Inspired by a Fisher Price hoop his mother allowed to be placed inside his home’s entry way and a basketball court cleverly plotted out around pots and plants, a toddling Kent Lacob created an imaginary league.
He was the players, the coaches, the general managers and the color commentator. When there was a suspension that needed to be handed out or a trade that needed to be OK’d, he even acted as the head of the league office.
Some 20 years later, Lacob might not quite be in line to replace NBA commissioner Adam Silver, but the 26-year-old is a fast-rising executive in the Warriors’ organization, with an increasing voice in decision-making as the most important summer in franchise history nears.
“My Saturday mornings started at 6 o’clock, pissing off the entire family by bouncing a blue rubber basketball before cartoons were on,” said Lacob, who had to adjust his “league” schedule when his mother added rules about not starting before 9 a.m., playing only after chores were complete and punishments for breaking nearby decorations. “I was obsessed with it, but I was too young to know that passion would turn into a professional career.”
About six weeks before Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins and nearly the entire bench become free agents, Lacob just finished his third season as the general manager of the Warriors’ developmental team in Santa Cruz and is heading to Chicago to work double duty in evaluating draft-eligible players for both the G-League squad and the big club.
The son of owner Joe Lacob and younger brother of Warriors assistant GM Kirk Lacob, Kent Lacob has quieted whispers of nepotism by showcasing a top-notch personality, talent evaluation and turning far-reaching thinking into real-time action.
Lacob made three draft-day deals in 2018. He acquired a team-record 24 players in 2017-18 — four of whom earned midseason call-ups to the NBA. In his first G-League season, he orchestrated five trades in helping the squad go 31-9 and make the playoffs.
“He doesn’t treat Santa Cruz like a G-League team. It’s more like the NBA’s 31st team,” Santa Cruz assistant GM Ryan Atkinson said. “He’s always thinking: ‘Why not? Why can’t we do this?’ Then, he finds ways to make it happen.”
After discovering Alen Smailagic in a third-division league in Serbia, Lacob acquired the prospect in the draft, stashed the 18-year-old as the G-League’s youngest-ever player in Santa Cruz and has helped him develop into a legitimate NBA prospect.
Throughout the 2018-19 season, Marcus Derrickson, Jacob Evans and Damion Lee yoyoed between the Warriors and their development team. Knowing Santa Cruz would be without the trio intermittently and could lose other players to NBA call-ups at any given time, Lacob constructed a roster with interchangeable players that went 34-16 and advanced to the Western Conference finals.
“Kent always says: ‘As long as one of us succeeds, we all succeed,’” Lee said. “This is supposed to be a selfish environment of guys who want what’s theirs, but there are no selfish guys here. Everyone has aspirations and goals, but he makes sure that he brings in guys who know they can work on their games while helping the team and the system do great things.”
More reserved than his father, who got the nickname “Joey Lightyears” for saying in a New York Times interview how far ahead he feels the Warriors are than the rest of the NBA, Kent Lacob thoughtfully considers a reporter’s questions over lunch and offers introspective and modest answers.
“I don’t know if I have any special talents,” he said. “If I do or don’t, the thing I can control is how hard I work and how much I’m willing to give to the players and the staff. I don’t think I’m any better or any worse than anybody else, but I just think that caring enough to put in the work might be something that sets me apart.”
Lacob talks nearly every day with Santa Cruz head coach Aaron Miles, often extending the conversations to topics beyond basketball. Lacob has a similar relationship with every player who comes through the organization and says the highlight of his professional career was watching 2017-18 Santa Cruz guard Quinn Cook earn a contract with the Warriors and hold the 2018 NBA championship trophy.
With a day off in Fort Wayne, Ind. in February, Lacob drove to West Lafayette to scout a Purdue game. He hoped to sneak into Santa Cruz’s meeting the next morning without the players noticing the extra workload he was shouldering, but it was obvious in the sleep deprivation in his eyes and the baggage he lugged into the meeting.
“We noticed,” Lee said. “Like Nipsey Hussle said: ‘Batteries sold separate.’ No matter how you get there, the hard work and everything you do is what it’s about. The door could be open, but what are you going to do once you’re in there? Do something that sets you apart as being better than just belonging, and that’s what he has done.”
A multi-sport youth star, Lacob excelled in basketball. His town leagues on the Peninsula instituted rules that he could score only 14-16 points per game, so he would get his teammates involved and then ask the coach if it was OK to start scoring himself and win the game.
After starring at the Menlo School in Atherton, Lacob turned down a Division I offer at UC Irvine to play for Division III power Washington University (St. Louis). Playing behind All-America point guard Alan Aboona often meant not playing at all, but even playing a bit on-court role as a senior, Lacob was selected as a team captain because of his leadership.
“I hit the jackpot with my family, never having to worry about food or where I’d live and having an amazing support system, so I needed the simulated adversity of my college career,” he said. “It’s not real, but it was really important to me, and in my mind, it’s something I was failing at. I wasn’t playing and I couldn’t figure out a way to get on the court.
“I had to fail to learn about work ethic, how to make contributions as a teammate and how to impact the game from the sideline.”
After graduating with a degree in philosophy-neuroscience-psychology, Lacob considered playing a couple of seasons overseas or accepting offers in the technology and consulting world. His father and brother, and the fact that basketball “is what helped shape me as a person,” convinced Lacob to go to work in the family business.
After being a volunteer intern who mostly helped with VIP ticket and travel services during the Warriors’ 2015 championship run, Lacob was named the Warriors’ coordinator of basketball operations. He edited video for draft prep, ran gear to summer-league players, was a liaison between wearable technology companies and the team’s sports performance staff.
He started making regional scouting trips in between working as Jason Thompson’s workout partner and eventually got a 2016 call into Bob Myers’ office. In between taking bites of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the Warriors’ general manager told Lacob he was going to be the GM in Santa Cruz.
“He didn’t ask. He just told me,” Lacob said. “I immediately started asking questions. He said: ‘You’re not ready, but we’re going to throw you into the fire. You’re going to learn.’
“It was scary. I had a lot of self-doubt. I didn’t want people to be shouting that I’m a poser.”
Joe Lacob had gone through similar questions when he hired his oldest son shortly after buying the franchise in 2010. But his younger son was different, still developing his maturity and confidence.
“The first 30 days, I wasn’t sure he was going to stay,” Joe Lacob said. “I didn’t know exactly how he would mature into the role, but he has been spectacular. I think he has tremendous likeability, has done an incredible job of assembling talent and has a hell of a work ethic.
“It’s too bad that he’s my son, because he probably won’t get looked at fairly or objectively.”
Consumed by playing out potential roster machinations in his head, Kent Lacob said he doesn’t worry as much about nepotism charges these days. He knows he belongs, and more importantly, everyone around him seems to be coming quite convinced of it, too.
“He doesn’t have a sense of entitlement. He doesn’t think he’s royalty,” Miles said. “He goes out and works. He studies. He does everything. That’s what I’ve learned to love about him.
“He gets after it, and he deserves everything he gets.”