Warriors President Rick Welts Talks Draymond Green, Dealing With Pressure and Rising Ticket Prices

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Warriors President and COO Rick Welts.  (KQED Newsroom)

The Golden State Warriors open their 2016-2017 season tonight at 7:30 against the San Antonio Spurs. And fans' hopes are high after last year's almost perfect season ended just short of a second straight championship.

Of course, the only way to improve on last season would be to not only break their own record for regular season wins, but to also win the NBA Finals.

It's a big ask.

But there have also been big changes since losing Game 7 of the NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli and Marreese Speights are gone. Kevin Durant is here -- and asking on Reddit for locals' recommendations.

Oh, and there's still "the Draymond Green problem," as ESPN writer Ethan Strauss dubbed it in his much-talked-about magazine story.

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With all that on his mind, Warriors President and COO Rick Welts sat down with KQED anchor Brian Watt to talk about what fans should expect this season.

Here are some highlights:

Ethan Strauss' piece in ESPN the Magazine on Draymond Green and his impact on team culture -- setting aside Green's behavior, the article had some key quotes from unnamed team staffers and officials. As President and COO of the team, how do you feel about that?

We hate that. You’ve heard our players speak out about that. You’ve heard Steve Kerr. It’s like, come on, if someone is actually going to write that, let’s do that for attribution. Let’s say who actually said that.

Steve Kerr said it best: It’s like peeking through a keyhole to watch the full part of our season.

And Draymond is Draymond. He is the energy that we bring to the court. He’s the vocal leader in the locker room. His missteps are nothing he’s proud of or that we’re proud of. And he’s been honest in talking about those things.

We have national reporters from the New York Times and Washington Post who have moved here -- in addition to the USA Today reporter who moved here last year -- to cover the NBA. Not just to cover the Warriors. But this is where the NBA is going to be covered this year.

Everything these players say, do, where they sit on the bench, how they sneeze is going to be dissected to see if there is something going on that can be detected that may be a chink in the armor of this team we have put together. And I think the players so far have handled it brilliantly.

There are lots of high expectations for this season. Are you worried about those?

This is what every NBA team would like to have. We can’t complain about the expectations, right? It’s been framed as a championship-or-bust season. I don’t think our players are approaching it that way. It’s great to have those high expectations, but we haven’t won a game yet.

Not long ago, it was unimaginable that you could sign a Kevin Durant in the offseason. Now that you have a winning franchise, do you have to say much else to attract free agents of that caliber?

One of the things we always felt about this franchise ... was that the Warriors had every ingredient for success. Look where we get to play, where we get to live, look at the companies charting the future of the world, look at the physical beauty of the place. And we always felt: Put this in the right ownership hands and it should stand toe to toe with any franchise -- not just in the NBA, but in all of sports.

All of this winning has made the Warriors a must-see, and an unintended consequence is ticket prices go up. What do you say to the longtime fans who can’t afford to get into the building anymore?

We always want to have fans be able to afford to get in. We cut off season ticket sales at 14,500, so we would have almost 5,000 tickets per game available for sale.

What’s really changed in the ticketing world is not in what the teams charge for the tickets, it’s what fans then resell their tickets for. That’s what we’re seeing: There were amazing stories today about the World Series ticket prices. Those aren’t prices the Cubs are charging for their tickets. Those are people who got tickets who are now reselling them. That’s something teams can’t control.

Are you seeing a change in the demographics of who is at the game?

Amazingly, I think not. The reason is because of those 14,500 season ticket holders. Because we have renewed over 95 percent of those year after year. The majority of people who are holding tickets for Warriors games are people who’ve had them for a long time.

We’ve promised every one of those fans that when we move to San Francisco, they’re going to have the first opportunity to continue that in the new building. Right now, we’re split about 50 percent East Bay and 50 percent the San Francisco side of the bay. I really don’t think that’s going to change when we move to San Francisco.