I’m not sure why I get so excited about the trade deadline each season. When you look back at the history of deals made in February, the track record isn’t very good. Many deals are made to clear salary, and even the teams that buy often misjudge how an incoming player is going to fit with the new team. By the time the trade deadline passes, there are usually only 25-30 games remaining in the season. Most players need at least that many games to get used to new teammates, a new coach and a new system; by the time they’re comfortable, it’s often too late.
Even knowing that, I like the trade deadline and the mystery and the intrigue that surrounds it. I like the thought of teams really going for it. I like to see contending teams like the Cavaliers and Lakers make trades to try and fortify their rosters for a championship run, even if the moves don’t always work out.
I also enjoy watching lottery teams make the necessary moves to start over and give the rebuilding process a fighting chance. I don’t like to see teams clear salary with the sole intention of saving money, but there aren’t a lot of owners outside of the Clippers’ Donald Sterling who operate that way. It’s nice to see a team like the Wizards come to grips with the reality that what they have isn’t working, blow it up and start over. Instead of trying to make it work with high-salaried players who don’t fit together, handcuffing their fans to years of frustrating, mediocre basketball, they clear the expensive contracts off their books, generate some space under the salary cap to hopefully lure free agents, and position themselves for a run at a high lottery pick.
It’s a big risk and it doesn’t always work. You need an intelligent owner and GM who work well together, you need a top-notch scouting system, you need to be willing to take risks and you need some luck. But when a team rebuilds the right way, it can be an exciting process. Just ask fans of the Thunder or Trail Blazers. Their teams, just a couple years ago, were as big a mess as the Wizards, Warriors, Timberwolves or Nets are now. But they made the decision to rebuild, moved forward fearlessly, made a bunch of good decisions, had a little luck on their side and are now reaping the benefits.
Should the Warriors make a move in that direction? Is this roster, when healthy, a borderline playoff team? Do the pieces really fit together well enough for this team to contend for the playoffs in the future? I used to think so; I’ve seen enough this season to make me second-guess my evaluation of this roster. Here’s why: the team is built around a high-volume scorer who operates with such low efficiency that there is a fairly convincing argument, backed by statistics, that the Warriors are better with him on the bench than when he’s on the court. The Warriors feature a small lineup that is OK on offense but laughable on defense (and I don’t see that changing even when their injured players return). The roster lacks a single true shooting guard or power forward. The team can’t rebound (even with their big men healthy). There isn’t a high level of basketball intelligence spread across the roster (I’m aware there are a couple players on the team with a high basketball IQ, but they make up the minority). When I look at this roster objectively, it’s hard for me to imagine how this team will ever win enough games to challenge for the playoffs, let alone contend for a championship.
If this analysis of the roster is true, should the Warriors start over? This would include much more than just trading away a few high-salaried players. It means a complete overhaul of this franchise. The Warriors would need a new owner. This could become reality in the near future. There are too many whispers about Larry Ellison to ignore. If Chris Cohan were to lower his asking price a little bit, I think Ellison would bite. There is no guarantee that Ellison would be a good owner, but one could certainly argue that he wouldn’t make things worse.
The new owner’s first move would be to let Larry Riley and Don Nelson go. Thank them for their time and show them the door. You would have to pay Nelson his remaining salary, but it would be worth it. The hiring of a new general manager and coach would be one of the most important decisions the new owner would make. The Warriors would need a general manager who is bold and active, unafraid to take calculated, intelligent risks. Likewise, the Warriors would need a coach who demands the respect and attention of the players. Most of the players would probably be young — rookies or sophomores — and until they were ready to lead, the coach would need to occupy that role. These decisions would be critical to the success of a rebuilding effort.
With these moves in place, the Warriors would be ready to move forward with the rebuilding process. Free agency wouldn’t be the way to go first; even with the attractive market in 2010, the Warriors would be better served building first through the draft and then using the free agent market to put finishing touches on the product, perhaps in 2012 or 2013. This would require the Warriors to trade away their high-salaried players, replacing them with players on rookie contracts that would keep the team’s cap flexibility in play for a few seasons.
For this to happen, the Warriors would need to trade Monta Ellis and Corey Maggette for expiring contracts. It would be ideal to do it by this season’s trade deadline, as it would make the Warriors more attractive to a potential buyer (Ellison). If they could acquire some draft picks in these deals, that would be ideal. It wouldn’t be easy in this economic climate as owners are valuing draft picks higher than normal because of the low rookie salaries attached to them. The Warriors could wait a year to trade Andris Biedrins. His trade value would be higher next season after a year of recovery and (hopefully) improved play.
The Warriors would obviously hold on to players like Stephen Curry, who are talented and on inexpensive rookie contracts. Then, the Warriors would start building through the draft, hoping for a little luck combined with some intelligent, educated guesswork.
The success of a move like this would hinge on new management. It would be hard to trust the current management to make the right decisions in rebuilding (their track record is spotty). At this point, free agents seem to shy away from Golden State — perhaps because of the current management — and new ownership and management could help reverse this trend over time. If this happened, it would be a long process. It would be hard to watch the product on the court for a few seasons. But if a team rebuilds the right way, it can be an exciting thing to watch.
So, what’s your take? Would you like to see the Warriors rebuild? Would you prefer they retool (make some trades and moves to bring in some players who would improve and balance the roster)? Or do you want the Warriors to keep their current players and try to make it work as is? Post your comments below.