Q+A: Larry Riley
The outgoing Warriors GM discusses the end to a disappointing year for Golden State.
by Irv Soonachan / @SidelineOB
It seemed a bit awkward on the podium Tuesday night, and there was no escaping it.
To the left of the assembled media throng sat Warriors owner Joe Lacob, oblivious as ever to his ham-fistedness with public relations. To the right sat Larry Riley, who at the age of 68 was being demoted from GM to Director of College Scouting. Polished and composed after a lifetime of coaching and front office jobs, he still couldn’t help but look a little sour. In between them sat the much younger Bob Myers, promoted to GM after just a few months of front office work, who seemed to be attending his first day of school.
Myers was hired by the Warriors with the understanding he would eventually succeed Riley, but the timing—two days before the end of the season—was unexpected.
True to form, Lacob noted that other teams weren’t sure who was in charge of his club this year. “When you call the Warriors, it’s a little confusing,” he said. “There are a lot of voices…This cleans up the lines of authority.”
Riley, a native Midwesterner, has a tendency to sound extra homespun when addressing delicate topics, and went into full Wilfred Brimley mode. “I’m totally pleased that Joe Lacob came along with Peter Guber and bought this team…”
Myers, who was a sophomore on UCLA’s National Championship team in 1995, showed grace in thanking Riley for mentoring him, then explained how 14 years of being a player agent and sports marketer followed by a rapid apprenticeship had prepared him for this moment.
As the press tried to make sense of it all, the three split up to different corners of the media room to take questions individually. Half went with Myers and the other half with the ever-quotable Lacob, leaving Riley all alone, like yesterday’s news already shunted aside.
But a lot happened during Riley’s tenure (much of which he previously discussed in this space). He took over from a fading Don Nelson, led the team through an ownership transition, unloaded the previous regime’s biggest contracts, and broke with Warriors tradition by making reasonably successful draft choices.
So instead of bringing you the same quotes from Myers and Lacob as every other media outlet, SLAMonline sidled up to the outgoing GM, who talked about the events of the past year.
SLAM: How hard was it for you to take the GM job here knowing it was kind of a limited-term deal?
Larry Riley: Not overly so. You’d like to look at things and say maybe it could have lasted a little longer and we could have made the Playoffs and I’d be part of it, but with Joe offering me the opportunity to stay with the organization, it’s not so much about how much pride you have. If I get to be part of a winning organization that’s the most important thing, and I get to contribute.
SLAM: At this stage of your life and career, would you be open to another GM job if one came available?
LR: This has come up so quickly that I haven’t even gone there. Joe and I started really discussing this last Wednesday. My focus has been on making the change around here, and with him offering me a position, on how we’re going to structure that and how will that work in the future. I don’t know what I’ll feel in August or September.
SLAM: Joe alluded to people calling the Warriors and wondering who was in charge. This year, were you in a position of sort of letting yourself be led by the new guy coming in?
LR: Well, it’s hard to say. We developed a relationship where I didn’t want to say to Bob, and he didn’t want to say to me, “don’t make any calls.” I wanted him involved in making calls to other teams and I wanted other teams to respond to him. We tried to stay on the same page. If someone from another team called him, no big deal, we always talked about it. But this is probably a little bit cleaner, because it’s well-defined now that he’s the General Manager. If I get any calls now, I’ll refer them to Bob.
SLAM: Was Stephen Jackson really going to come here, or did you have the Richard Jefferson trade set up in advance?
LR: You have to look at the odds. There were potentially four teams that might be in a position where they could use his services. There was limited conversation because it all came together very fast. But we made the trade with Milwaukee on the basis that if we didn’t trade him we would keep him here, and we could deal with it. I told Joe that. I told Joe, “We cannot accept a trade like this unless we know that we can deal with Stephen Jackson and that he’s going to be part of things, at least for a while. This summer, he’s an expiring contract [Jackson has one more season left on his contract], so you’ve probably got a good deal of latitude. But I had a good feeling about it and the odds looked decent. That thing happened in a 24-hour period.
SLAM: And San Antonio is very familiar with him…
LR: I had a good feeling when they called, because they knew him. They knew exactly what they were getting. The only question was whether we could put together a trade before the deadline.
SLAM: You’ve known Stephen Jackson since you cut him as a rookie in Vancouver’s training camp… Did you talk to him after the trade with the Bucks?
LR: Yeah, I sure did. He would have come back here and given his best. Because players who are getting towards the end of their contract are playing for another contract.
SLAM: Was he prepared to apologize to all the Warriors fans for what happened before?
LR: Ehhh… I don’t know about that. (Laughs)
SLAM: Klay Thompson’s shooting percentage in college wasn’t very good–he’s actually a much better shooter at this level…
LR: His stroke was good but his percentage wasn’t.
SLAM: How did you know that might happen?
LR: I saw him as a freshman and just locked in on him at that point. Sometimes there are things that just reach out and grab you. The thing I noticed was that he releases it quick, he catches it and it’s gone, and it’s fluid. He also has good footwork. His shot was efficient enough at the college level but players at this level take so many more shots, I just thought it was going to get better.
SLAM: When you first started the process of getting ready for last year’s draft, you were in Europe all the time. Who were you scouting?
LR: I spent a lot of time going to Lithuania to see Jonas Valanciunas, and in Central Europe because of Jan Vesely. I was really focused on those two guys. That was based on whether or not we might rise up in the draft–if we picked 1, 2, or 3, who would we take? Or in the top 8? I was convinced Valanciunas was a top-3 pick. Of course, I scouted a lot of other players in Europe, too.
—Myers is the second consecutive major hire by Lacob to have little or no experience in the job for which he was hired. He follows Head Coach Mark Jackson, who had been a player and broadcaster.
—Unlike Jackson, who promised a Playoff team this year (but has refused to for next year) Myers refused to make any guarantees. Instead he offered this adage: “You cannot ensure success, but you can deserve it.”