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Warriors' Assistant G.M. Talks About Player Development and Building a D-League Winner

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Warriors' Assistant G.M. Kirk Lacob is the man with the plan in Santa Cruz. The executive spoke with RU about building a winner and the importance the D-League team has with regard to the franchise's goals in Golden State.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

After years of putting the right pieces in place, acquiring players that fit with one another and a discipline coach to lead the way, the Golden State Warriors have been making quite a lot of noise this season and are impressing people along the way.

Though they've been able to emerge as an NBA contender over the last few months, there's no denying the squad has a plethora of youth. They're standing tall as competitors as we speak, but there's still plenty of promising up and coming talent across the roster for the future.

And now the organization has a worthy enough spot to nurture and development all this young talent. In their first D-League season, the Santa Cruz Warriors have not only hosted a handful of Golden State assignees thus far, but have also managed to compile a group mixed with youngsters and other past NBA vets. Such a formula has proven to equal minor league success, as the squad owns a 26-15 record, sitting just a half game back of the D-League's top team.

GSW Assistant General Manager Kirk Lacob is the man with the plan for Santa Cruz. As General Manager of the franchise's NBADL team, he's overseen the creation of the entire squad. From business matters like arena construction and marketing plans, to player personnel matters with regard to filling out the roster, Lacob has done an excellent job of truly making Santa Cruz an extension of the NBA team.

The executive took some time out to speak with about the entire progress. From the team's success this season, to the impact they have on their NBA parent squad, there are plenty of benefits to owning a D-League team.

Read on below for more on those interesting topics, as well as what Lacob had to say about his role and how he feels about a couple of the organization's more promising young guns.

Q: So I know as Assistant General Manager of the Golden State Warriors, a big part of your job has been getting things going with the D-League team in Santa Cruz. That's sort of your baby, so can you take me through the process and explain how your fingerprints have been on this project?

A: It's part of the Warriors' big plans for the whole organization, but it's definitely something I was tasked with from the beginning. It was my job to find out what the D-League could give us and what it would cost to get in at the level we wanted to get in at.

Through the whole process, we decided that we wanted to buy and operate our own team. Our plan was to hopefully get something in close geographic proximity. When we bought Bismarck, we knew that it might not be moved, but there was a good chance.

After a year, we decided that we wanted to make the move. We went ahead with Santa Cruz as our site, and are really happy with it. It turned out great and it's a really special place for the D-League to be a part of.

Q: It sounds as though you aim to have a seamless working environment between both squads, so how do the joint staffs do a good job of ensuring that?

A: We've done some events. We do player development events, and our most recent one was called "The Business of Basketball." We actually brought both teams together in Oakland and did a presentation to cover everything. This is so the NBA players learn more about the D-League, and the NBADL guys go above and beyond what their portion of it is.

Some of our coaches like to come down to Santa Cruz when they're able to, especially when we have an assignment player down. They take notes and talk with the players afterwards. A couple of executives from our D-League staff are actually up here in Oakland with me at least once or twice a week.

We like to get our Santa Cruz coaching staff more involved. They were with us during Summer League. Obviously it's hard during the season because of both our schedules, but we try and get as much back and forth communication going as possible.

Q: In that regard, is it safe to say that the organization trains and develops each and every one of Santa Cruz's players as though they could potentially join Golden State at some point?

A: Yeah. You know, what I told the guys before the season was that even though there are ten players in Santa Cruz, there are obviously aren't ten spots in Golden State. The odds are against them. As much as I like them, having hand-picked each one, it's just not going to happen.

That being said, we want everything being done the Golden State way. If you end up coming back to us at some point, then you know exactly what we're about. We want to create a culture from top to bottom. All the way down to the ticket sales guys in Santa Cruz, we want to be able to create the same type of environment.

It makes for a great learning environment, whether it's for an assignment player or someone we're working with to get to that point. We want them to understand what it takes to win and how to be a successful professional.

In the end, not each and every guy is going to make it to the NBA. That's okay with me, because one success story is good enough. In a perfect world, we win the D-League Championship, and all of our guys get called up to play for the Golden State Warriors. And then we win an NBA championship. It may not be possible, but it's what we strive for every day.

Q: With that said, can you take me through the decision to sign Malcolm Thomas in Golden State? You have guys like Hilton Armstrong and Mickell Gladness in Santa Cruz, but I know Malcolm will be spending some time in the D-League with you guys as well.

A: It's a whole new situation for Malcolm. He's obviously been in the D-League season with Los Angeles, but now he gets to see what we're all about in a little bit more of a live game setting. It allows him to work through any type of learning curve he may have by being able to play some more.

He gets to play with guys who are going to respect and push him. Both Hilton and Mickell are trying to get back to the NBA level as well, so they're not going to take it easy on the guy. They're going to push him. Both are true professionals that have been in our system a lot longer than Malcolm has.

It's just a different look for Malcolm. He's a guy that's looking to excel on the other side. He is now where both Santa Cruz's big men want to be. Malcolm's a guy we've had our eye on for a while. I've tried to trade for him in the D-League for the past two years. Whether he's been on our team or someone else's, we've always looked at him as a call-up guy. I would've loved to have him in our system earlier, but it just wasn't possible.

But the opportunity arose and he ended up in Golden State. This is a chance for us to get a different look and form different opinions on Malcolm. If he ends up not being with us, we want to give guys who we've tried to work on a chance as well. Those guys have a good opportunity like he does, so they've just got to push him and he'll push back. We're hoping to create a competitive environment.

Q: From D-League All-Star Game M.V.P. to a recent NBA call-up, Travis Leslie was a great success story for your team. With him playing for the Jazz now, Cameron Jones will be thrust into the spotlight a bit more. What are your thoughts on him?

A: I think Cam is the best kept secret in the D-League this season. He really hasn't gotten his name out there all too much, but he was a first-round draft pick in the NBADL last season.

He had a good rookie year, and I had a chance to watch him in college too. We had an opportunity to trade for him in the offseason. We made a good deal. He may have struggled a bit early on, but he's actually been in our starting lineup now for about 14 or 15 games. He's been able to improve each and every week. He brings toughness and a high basketball I.Q. He's a total winner. Cam's shown a lot of leadership as he's come into his role with us.

He's a guy that likes to make plays. He can hit the pull-up jumper...I think he had about ten deflections during the fourth quarter of one of our games last week, which is pretty unbelievable.

With Travis getting called-up, there may be a more intense workload for Cam, but this is an opportunity for him to show more of what he can do. I've certainly been noticing. I hope that his story gets out there a bit more and people realize he's not just a good D-League player. He's a really good one with the potential to be great. Cam's helping us win, and he's doing it in all the right ways.

Q: Thanks for chatting about the team. On a more personal note, you're often recognized as one of the top young executives in all of sports. Between all the things you've done in Golden State and Santa Cruz, has your role been everything you've expected it to be so far?

A: It's getting there. I'm a very competitive person. My goal is to win everything all the time. I get that from my dad. The whole organization we've built in Golden State is sort of like that.

It's hard for me to look at a situation and not always want to be the best. The ultimate goal is to make Golden State a championship team. But Santa Cruz is a passion of mine and is something I've worked really hard on. I want them to be good, both on the floor and off of it.

We're doing a really good job in the community, and with things like ticket sales and sponsorships. We want to continue pushing the envelope. I do a lot of player development, and we want people to see that. We want Golden State to be known as the best place to come in order to become a better player and person. I take a lot of pride just being a part of that. It's important to surround yourself with people who work hard and that you can trust. I've been fortunate enough to do that, and sometimes those same people make you look good.