30 teams in 36 or so days: Golden State Warriors
September 22nd, 2007
Players acquired via free agency or trade:
Austin Croshere (one year minimum)
Troy Hudson (one year minimum)
Kosta Perovic (previous draft pick, three years, $5.832 million)
Players acquired via draft:
First round: Brandon Wright (8th overall), Marco Belinelli (18th overall)
Second round: Stephane Lasme (46th overall)
Matt Barnes (re-signed, one year, $3 million), Kelenna Azubuike (re-signed, two year minimum)
Sarunas Jasikevicius (bought out, to sign in Europe), Adonal Foyle (bought out, signed with Orlando), Mickael Pietrus (unsigned, restricted, will probably re-sign but I didn’t know which category to put it in), Zarko Cabarkapa (left unrestricted, unsigned), Josh Powell (left unrestricted, signed with Clippers), Jason Richardson (traded to Charlotte)
I would like to extend a hearty apology to Golden State Warriors Vice President of Basketball Operations, Chris Mullin. In the early part of his time as GM (I’m not typing “Vice President of Basketball Operations” every time, “GM” will do), I ragged on him somewhat mercilessly for his personnel moves. And it seemed justified. Inheriting a pretty poor team. Mullin did not do much to improve that, but did spend over a quarter of a billion dollars on re-signing his core players.
In an 18-month period from his hiring in April 2004 to October 2005, Mullin gave out enormous contracts to Mike Dunleavy Jr, Jason Richardson, Troy Murphy, Adonal Foyle and Derek Fisher, contracts which totalled a mindboggling $261 million for only five players, two of whom came off the bench. The only surprise was that he didn’t give a similarly insane contract to Erick Dampier, a free agent who did get an oversized contract, but with Dallas.
Mullin’s excessive spending forced him to then cut some salary, making moves such as having to deal a first-round pick along with Eduardo Najera to Denver for next to nothing, just to be able to avoid the tax threshold. He pigeon-holed himself into a corner, having to sacrifice assets to keep within budget, all for a late lottery team. Things were looking bleak, and some people questioned (harshly) whether Chris had gotten back on the drink. Those people will go to hell, partly for their poor ethics, but also for just not being funny.
But Chris Mullin and the Golden State Warriors will not go to hell. Somehow – and this surprises no one more than it does me – Mullin has turned the situation around. The contracts of all of the above players have been gotten rid of (while Foyle is still being paid for three more years, his buyout leaves the Warriors paying a not-too-excessive amount to him, and the 30%-ish savings make the buyout an entirely worthwhile venture), and the only questionable contracts remaining are those of Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington and Baron Davis. And in even, in all three instances there, a case could be made that each player is receiving market value, or only a small amount above it.
The Warriors now have the league’s 29th-highest payroll (not counting Pietrus), which, when phrased more sensibly, means that they have the second-lowest payroll around. Players such as Andris Biedrins and Monta Ellis still have big pay days yet to come, but Golden State is now in a position where they can pay the players that deserve big pay days, because they have freed themselves of the players that didn’t.
Not just shedding payroll, Mullin has continued to bring in quality players, making very good draft selections such as Biedrins and Ellis to go along with minimum salary finds such as Matt Barnes and Big Lenny Sambuca. He has cleaned out the dust that previously permeated his roster, and continued to pack it with prospects. It all began with the can’t-miss Baron Davis deal, in which Mullin traded Speedy Claxton and Dale Davis’s expiring contract to New Orleans for Davis, who has since had a rebirth of sorts under new Warriors head coach Don Nelson. Despite the occasional slip-up (drafting Patrick O’Bryant and the Mike Montgomery era to name but two), it’s been relatively all gravy since then, and the Warriors boast a young and noteworthy team with a future.
So well played, Mr Mullin sir. You join an elite group of GMs who can undo previous mistakes without making future ones.
Now that all that servility is out of the way, let’s use less general terms and stick to this past offseason.
A relatively tame one given the venom with which it began, Mullin added to his young talent on draft night by obtaining Brandan Wright, Marco Belinelli and Stephane Lasme, all of whom have joined the Warriors straight away. The big savings opened up by moving the salary of Jason Richardson – who was becoming largely expendable away – allow the Warriors more of the previously mentioned financial flexibility that they now enjoy. And as a result, the Warriors can boast a young core that rivals or surpasses that of most other teams in the NBA. They have at least one young talent at every position – often two – with a team crafted to be playoff-calbire now, yet even better in the future.
Most importantly, they retained Don Nelson. A frowned-upon signing at the time, Nelson gave the young Warriors team something that they never had before – an identity. They quickly became a fast-paced team with a flowing offensive system, not entirely unlike the system previously employed by Nelson during his time at Dallas. This team became one of the better stories in the NBA last year, and scored an upset for ages when they beat Dallas in round one, becoming the first #8 seed to beat a #1 seed in a seven-game series. Which was fun. Where I live, we have an expression for that: “creamed the bastards”.
It came apart in the second round, but it still marked a successful season for the franchise, the first for a long time.
This offseason was one of building upon that, to decent effect. The Kevin Garnett whispers came to nothing, but then, that was somewhat expected. You could say that it’s something of a disappointment as a fan to hear that Kevin Garnett might be coming to town, yet you wind up with Austin Croshere instead. It’s a fair point. But the Warriors have not disappointed in any way, improving their roster slightly and upgrading for the future, while keeping the coach that made last season one to remember.
And what’s more, they signed Troy Hudson. Wow!
(OK, so now I’m taking the mick. But the rest stands.)
There is no real reason to suggest that the strategy that got the Warriors to the playoffs last season would not be successful once again. And with only one significant change in the rotation taking place, the Warriors have good continuity going into next season, not least from the return of Nelson. The loss of Jason Richardson should be reasonably offset by the continued improvement of Monta Ellis, the addition of Marco Belinelli (and no I’m not making the obvious surname comparison between him and Don Nelson), and the re-positioning of Stephen Jackson.
Whether the Warriors have the multi-dimensionalness to beat most teams in the playoffs is another question. The addition of Brandan Wright should help their rebounding problem (the Warriors sported the worst rebounding deficiency in the NBA last season, at -5.0), but they remain a poor rebounding and defensive team, once again relying too much upon Andris Biedrins’s foul situation to win games. And as any old fart will tell you, these things count double in the playoffs.
Still, win lose or draw, the Warriors and Nellieball will be as entertaining as ever. They won’t replicate the storybook nature of last season, but they figure to have a similar level of success, Still outgunned and outsized in the stronger West, the Warriors aren’t a home court advantage team, but they’re in a better situation for the future than most of their peers.
And it’s mainly down to Chris Mullin. That’s something I’d never thought I would say.
I am continuously intrigued by the esoterica and minutiae of all the aspects of building a basketball team. I want to understand how to build the best basketball teams possible. No, I don’t know why, either.
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