl, which is expected to happen today upon the Kings' return to Sacramento. Karl coached the team for a full season-plus, taking a 44-67 record into the season finale.

Karl, 64, didn't address his job security directly but did talk about whether it would be difficult to coach amid the reports that he would be fired.

"It's easy to coach," he said. "This is a fun game for everybody. This is free swing. You've got a team that's going to come after the game at a high, high level. If we're going to match them we're going to have to be ready to play.

Once Karl is dismissed, the Kings will begin the process of hiring their fourth head coach since Vivek Ranadive took over as majority owner, a fact that is likely to lead big-name candidates like Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks to steer clear.

Former Kings guard Vinny Del Negro, Jeff Hornacek, Kevin McHale and Patrick Ewing are among the names being considered, the Sacramento Bee reported. Former Warriors coach Mark Jackson and former Cavaliers coach David Blatt are also expected to be considered.

Whoever takes the job will inherit a two-time All-Star in DeMarcus Cousins, who will play under his sixth coach entering his seventh season in the league. A big reason for Karl's departure was his inability to establish a solid working relationship with the center, who at times went on tirades directed at Karl. Karl tried to get Cousins suspended after a locker room outburst in November, but general manager Vlade Divac did not oblige.

T'WOLVES SEARCH: The Timberwolves are opening up their search for a permanent head coach, the Associated Press reported. Minnesota hired a search firm to help with the process of looking for a replacement for Flip Saunders, who died in October, according to AP. Sam Mitchell has served on an interim basis for the season, leading the Timberwolves to 12 more victories than they had last season as they headed into their season finale against the Pelicans.

AROUND THE LEAGUE: Six U.S. senators, including one Republican, wrote a letter to NBA commissioner Adam Silver asking him to pull the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte, N.C., because of a state law that permits discrimination against the LGBT community. The letter is signed by Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois and five Democrats: Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon. … The 76ers are set to launch a lab designed to help local startup companies at their new training complex. The Sixers will integrate a 10,000-square-foot innovation lab at their new headquarters in Camden, N.J. … Hornets small forward Nicolas Batum did not play against the Magic because of a sore left ankle. … LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and two other starters sat out the Cavaliers' regular-season finale against the Pistons, Cleveland's first-round playoff opponent. The Cavs have clinched the top seed in the East. … Former Gator Udonis Haslem missed the Heat's regular-season finale at Boston with a sore left foot.

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