2021 NBA Draft Lottery Could Shift Power Back to Golden State Warriors

Jake Fischer@JakeLFischerContributor IJune 21, 2021

Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry looks down at the court during the second half of an NBA basketball Western Conference play-in game against Memphis Grizzlies in San Francisco, Friday, May 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)
Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

The NBA's dramatic postseason will take its brief, yet ever-important back seat to the draft lottery Tuesday night. This year's drawing will essentially be virtual once again, taking place in Secaucus, New Jersey, with most team representatives being off-site, including the anxious executives inside Golden State's front office.

Barring an extraordinary stroke of luck, the Warriors' own selection will likely appear at No. 14. And thanks to the trade that sent D'Angelo Russell to Minnesota in exchange for Andrew Wiggins, Golden State also has a 72.5 percent chance of landing the Timberwolves' top-three-protected selection, with a 9.6 percent chance of the pick conveying at No. 4, in a draft that's considered to be loaded with franchise-changing talent.  

This lottery thus presents a fascinating inflection point for one of the league's marquee organizations. While the Warriors never doubted Stephen Curry's capabilities in his return from injury for the 2020-21 campaign, the 33-year-old's remarkable season—one in which he paced the league in scoring with career-high usage and three-point attempt rates—reaffirmed to team officials that Golden State's title window remains ajar.

If Minnesota's pick does convey, there's an expectation among league personnel that the Warriors will explore trading that selection to upgrade their roster for a potential 2021-22 championship run. 

"If they're at No. 4, I think they keep their pick," said one Western Conference staffer. "If they're at No. 6 or No. 7, I think they're gonna offer it for what they can get."

"I would package [James] Wiseman and those two picks and see what that gets you," said one assistant general manager.

Assessing Wiseman's value is one of the trickier challenges on the NBA trade market. To be clear, Golden State has had no serious internal discussions on moving the 20-year-old center whom the Warriors drafted No. 2 a year ago, sources told B/R.

To that end, Golden State has hired noted Serbian coach Dejan Milojevic, who guided Nikola Jokic during his time at Mega Basket in the Adriatic League, as part of the Warriors' revamped player development staff. Yet there remains a healthy skepticism among league figures that Wiseman will be ready to contribute meaningful postseason minutes in the near future. 

"He might not be there until he's 23," said the Western Conference executive. "He hasn't played basketball long enough." 

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Warriors officials believe this offseason, coupled with a regular NBA calendar and more practice time for the 2021-22 campaign, might allow Wiseman time and space to grow into a frontcourt lynchpin sooner rather than later. Withdrawing from the University of Memphis after playing only three games and seeing his rookie year cut short at just 39 games by a right meniscus tear—not to mention complications brought by COVID-19 protocols—have certainly deterred Wiseman from steady growth opportunities. 

If Wiseman indeed stays off the table, Golden State's trade options will still be vast. There are no internal concerns about the team's growing luxury-tax bill, thanks to an aggressive and willing ownership group.

Two Warriors officials told B/R the team is open to various trade scenarios, and it seems Golden State would prefer Minnesota's pick to convey this season. If it does not, the selection will become unprotected in 2022. In that scenario, the Warriors could trade the pick and assign their own protections to it. 

The Warriors do have an interest in re-signing Kelly Oubre  Jr. this summer, sources told B/R, yet he presents a unique sign-and-trade opportunity for Golden State.  

Oubre will likely seek upward of $20 million in average annual salary on the open market, and there should be plenty of suitors. Several Spurs players appear eager to land Oubre in San Antonio, according to league sources. He could slide into DeMar DeRozan's spot on the wing as a lower-usage, defensive piece who fits the young Spurs' timeline. Tom Thibodeau is also said to have an interest in bringing Oubre, among other veteran players, to New York. 

Golden State also held significant discussions regarding Oubre before the March trade deadline, sources said. The team drew close on several iterations of a swap with Brooklyn that would have involved Spencer Dinwiddie.

Dallas is expected to register interest, too. Sources told B/R the Mavericks approached Golden State before the deadline on a structure that centered around Kristaps Porzingis, in exchange for Oubre. But that was a different regime, predating Dallas' recent changeover atop the franchise's basketball operations. 

At the Warriors other wing, Andrew Wiggins has revived his trade value after a successful two-way season in Golden State, converting a career-best 38.0 percent from three while defending premier perimeter opponents every night. That's precisely the player Warriors brass were hoping to acquire when they originally sent Russell to Minnesota and landed the Wolves' additional draft capital. 

Those negotiations often grew contentious, sources told B/R.

The Warriors and Wolves haggled over particulars for several months. Minnesota had long hoped to pair Russell with his close friend Karl-Anthony Towns, while the Knicks expressed strong interest in trading for Russell before the 2020 deadline, sources said. Wolves officials were under the impression Golden State used New York's involvement as a negotiating ploy to drive up its asking price. 

Warriors brass initially sought to acquire two first-round picks in that trade, sources told B/R. Despite the Wolves' obvious interest in Russell, Minnesota held firm on only surrendering one future first and eventually gave its 2021 second-round pick to assume the contracts of Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman from Golden State, sources said. 

Now, the Warriors stand less than 24 hours from that selection potentially conveying. Golden State could add a top-five pick—or whatever that pick can return via trade—to a rotation that is also expected to regain Klay Thompson. There is no set timeline for the All-Star's return, and Warriors staffers hesitate to pencil Thompson into the opening-night lineup.

Yet there's a strong confidence he can return close to form. If Thompson can find 80 percent of his form pre-injury, Curry, Draymond Green, Thompson and whomever the Warriors continue to add around their core could rebound Golden State back into the title conversation. 

Lottery night can't come soon enough in the Bay.


Jake Fischer covers the NBA for Bleacher Report and is the author of Built to Lose: How the NBA's Tanking Era Changed the League Forever.


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