By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
Coach Mike D’Antoni called Steve Blake into his Staples Center office approximately 90 minutes before tipoff against the Rockets on Feb. 19 to tell Blake the Lakers had just traded him to the Warriors. The full-court press of emotions started instantly.
Family concerns flashed first into Blake’s mind. How Kristin had essentially just become a single parent for at least two months, and probably longer, because their three boys had to stay in Southern California until the end of the school year. How he, Blake, would have the hurt of missing his wife and Nicholas, Jameson and Zachary, even if the Los Angeles-Oakland flight was a weekend hop compared to many other NBA relationships.
And then it hit him.
The playoffs. He would be going to the playoffs after all.
In that instant, Blake went from missing the postseason for the first time since 2010 to an important role in the playoffs as backup point guard on a team searching hard for depth, depth at point guard in particular, and someone who could be dependable with the ball. Perfect, then. The Warriors needed him as much as he needed them.
Blake was the farthest thing from anxious to get away from the Lakers, even in this 2013-14 of misery, but being swapped for Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks provided an opportunity that would not have come otherwise. He would be on a club where every game, regular season and after, meant something, not playing out the string. Barring a collapse — Golden State is only two games ahead of No. 9 Dallas, but falling into the lottery would require being passed by the Grizzlies, Suns and Mavericks the final 11 contests — there would be a playoffs.
“I’m very grateful for that, to be on a great team,” Blake said. “If I was going to get traded, this is the ideal place to go to for me. I’m very grateful for that.”
Ideal location, only an hour in the air from the rest of the family, and ideal situation. It would be playing behind Stephen Curry, yes, and no one is more important to their postseason hopes than the starting point guard, but the backup for the Warriors is no ordinary backup. Jarrett Jack proved that last season by finishing a lot of games in a move that allowed Curry to play off the ball.
When Jack left for Cleveland in the summer as a free agent, Golden State hoped Toney Douglas could step into the role, with Andre Iguodala playing there as well in addition to starting at small forward. That didn’t happen. Turnovers piled up. The Warriors traded for Jordan Crawford, hoping he would be the answer. That didn’t happen either, with Crawford more of a shooting guard.
Enter a player with the experience of winning an NCAA championship at Maryland and 23 games of playoff time the last three seasons alone as a Laker, usually making sound decisions with the ball and making 3-pointers, a history that prompted his new coach, Mark Jackson, to say, “We know he is not afraid.” Then it was Golden State’s chance for an immediate reaction: Blake’s first 17 games have resulted in 59 assists and 16 turnovers in much-needed stability for an offense that too often gives away possessions, quickly making him a valuable part of the rotation even while shooting 40 percent.
“Big picture it was going from a disappointing season to a contender,” Blake said. “It’s a great feeling.”
It’s an unexpected opportunity to play beyond April 16.