Golden State grabs 2-guard Klay Thompson (son of Mychal), a pick that has “We’re trading Monta Ellis” written all over it. — Bill Simmons, 2011 Draft Diary, 6-23-2011.
Let’s be real: Klay Thompson has no chance of becoming rookie of the year. Zero. None. Unless of course, Joe Lacob trades Monta Ellis. Does Lacob know something we don’t? — Feltbot, The Klay Thompson Problem, 12-21-2011.
One thing this trade is not is shocking. It’s something we all knew was coming from day one, when Joe Lacob told us that running teams can’t win in the playoffs, that the “architecture” of the team needed fixing, and that the culture needed changing. And that Stephen Curry and David Lee were the core of the Warriors, and Monta Ellis something else.
Over the course of the last two years, the message that Monta was on the way out was delivered continuously, in even the smallest of the Warriors’ decisions. No effort was ever made to sign the kinds of veteran back-up players that would have given the Warriors core a chance to compete. Just the opposite in fact: At last year’s trading deadline, the Warriors sole backup center was shipped out for a second round pick. Lacob wasn’t interested in winning, he was interested in draft picks, the higher the better. And, as he told us, he wasn’t interested in the little deals that could be used to build around the Warriors core. He was hunting a “big deal.”
A big deal involving whom? There could be only one answer.
When Klay Thompson was drafted — a player who could provide no immediate help to the Warriors as constructed, unlike Markieff Morris, Kawhi Leonard or Kenneth Faried – all pretence that Monta Ellis might remain a Warrior disappeared for good. You could practically hear the clanging of the prison doors opening. Monta Ellis the Warrior was a dead man walking.
Joe Lacob finally got his big deal. The deal that he joyously compared to Kevin Garnett going to the Celtics. “The transcendant deal that changes everything.”
Methodology: This was one of the most difficult trades I have ever attempted to analyze. That has to do partly with the fact that it involves players of different positions. Partly that the players involved have all shown signs of greatness, but have never played in ideal systems on good teams. Partly that all are so young, and can be viewed as still developing. Monta Ellis still just 26(!), Ekpe Udoh 24, Andrew Bogut 27. Partly that Bogut’s injury problems are so concerning.
And a great deal of the difficulty has to do as well with basketball philosophy. If, along with Joe Lacob, you subscribe to the belief that running teams cannot win titles, you will view this trade in a very different light than someone who doesn’t hold that belief. I think everyone already knows what my own thoughts on the subject are. But if you don’t, you certainly will after reading this post.
What I’ve wound up doing is something similar to the way I wrote about the Mark Jackson hire. Simply looked at the trade from the multitude of different angles that occurred to me. With apologies for the length, and my scattered thoughts, here we go:
The “You Have to Make This Trade” Angle: We have been hearing a lot that when you have a chance to trade smalls for a legitimate big in the NBA, you absolutely have to do it. Good smalls can be replaced. But big players of Andrew Bogut’s quality are extraordinarily rare. The Warriors had no choice but to do this deal.
But they did have a choice, didn’t they? The Warriors have known since 2009 that Andris Biedrins has developed a chronic condition called Osteitis Pubis, and will never again resemble the player he once was. Joe Lacob had a choice at the beginning of this season. He could have amnestied Andris Biedrins and signed Tyson Chandler or DeAndre Jordan. Signed some veteran backup players. Signed a veteran coach like Rick Adelman — or Mike D’Antoni – who not only believes in playing up-tempo, but knows how to coach it. And had the Warriors pointed at the top of the Western Conference standings. This season.
Lacob really didn’t want you to think about that, which is why he immediately wasted his amnesty on Charlie Bell, using the cover of his Kabuki Theatre attempt at DeAndre Jordan. And sent his mouthpieces out with a talking point he knew wasn’t true: the resurgence and return to glory of Andris Biedrins.
The outcome of this Warriors trade won’t be clear for some time. But one thing we can be clear on, right now, are the actual reasons that this trade was made. They are not the same reasons currently being spouted by the Warriors brass, and being dutifully regurgitated by the main-stream media.
The reasons are these:
1) Lacob was too
cheap… errrr, financially constrained by his outstanding loan to the league and his investment partners to have eaten Andris Biedrins’ contract;
2) Lacob doesn’t believe running teams can win in the playoffs;
3) Lacob believes in Stephen Curry as a core player, and wants Curry to be the face of the Warriors franchise (something I don’t happen to disagree with); and
4) As a result, Lacob wanted to trade Monta Ellis for a big man, from the very moment he took over the Warriors. And he finally got a taker.
The “The Warriors Finally Have a Legitimate Center!” Angle: For the first time in 30 years! Since Nate Thurmond! We’ve been hearing a lot about this since the trade went down. The Warriors finally have something they’ve lacked for decades!
They also have something the 1975 World Champion Golden State Warriors lacked. And the Dave Cowens Celtics and Willis Reed Knicks that went through Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain for titles. And the Ben Wallace Pistons that went through Shaq for a title.
Not to mention the 2012 Miami Heat (33-11) and OKC Thunder (34-11).
The “What the Milwaukee Bucks Get” Angle:
1) A playoff run.
Some people always come down on the side of tanking. In fact, there are fans and members of the media in Milwaukee right now who don’t like this trade because it makes the Bucks better. They would much rather have the Bucks tank into the lottery, than actually watch them play in the playoffs. (These people would have loved the last two Warriors seasons.)
I’m not like that. I love playoff chases. Live for them. Regret every one that slips away, that isn’t chased with fervor, that’s actively tanked. Because you’ll never get that year back. That possibility of seeing individuals transformed by shared desire into teams. That possibility for magic.
I’m the kind of person who feels that when you have a team that is three games out of the eight seed at the trading deadline, there are alternatives to tanking. In the spring of 2007, Don Nelson stood before the media and stated “I have failed as a coach.” And thus was born We Believe.
I’m very glad that season wasn’t tanked.
I like teams that pursue greatness gradually and persistently, without ever blowing themselves up mid-season to get where they’re going. Like Don Nelson’s teams. And Greg Popovich’s teams. Teams that chase the dream, with a process that doesn’t disrespect the fans, who come into every season trying to believe the expectations that are being sold to them. And with a process that doesn’t disrespect the players, like the unnamed Warrior who was quoted in the locker room after the trade: “Does this mean we’re giving up on the season?”
Which team do you feel like watching for the rest of this season? The Milwaukee Bucks or the Golden State Warriors? Maybe you’re a little bit like me. Maybe a part of you is interested in watching We Believe II, even if it has to be another team.
2) One year of Monta Ellis.
Let’s be clear. Monta Ellis is not going to remain a Buck, and the Bucks know that. Monta has an opt-out in 2013, which he is going to use — in all probability, if I’m reading the tea leaves correctly — to join Dwight Howard.
Which means that Monta Ellis will in all probability be traded by next year’s trading deadline. For…
3) Draft picks and players.
Add what the Bucks get for Monta next year to this year’s playoff run when calculating the Bucks’ total return.
4) Ekpe Udoh (See The Worst Trade in Warriors History, below).
The “What the Warriors Get” Angle:
1) Another tanked season. (see What the Bucks Get, part one, above.)
2) A statistically significant shot at a lottery pick, in a good year.
3) Richard Jefferson. (More on him below.)
4) The Spurs first round draft pick. It should be noted that the mere act of trading Stephen Jackson to the Spurs should make this pick slightly less valuable, by improving the Spurs record. Besides being a great player (assuming he’s still got gas in the tank), and a Popovich and Duncan favorite, Jack fills a real need for the Spurs at starting two-guard. His presence will allow Ginobili to come off the bench, and Kawhi Leonard to take Jefferson’s spot at the three. Two big time stoppers on the wings.
Why do I find the under-the-radar Spurs so intriguing this season?
5) Andrew Bogut.
The Andrew Bogut Angle: I’ll say this in the way I know everyone is looking for from me: Yes, Don Nelson would have loved having Andrew Bogut. The 2007-8 version, at any rate. How could he not? He loved the 2007 Andris Biedrins, didn’t he, called him the second best center he’d ever had after Bob Lanier.
Like the Biedrins of old, Bogut’s calling card has always been his defense. He’s an extraordinary defensive center, one of the very best in the league. Super high IQ. Not only positions himself well, but vocally captains the team, making sure his teammates are positioned correctly as well. Blocks shots. Takes charges. Protects the rim. Good rebounder. All that good stuff. Just what the doctor ordered for the Warriors.
He’s not quite as good on offense, unfortunately. On the plus side, he’s completely unselfish and a very good passer for a big man. He has good hands, and has shown some ability in the pick and roll. Maybe that’s where the Warriors will use him.
But he’s just not very good at generating his own offense. Even in his prime he was not that good. Didn’t run the floor well. Didn’t shoot well. Didn’t play the low post well. Most years, he was barely over 50% shooting, which is very mediocre for a center. And 60% from the free throw line.
And he’s gotten significantly worse on offense as his injury problems have piled up in recent seasons.
Most of the current talk surrounding Bogut’s injuries have to do with the one that’s keeping him off the floor right now: his broken ankle. But that’s not the injury that concerns me. I’m concerned about that right elbow he shattered in April of 2010. The one that caused him great pain in 2011, leading to a second surgery. Is it fully healed?
I have my doubts. I have read rumors that he still can’t fully extend that arm. And I note that his shooting percentage dipped to 49.5 after his first surgery, but was all the way down to 44.9 after 12 games in this season, after the second surgery that was supposed to clear up the problem.
44.9% ??? That is an utterly godawful shooting percentage for a center. Some 2012 comparisons: Tyson Chandler 69.4; DeAndre Jordan 62.6; Andris Biedrins 61.4; Kwame Brown 52.5.
We have heard some noises from Gary St. Jean and the Warriors brass about what Bogut can do for the Warriors on offense. I have some doubts, to put it mildly. Shoot the 15 footer? I don’t think so, not any more. Play the high post? Bogut is a very good passing big man, but the whole point of the high post is to pull the opposing big man out of the lane. Can Bogut do that without being able to shoot?
What about the low post? This is where I believe Joe Lacob and Mark Jackson might wind up bitterly disappointed. I think I heard Lacob giving voice in an interview to his vision of Bogut forcing double teams in the low post, and passing out to the Warriors superb three point shooters.
Unfortunately, this vision could prove to be a fantasy. Because Bogut has never really perfected his post moves, which was a big source of frustration for Scott Skiles. And his desire to even play out of the low post waned considerably after his injury, which was another source of frustration. Was it a lack of effectiveness and confidence that kept Bogut out of the low post, or a desire to shield his injured arm? Whichever it was, Warriorsworld.net noted that Bogut was shooting a wretched 36.2% from the low post this season before his ankle injury. Is that kind of efficiency something you want to go to? Something likely to draw double teams?
I’m thinking pick and roll is the answer. Bogut can catch the pass at the free throw line and thunder for the slam. Or pass to the slashing David Lee. Or feed Dorell Wright and Klay Thompson at the three point line.
That’s a summation of Andrew Bogut as a basketball player. Flawed, yes. But still an upper echelon defensive center who will fill a big need for the Warriors with respect to size, shot-blocking and rebounding.
But can he remain a basketball player? Can he keep himself on the floor?
The word from the Warriors brass and Bogut himself is that his elbow and ankle injuries were the result of freak accidents, and not indications that he is chronically injury prone.
OK then, what about the stress fracture in his back that caused him to miss 40+ games in 2009? How about that? Caused by a freak accident?
The truth of the matter is that Andrew Bogut IS injury prone. He is susceptible to bone fractures. And those injuries have not only cost him serious time off the court, but have begun to severely limit his production while on the court. And they’ve begun to hurt not just his physical approach to the game, but also his mental approach.
Which brings me back to his relationship with Scott Skiles. By all accounts, a serious rift opened up between Skiles and Bogut the year after Bogut came back from his first elbow surgery. Bucks’ GM John Hammonds and Skiles apparently felt that Bogut had returned to the team out of shape and was dogging it. Bogut’s version was that he was playing through great pain, and was, well, depressed.
“That was the most frustrating part,” he said. “Then it (affects) you mentally and you’re not as aggressive offensively and then I’d have games where I had three or four points. That was something I was trying to work through during the season that really frustrated me.”
Skiles’ version had a slightly different spin:
“He’s got to improve his post moves, his foot work and his speed up and down the floor,” said Skiles. “He’s got to get in better condition. This was a year that was obviously very difficult on him, trying to come back from that injury and hopefully he can put that all behind him and have a good summer working on his skill set and come back better.”
“He said early in the season that he didn’t think he was going to be 100% all year long and so hopefully this will be it. He’ll have a great summer and come back energized and ready to go.”
The acrimony between the two sides eventually grew so great that they apparently stopped communicating with each other completely. Except in the press, of course. After Bogut had his second elbow surgery, he showed up to a press conference with the removed bone chips in a medical jar, and said, “I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I was in pain.”
Hmmm. An old school coach and a chronically injured center who’s not playing up to expectations. A growing rift, gleefully chronicled in the press, that leads to a firing or a trade.
Does that remind you of anything?
Perhaps I’m being overly pessimistic. Perhaps it’s not reasonable to look at Bogut’s injury plagued seasons between the ages of 21 and 27, and wonder whether his seasons between the ages of 28 and 34 will be any healthier. Perhaps my mind shouldn’t travel back to the Trailblazers’ purgatory of Walton, and Bowie, and Oden. Or think about all the other big men in NBA history, who once started down the serious injury path, fell into irreversible decline. Like the one currently stinking up the Warriors’ roster.
Maybe I should tear my eyes away from Bogut’s stats from this season, at the start of which he pronounced himself to be in terrific shape. 44.9% from the field, 8.3 rebounds.
And I should definitely stop thinking about this next section that I’m about to write.
The Worst Warriors Trade in History Angle: OK, take it easy, I’m just riffing. I am not saying that’s what this trade is. I’m not even going to say that this was a bad trade. It should certainly improve the Warriors in the short term, as it fills one gaping hole in their roster, without creating another. And I’m hopeful it will improve them in the long term, as well. Like every other Warriors fan, I have no real idea how this trade will work out, and I have my fingers crossed.
I do, however, think that there is a small, but nonetheless statistically significant possibility that this trade will turn out so horribly that it will be discussed forever. Like Robert Parish and Kevin McHale for Joe Barry Carroll.
And because this possibility is on my mind, and for no other reason, I’m going to share my thoughts on it with you. Here are the 5 things that would have to happen for this trade to be viewed in future years as a disaster for the Warriors:
1) The tank doesn’t work, and the Warriors don’t get their lottery pick back.
2) Bogut electrifies next season, earning himself a nice big fat extension, after which his injury problems return, and he re-stiffafies.
3) Monta Ellis decides to become a superstar.
Monta Ellis decides to become a superstar. I believe it is within his control. In my opinion, what he needs to do to become a superstar is: 1) Decide to play point guard 2) for a title contender.
Both of these options will be available to him when he opts out after next season. They’ll be made available by Dwight Howard.
When and if that happens, I think Monta will immediately become recognized as one of the top ten players in the league, at any position.
Preposterous? Can’t see it? Just as an exercise, imagine along with me what would happen if you took League MVP Derrick Rose off of the Bulls, and put Monta in his place.
What would happen? In my opinion, not much. I think Monta Ellis is a better shooter, better passer and better defender than Rose. What is Rose better at? Better handle, perhaps. But then Monta Ellis has needed to force his offense through clogged lanes against triple teams these last few years. Better shot selection? Same answer: the Warriors have needed Monta to force his offense. And then there’s this curious stat: Career shooting percentage: Rose 46.6. Monta 46.5. Better at getting to the foul line? Yes, 6.3 FTA to Monta’s 5 this season. But does that stay the same when Monta’s playing on a strong 5-man team that must be guarded at every position? When he’s a recognized star on one of the NBA’s darlings?
4) Monta Ellis wins a championship.
Impossible? Don’t tell Dwight Howard, he might want to get some money down with you.
5) Ekpe Udoh becomes an All-NBA defensive player.
Readers of this blog already know what I’ve seen in Udoh. The genius level hoops IQ, on both sides of the ball. It is clear to me that he’s studied tape of the best defensive centers in the league, as well as the footwork of Hakeem Olajuwon on the offensive end. If he takes to studying a little Dennis Rodman tape, and figures out that undersized rebounding thing, I think his upside is unlimited.
That could be a long shot. But he is going to spend the next couple of years getting a masters class in rebounding from a couple of undersized studs: MBam and Ilyasova.
What if Ekpe Udoh turns into Ben Wallace on the defensive end? Just to mention one other 6-9″ (some say 6-7″) power forward whom no one believed was a center. Until it was too late.
Maybe I’m out of my head with my opinion of Ekpe Udoh. But if so, at least I’m in good company. When Bucks GM John Hammond got on the phone with Monta Ellis the night of the trade, Ellis told him:
Ekpe Udoh is a very special player. He might be the steal of this trade.
OK, if you’re a stat phreak and so inclined, multiply the separate probabilities of each of these five things occurring, to reach the final probability that Warriors fans’ minds will be melted in the near future. Just as an intellectual exercise, of course.
The Stephen Jackson for Richard Jefferson Angle: I am a huge and unrepentant fan of Stephen Jackson, as my regular readers know. I won’t go into the reasons here — you can find them in the archives, if interested.
But after reflection, I don’t really mind the Jackson for Jefferson trade. It seems to fit both teams. The Warriors have committed to Klay Thompson at the two. There would be no starting role for Jackson here, which wouldn’t sit well with him. But assuming he can still play, I think he will ultimately become the starting two for the Spurs, with no disruption to their chemistry. Ginobili is comfortable coming off the bench. And Jack will be playing for a title on the Spurs, which is what he lives for.
As for Richard Jefferson, it will be interesting to see who Mark Jackson chooses as his starting small forward. I used to think Jefferson was a terrific player, back when he was on the Nets. Ran the floor hard, finished thunderously, defensive stopper.
All of that has diminished considerably, to the point where Pop spent one first round draft pick on his replacement, and another in getting rid of him. But he’s still a pretty decent player. If grossly overpaid.
Weaknesses: Horrible mid-range game, doesn’t pass well, doesn’t rebound as well as DWright. For these reasons I give the starting nod to Wright.
Strengths: Three point shooting, over 40% the last two years. Good defender. Physical size and strength. Versatility.
By versatility, I mean that the Warriors have finally picked up a small-ball spread-four, which is where Pop frequently played him. At 6-7″ 220+, Jefferson fills the bill.
And fills what has been a glaring need on this Warriors team. Watch what happens with the David Lee pick and roll if Curry returns, and Jefferson is at the four.
And then, of course, there is that second round, err… first round Spurs draft pick. That will come in handy when filling out the Warriors bench next year.
The Warriors Bench Angle: As I’m sure you noticed, the Warriors have been quite intent on adding draft picks. In addition to the Spurs pick, I believe they outright purchased a low second rounder from the Hawks. And they’re really, really hoping to add one more, of a higher variety.
I’m guessing, that with all the salary they’ve just added, the Warriors plan to stuff their bench with cheap rookies. Will Nate Robinson and Brandon Rush be re-signed? I feel that’s highly unlikely at this point.
One of the talking points that Larry Riley has been hitting hard when discussing the trade, is that it proves that Joe Lacob is willing to spend money to win.
Oh really? I’ll believe that, when and if Lacob goes over the cap to re-sign Rush, add a veteran point guard, and fill the hole left by Udoh’s departure.
The Curry/Ellis Backcourt. In his post-trade interview, Lacob graciously pointed out that the Curry and Ellis backcourt had never been given a real chance. They had never gotten to play with a legitimate big man to protect them.
What he neglected to mention was that he didn’t believe in the backcourt from the get-go, and was instrumental in denying it the help it needed.
If nothing else, Joe Lacob is a master of the PR game.
The Norm Nixon Angle (aka The Giving the Keys to the Franchise to Stephen Curry Angle):
In his memoir, Jerry West wrote this of his decision to trade Norm Nixon from the Lakers:
We parted company with Norm Nixon, an extremely popular player whom I had coached for two years. (Jack Nicholson not only lobbied me not to trade Norm but wore black in mourning when we did.) …. [T]here was a conflict and it needed to be resolved. Norm wanted to handle the ball as much as possible, but we needed Magic to do that. Magic without the ball was merely Earvin, a Monet without his brush. When Magic was out for a period of time with an injury, it was difficult for Norm to give up the ball when Magic returned. And it was nearly impossible for Norm to prevent his unhappiness from becoming known.
Did Jerry West relate this anecdote to Joe Lacob, and compare the situation to that of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry? I think we can safely assume that he did.
And as much as I like to think that Curry and Ellis could have formed a great backcourt together in the mold of Frazier and Monroe, Nash and van Exel, Kidd and Barea and Terry, maybe there was some truth to this angle behind the scenes.
Who knows? Certainly not me, I’m not an insider. I just know that I saw no selfishness on the court between these two players in the last two years. Not a bit.
And no, I’m not wearing black.
The Kwame Brown Angle: One great upside to this trade is that I can finally let the 2-6 Kwame Brown Era go. There is absolutely no reason why those scorch marks on my soul should be permanent, right?
No way Lacob signs him back. Right?
The No Excuses Basketball Team Angle: Another great upside to this trade, at least from my perspective, is that for the first time in Joe Lacob’s tenure as GM, the Warriors will truly have no excuses to fall back on. There will be no more saying, “Don’t blame me for the sins of the past.”
Starting next year, of course.
The Warriors Identity Angle: Have the Warriors gone overnight from one of the fastest teams end to end in the NBA, to one of the slowest? We know what Skiles thought about Bogut’s ability or willingness to run the court. David Lee is a great running center, but at power forward he’s no barn burner. Thompson and Curry in the backcourt — not fast.
OK, so they’re going to win games with their defense, right? Bogut in the middle — great. DWright and Jefferson at the three — good. What about the other three positions? What about that Curry — Thompson backcourt?
See, the thing about that Mark Jackson — Reggie Miller backcourt? It was backed up by Rik Smits, the Davis brothers and Derrick McKey. Defensive monsters, all. Are David Lee and Dorell Wright/Richard Jefferson made in that same mold? Or are they a different kind of basketball player, requiring a different, more up-tempo kind of system in order to thrive?
What will the Warriors hang their hat on next season? It won’t be the running game, certainly. I sincerely doubt it will be the low post game. And their defensive identity is far from certain — especially against the running teams like the Heat and Thunder, that currently rule the league.
I’m as curious as anyone to see what Mark Jackson cooks up for our no excuses basketball team. Because it’s a little hard to visualize at the moment.
The Mark Jackson Angle: What do you do when you have a superb running team, and a coach who has no idea how to use it? Well, you can do what the TWolves and the Trailblazers did, and fire the coach. Or you can do what Joe Lacob just did, and fire the team.
This trade just might have turned an incompetent NBA coach into a competent one, overnight. Mark Jackson certainly knows everything in the world there is to know about walking the ball up the court and feeding Rik Smits and Patrick Ewing in the low post.
There’s only one problem with that: Andrew Bogut in the low post is not the same thing as Rik Smits or Patrick Ewing. Not even close.
I hope Mike Malone can draw up something good for us.
Feltbot’s Angle: I simply don’t know how to pronounce a final judgement on this trade. I’ve layed out what I think are its basic themes. But it’s beyond my capacity to go much further than that. Maybe it will turn out great.
I can say with certainty, though, how this trade has affected me on a personal level: I once had a dream about this Warriors team, and that dream is now dead.
It lasted about a month. It began when Nellie drafted Ekpe Udoh, and traded for David Lee, and scooped up Dorell Wright for peanuts. And visions of the league’s next great running team started filling my mind. A team so fast end-to-end, so highly skilled, so beautiful to watch, that it would inspire a name. Showtime. RunTMC. 7 Seconds or Less. We Believe.
It ended when Joe Lacob bought the Warriors.
Since that moment, I guess I’ve been pretending that it was still alive. Or advocating for it, at any rate, while it still had a pulse. But it never had a pulse. And I knew that, in my heart.
Like Monta Ellis, my dream was a dead man walking.
This trade has brought me back to the real world. The world where Don Nelson and Mike D’Antoni are out of jobs.
And venture capitalists are the GMs.