Golden State Warriors' 2012 Draft Already Stands as One for the Ages

Simon Cherin-Gordon@SimoncgoContributor IIIJune 23, 2013

Harrison Barnes (left), Festus Ezeli (center) and Draymond Green (right)
Harrison Barnes (left), Festus Ezeli (center) and Draymond Green (right)Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

"A 50-50 chance". "It's a tossup". "Flip a coin".

These are all common platitudes for describing situations with equally possible but opposite outcomes.

In at least one particular case, however, the use of this terminology was apt.

On April 27, 2012, a true tossup—like, the actual flipping of a coin—dramatically altered the future for an entire NBA franchise.

The Golden State Warriors spent the latter part of the 2011-12 season tanking, losing 22 of the last 28 games. Their final record of 23-43 tied them with the Toronto Raptors for the NBA's seventh-worst record, so a coin flip ensued to determine draft lottery positioning.

The Warriors won the flip and then held onto the No. 7 spot on lottery day, which meant so much more than the difference between the No. 7 and No. 8 pick in the draft.

This is because the Warriors had traded away the rights to a future first-round pick years ago, and would only retain it in 2012 if they finished in the top seven of the draft lottery.

Therefore, holding onto the No. 7 pick meant the difference between Harrison Barnes and no Harrison Barnes, which in turn also meant the difference between Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, a Stephen Curry extension, a playoff appearance and a Round 1 victory—and none of that stuff (more on that later).

Luck is always a huge factor in the NBA draft, but this luck was off the charts. And the luck didn't stop there.

With that No. 7 pick, the Warriors were most frequently projected to draft UConn center Andre Drummond or Syracuse SG Dion Waiters. Both were quality prospects, but neither showed quite the same skill set or fit the team's need as much as the North Carolina SF Barnes.

The Warriors again got lucky when the Cleveland Cavaliers decided to take Waiters over Barnes at No. 4. Barnes fell to the Warriors, and they snatched him up.

But the luck continued.

With the No. 30 pick that they had acquired from the San Antonio Spurs at the trading deadline, the Warriors clearly needed to add a big man. As the No. 23 pick rolled around (with Tyler Zeller and Fab Melo gone), Vanderbilt's Festus Ezeli clearly became the top center prospect available.

The Warriors held their breath as teams needing centers—the Cavaliers, Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder—surprisingly passed on Ezeli. Once he fell to No. 30, the Warriors again gobbled up their gift.

With the No. 35 pick, the Warriors added Michigan State's Draymond Green, a player they likely would have taken at No. 30 had Ezeli been gone, and who most prognosticators thought would be taken somewhere in the 20s.

So the Warriors walked away with a coin toss win, a lottery success, and three players who could have very easily not been available to them.

Although, as necessary as luck is to produce a great draft class, it takes an incredible amount of skill and savvy to pull off one of the all-time great coups.

Which is what the Warriors had done.

It all started with the "tanking".

On March 13, 2012, the Warriors were 17-21. The team was several games out of a playoff spot, and didn't appear to be on the cusp of a great turnaround.

Looming ahead, they also saw one of the all-time great draft classes (as the 2012 group was projected to be) as an opportunity to turn their franchise around, despite the ill-advised Marcus Williams deal made by the previous front-office group.

So Larry Riley, Bob Myers, Jerry West and the rest of the Warriors' front office set out turn this past folly into a positive and retain their lottery pick.

The Monta Ellis trade was step one. The Warriors sent the Milwaukee Bucks a great scorer and fan favorite in Ellis along with a decent young shot-blocker in Ekpe Udoh.

They received a franchise center in Andrew Bogut, a trade chip in Stephen Jackson and—due to Bogut's broken ankle—a chance to lose games and retain their lottery pick.

Step two involved Jackson, who Golden State had to accept if Milwaukee was going to bite. The Warriors agreed, but knew that Jackson couldn't stay due to his history in Oakland.

Once again, the front office turned a negative into a positive.

The team immediately flipped Jackson to San Antonio for Richard Jefferson's hefty contract and the No. 30 pick. If Golden State didn't retain its lottery pick, it would still have a first-round selection. 

In most years, this wouldn't be worth it, but Golden State was confident it would find a quality player here due to the historically deep draft class.

Step three was to shut down the team's best player in Stephen Curry (and later on David Lee), get them healthy and lose a bunch of games. This wasn't luck; it was a very well-executed plan.

Draft day itself demanded the same poise, and the front office delivered.

Taking Barnes at No. 7 and passing on Drummond required strong forward thinking, as the club was targeting another big at No. 30 in Ezeli.

Late in the first round, Golden State had another tough choice to make. Since there was a strong chance Ezeli would go in the 20s, the front office strongly considered packaging the No. 30 and No. 35 picks in order to move up and grab him.

Sticking it out was certainly a gamble, but the decision to keep both picks allowed the team to add Green.

If this was the end of the story—Golden State walking away from the 2012 NBA Draft with three players of this caliber—it would qualify for an "A" draft grade.

But the Warriors walked away with so much more.

The Barnes selection allowed the team to trade then-starting SF Dorell Wright. Wright was shipped off in a three-team deal that brought in a much-needed backup point guard and sixth-man in Jack.

Later in the summer, the Warriors signed an excellent offensive rebounder and inside scorer in Landry. The veteran power forward was certainly more drawn to sign with Golden State after the additions of three quality young players and Jack, a friend and teammate of Landry's during the previous season with the New Orleans Hornets.

Bogut, the three rookies, Jack and Landry. Four starting caliber players and two more rotation players, not to mention a potential star (Barnes). All for Ellis, Udoh and Wright.

This kind of roster upgrade was enough to get Stephen Curry to sign a four-year, $44 million contract extension before the season.

Then came the season.

To make a long story short, the Warriors' 2012 draft class and related moves paid off in an enormous way. The team went 47-35 in 2012-13, making them the most-improved team in the NBA. They made the playoffs for the first time in six years, eliminated the 57-win Denver Nuggets and pushed the Spurs in a tough six-game series.

Barnes made the all-rookie first team, had some of the season's most explosive dunks and had a spectacular postseason performance for a rookie.

Ezeli started 41 games, defended the post extremely well and made a lot of teams regret passing on him.

Green provided defense, rebounding, energy and an intelligence and poise far beyond his years. He played an instrumental role in Golden State's Round 1 victory.

The NBA draft gives the league's worst teams a chance to add the best college and foreign players, and with those players comes the hope of a brighter future for that franchise. Sometimes, the players live up to their potential. Sometimes, they don't.

A successful draft is usually signified by the addition of one player who appears to substantially improve a roster. By that standard, the Warriors draft was a sweeping success right away, as they added three players with that look.

When considering the moves these picks allowed the team to make, the draft should be viewed as nothing short of extraordinary.

But then you look at how these three rookies performed. How the team performed. How the Warriors went from lottery team to championship contender in one year. How the future of the franchise appeared dark one year ago, but after June 28, 2012, suddenly became bright.

That's a historically good draft. One group of rookies that turn the fate of a franchise around, made possible by a perfect combination of luck and skill.

The Warriors now have one of the youngest, most talented teams in the NBA. Their 2013 playoff appearance means that they will finally forfeit this year's first-round pick (No. 21 overall) to Utah.

When the 2013 draft rolls around on Thursday, June 27, it will again be a day for hope across the NBA. But after last year's draft for the ages, hope levels will be plenty high all summer in Oakland.


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