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Scott Howard-Cooper

The Warriors dealt a future first-rounder in 2008 for Marcus Williams, who is no longer with the team.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Biggest sting from bad '08 trade yet to come for Warriors

Posted Mar 6 2012 10:55AM

We're three teams, five general managers, three trades, four (going on five) cities, two Nets point guards and almost four years into this, and the evaporating career of Marcus Williams isn't even the issue anymore. That's how much tangled wreckage there is to sort through.

A 2008 Golden State-New Jersey deal for Williams that led to a 2009 Golden State-New Jersey deal may be coming due in the worst way in Oakland, with the Warriors living through a disappointing season and facing the real possibility they could both miss the playoffs and lose a lottery pick in a deep Draft.

Golden State made two deals on the same future first-round pick and made no gain from either. There certainly was no gain from the "Williams era" in Golden State, which lasted nine games in one season (poor conditioning and worse play were to blame). After a 62-game stint with Memphis in 2009-10, he was out of the league altogether.

This isn't meant to pile on Williams. Plenty of teams have unknowingly traded eventual lottery picks. The Knicks traded two first-rounders to the Suns in 2004 to get Stephon Marbury and Phoenix flipped one to the Jazz about six weeks later in a trade that jettisoned Tom Gugliotta. Utah watched that future pick (which originated with the Knicks) bloom into the No. 9 choice in 2010 (Gordon Hayward) in a perfect bit of timing as New York was dumping just about everything in preparation for the Summer of LeBron.

Last season, the Clippers dealt the selection that ended up as the No. 1 overall, Kyrie Irving, in freeing themselves of Baron Davis' contract. That happens.

This, though, just does not happen.

In July 2008, Chris Mullin and the Warriors acquired Williams from the Nets for a conditional first-rounder. Golden State had just been stunned by Davis' no-look free-agent move to the Clippers, was staring at an uncertain fit with Monta Ellis at point guard and had only C.J. Watson as depth. Williams was 22 and one season removed from being voted second-team All-Rookie. Plus, Golden State was coming off a 48-win season and, even after losing Davis, thought the pick would be middle of the first round at worst.

Just in case, Mullin took the traditional route of attaching protection. The Warriors would keep the selection if it was in the top 14 in 2011, in the top 11 in 2012 and the top 10 in 2013. If it hadn't been paid out by then, Golden State would ship second-rounders in '13 and '15.

Larry Riley succeeded Mullin shortly after the 2008-09 season. He wanted to remain aggressive in blockbuster talks, looking hard into landing Amar'e Stoudemire just as Mullin had closed in on a Kevin Garnett deal with the Timberwolves before that. Riley felt he needed to have a first-round pick as a potential sweetener and one wouldn't be at his disposal because teams could not trade first-round selections in consecutive years. With 2011 possibly bound for New Jersey, he couldn't dangle 2010, or 2011 because it might be gone, or 2012, or 2013.

Riley's exact target is not known. Maybe it was Stoudemire again, in a sign-and-trade in the summer of 2010. At the very least, he correctly reasoned, Golden State had a desperate need for depth. That could be addressed in the '11 Draft if the pick hadn't been moved. The Warriors had added David Lee and drafted Ekpe Udoh and figured they were a playoff contender that couldn't get hurt too bad with losing the pick.

So Riley worked a linked deal in September 2009 to alter the restrictions. The Warriors got to keep the 2011 first-rounder no matter what while the Nets got a second-round pick in 2011 and a reduction in protection to picks 1-7 in 2012, picks 1-6 in 2013 and picks 1-6 in 2014. If the books had not been closed on the deal by then, New Jersey got second-rounders in '14 and '16.

This is where it went horribly wrong for the Warriors.

There never was a blockbuster. They wanted an immediate selection to use in a trade and were willing to expose themselves on the back end for the trouble... and then didn't complete a trade.

Golden State did guarantee it would have a choice in 2011, ended up back in the lottery, and got Klay Thompson at 11. Thompson is on his way to being a success. But the Warriors, as it turned out, would have had the selection anyway. It was protected to 14 in the original deal, which is not going to work out so well.

Now the Warriors are headed to a very bad place. As the Nets are going to New York City next season, the Jazz got involved when the Warriors' pick was forwarded to them as part of last season's Deron Williams trade. Golden State finds itself in the same spot: on a course to the lottery with the possibility it won't get a lottery pick for its troubles.

"I was more concerned about protecting the fact that we would have a draft pick last summer," Riley said. "That I'm totally satisfied with. Now, as it turned out, we would have been OK. We would have gotten there and we would have been able to have the pick. We didn't know that for certain then, and with a somewhat-depleted roster back then, I felt it was important that we get another draft pick."

So he does not regret reducing the protection.

"Not really," Riley said. "Not given what was happening at the time."

The Warriors, at 15-20, have the 10th-worst record in the league and need to land in the top seven to keep the pick. Otherwise, it belongs to the Jazz, with the added potential indignity that a Golden State representative will have to sit on stage for the lottery theatrics only to instantly turn the choice over.

Maybe the Warriors find a finishing kick out of nowhere and make the playoffs. Then no one will care about losing the pick. Or maybe they miss the postseason and land in the lottery's top seven, delaying transfer of the selection for at least one more year.

Maybe they finish with the eighth- or ninth- or 10th-worst record, but beat the odds and ride the magic ping-pong balls into the first three picks.

The only certainty is they're No. 10 at the moment with what so far has been a very home-friendly schedule and any choice from No. 8 down belongs to Utah. In this cringing way, Golden State helps itself by losing.

Tangled wreckage, indeed.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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