The Warriors' Room Where It Happens
OAKLAND, Calif. - The video room at the Golden State Warriors' practice facility has the general dimensions and, for much of the season, the atmospheric conditions of an industrial-size freezer. There is enough space for a couple of desks, some computer monitors, an assortment of sneakers and an exposed bundle of cables that must be some sort of fire hazard.For a team with several future Hall of Famers and a running collection of N.B.A. championships, Golden State has made the room decidedly no-frills. Its appearance also camouflages its importance. The Warriors, like many teams, devour game film. Coaches dissect clips of opponents with forensic detail. Players study possessions every day.The job of editing and organizing all that footage belongs to James Laughlin, the team's 29-year-old video coordinator, and two 26-year-old colleagues: Jacob Rubin, a basketball operations assistant, and Nick Kerr, the assistant video coordinator and Coach Steve Kerr's son. They spend months on their computers swimming through a sea of back cuts and outlet passes, downloading the clips onto hard drives and shipping them off to their superiors for closer examination."The main thing we want to do is make every coach's life as easy as possible," Laughlin said, "especially Steve's life."At the same time, the video room itself - complete with its portable space heater and "Log Like a Champion Today" poster that hangs at an odd angle - has operated for years as an unsung nerve center for the Warriors, who trail the Toronto Raptors by two games to one in the N.B.A. finals. Game 4 is Friday night.The hallway outside the room gets a lot of foot traffic, so players are always crashing the video staff members' pad and staying a while. And there are the coaches, who meet in the room because the setting is so relaxed: neutral ground. The video staff members are in the middle of it all."These guys know more than anyone else," said the assistant coach Bruce Fraser, who made an impromptu appearance in the video room after a recent practice. "And I'm not saying basketball-wise - they're learning - but they know more about everything to do with our team, because everyone comes in here. It's almost like a barber shop."Sure enough, Fraser was soon followed by a motley cast of characters, including his fellow assistants Jarron Collins (who said the room was "where the magic happens"), Willie Green (who described the video staff members as "essential" to the team as he ate his lunch) and Chris DeMarco (who once worked in the video room but suggested that Laughlin and his two colleagues were better at the job)."They're the best we've had," DeMarco said.Jonnie West, the director of basketball operations, was soon standing in the doorway, even though Rubin is his roommate and they see each other all the time. Jonas Jerebko, the reserve forward, also made a cameo. Jerebko is one of the coordinators' favorite visitors: He brings them Swedish hair products and energy drinks."The guys are always coming by to say, 'Hi,'" Laughlin said. "It makes us feel like we're really part of it."The point is: The Warriors have created a culture where all contributions are valued, and Steve Kerr will listen to anyone. During the 2015 N.B.A. finals, he famously adopted the small-ball Death Lineup at the suggestion of Nick U'Ren, then a low-level special assistant who has since been promoted to director of basketball operations alongside West.As for Laughlin, he worked for a couple of W.N.B.A. teams and the Canton Charge of the N.B.A. G League, for whom he drove the team bus, before joining the Warriors as a video intern in 2015. After four seasons, he has developed a feel for the coaching staff and for the sort of game footage that Kerr and his assistants want to see.As Kerr said: "And then the other thing that's crucial: I'll ask for a lot of stuff that's in the archives. I'll just tell him: 'Hey, we used to run this play three years ago that I think might work tonight. I remember we ran it against Orlando on the road.' And by that night, he'll have the clip. He goes, 'Here you go.' It's incredible. It would take me months to find it."During the season, the video staff members spend countless hours breaking down film, which essentially involves identifying opposing plays in painstaking detail while cutting out the dead time during games so that each is condensed into a tidy 48-minute package. In the middle of February, the Warriors might be playing the Miami Heat, but Rubin will be crouched over his laptop cutting film of a game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Dallas Mavericks.By labeling everything with specialized software - the actions, the players involved, the types of possessions - the video staff members create an extensive database. They also break down film of the Warriors themselves. Rubin said he picked his spots to spice things up. For example, he might let a clip go for an extra second if Draymond Green was particularly expressive after Stephen Curry buried a 3-pointer. There is no real reason for Rubin to include Green's theatrics, since the possession is over."But we just want to show that Draymond made this face," Rubin said.Several prominent N.B.A. coaches got their starts as video coordinators, including Mike Budenholzer of the Milwaukee Bucks, Frank Vogel of the Los Angeles Lakers and Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat - which is no coincidence. The job has been likened to graduate school for aspiring coaches."You learn everything in that room," Steve Kerr said. "You learn everything about the league. You only survive if you've got a prodigious work ethic."And with the Warriors, the responsibilities of the job extend beyond the video room. The coordinators pitch in with player development. They assist with game plans. They report to the practice facility to rebound for players who want extra shots."They basically do everything," DeMarco said.During playoff games, Laughlin sits behind the bench and helps identify opposing play calls. Rubin and Nick Kerr occupy an office near the locker room, where they edit film of the game in progress so the players and coaches can review clips as needed. Laughlin will sometimes scribble the time of a possession on a scrap of paper and have a member of the training staff deliver it to Rubin and Kerr, who will download it onto an iPad and have it sent to the bench."It's so awesome to be a part of this," Laughlin said, "because we know how fortunate we are. We know how many people would kill to be in these seats."But while they have savored the Warriors' run, they are bracing for change: Next season, the team is moving to a new arena in San Francisco that will also house its practice facility. No one is quite certain where the video room will be located. Laughlin half-jokingly referred to a "dungeon." There is concern."I hope the dynamic doesn't change," Nick Kerr said.At least they can leave the space heater behind.