The 2010 offseason brought big changes for the Golden State Warriors and renewed playoff hopes for the highly dedicated fans of this tough-luck franchise.
In the June draft, the Warriors selected power forward Ekpe Udoh out of Baylor with the sixth overall pick.
On July 8, the team traded Kelenna Azubuike, Ronny Turiaf and Anthony Randolph to the Knicks for power forward David Lee in a sign-and-trade that was preceded by the Warriors agreeing to pay Lee $80 million for six years.
Just one week later, much-maligned owner Chris Cohan sold the franchise to new owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, who immediately proclaimed that great things were on the horizon for the franchise.
In less-publicized transactions, the Warriors also gave up talented youngsters Anthony Morrow and C.J. Watson via free agency and trade, respectively. To shore up the team, the front office added small forward Dorell Wright and power forward Louis Amundson via free agency. Don Nelson "resigned" before the start of training camp and long-time assistant Keith Smart was quickly promoted and given the responsibility of leading the young team back to the playoffs.
After such a busy offseason, one would think that the Warriors were gearing up for a championship run in the near future. The fact of the matter is the team is nowhere near ready join the upper echelon of teams that can call themselves true playoff contenders.
While it would not be fair to criticize all of the recent moves made by the Warriors front office, the recent transaction history shows a troubling trend towards a desperate, win-now mentality instead of a steady rebuilding process towards a playoff return.
To start, let's examine the trade that brought power forward David Lee over from the Knicks. On paper, the statistics told the story of a solid player that was consistently among the league leaders in rebounding and also passed the ball surprisingly well for a big man.
However, a closer look shows that Lee's apparent prowess on the glass was actually overrated due to being on poor rebounding teams. When his main competition for boards was the likes of Eddy Curry and Danilo Gallinari, of course the rebounding numbers are going to stand out.
In his lone season with the Warriors, Lee's rebounding took a huge dip, grabbing two fewer rebounds a game despite playing nearly identical minutes, further proving my point.
Lee is also a huge liability on defense. With the way the Warriors employ two small guards that both have trouble keeping their men in front on defense, the team needs post players that can defend the rim.
Lee possesses neither the athletic ability nor defensive desire to challenge opposing players when they drive the lane, often opting instead to duck out of the way when it looks like he might get dunked on.
On the other hand, the Warriors gave up Anthony Randolph, who at 21 still possesses sky-high potential as an NBA player. Randolph, now on the Minnesota Timberwolves, played very well in limited stretches this past season as Kevin Love's injury replacement, at one point dropping 31 points and 11 rebounds on the Dallas Mavericks.
Regardless of whether Randolph ever plays up to his enormous potential or not, $13 million a year is much too steep a price for an overrated 28-year-old power forward, who plays little to no defense. Lee may be a valuable asset on offense, but his lack of ability on the other end of the court makes it impossible for the Warriors to match up defensively with teams that have elite post scorers.
Secondly, the selection of Ekpe Udoh in 2010 was a big mistake any way you slice it. He was a 24-year-old undersized center out of Baylor who was essentially a finished product by the time he first set foot on an NBA court. This was a safe pick for the Warriors, a team that can't afford to not take any risks in the draft.
With a team that is stuck year after year in the middle of the pack, one has to think about the long-term when making drafting decisions. Does it make more sense to take a 20-year-old seven-footer with potential for growth such as Greg Monroe, or to take a guy four years older and two inches shorter who has already maximized his potential in college? The Warriors ended up taking Udoh, the Pistons snatched up Monroe one pick later, and the rest is history.
Udoh proved all his critics to be correct by being essentially a one-trick pony. Unfortunately, he blocked shots at a prolific rate and turned out to be less than average at everything else. On the other hand, Monroe proved to be good at everything except blocking shots.
However, Monrone, only 20 years old and a pretty decent shot-blocker in college, still has plenty of room to grow in this area. The Warriors got a player that wouldn't leave the bench for many of the better teams in the league, while the Pistons got their franchise center to rebuild around.
How will the Warriors fare in 2011-12?
For an example of team that has found success by patiently building from the ground up, one only has to look at the Oklahoma City Thunder, a promising young team that was only a few close games away from making an appearance in the NBA Finals this year.
Keep in mind that only four years have passed since the 2007 draft, when the Thunder selected their franchise cornerstone Kevin Durant. Since then, they have added key pieces every year through the draft: Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka in 2008, and James Harden in 2009.
Granted, the Warriors have not had the fortune of owning picks as high in the draft as the Thunder, but the front office could learn a thing or two from them about drafting strategy. Westbrook and Ibaka were both raw prospects bursting with athletic ability when they first entered the league. They were far from finished products, yet the Thunder decision-makers took a chance on them because realistically, the team was still far from contending for a championship.
Three years later, Westbrook has harnessed his considerable physical gifts and become an All-Star point guard. Ibaka has developed into one of the best shot-blockers in the league, and has also added a surprisingly effective mid-range jumper to his offensive arsenal. They are both key contributors for a team that has realistic Finals aspirations, and because of the organization's patience the Thunder will probably be in the hunt for years to come.
Here's hoping that new hire Jerry West can change the win-now mindset in the Warriors front office, opting instead for a more patient strategy that involves building around a young core. He has a great track record when it comes to evaluating talent, and also possesses the cojones to make high-risk moves that may ultimately have a bigger payoff in the long run.
Unfortunately, in the short run this may mean that Warriors fans have to endure the playoff drought for a few more seasons. That's okay. We still Believe.