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All eyes are on the Warriors and their No. 2 pick

Golden State is seeking a rapid return to championship glory, which makes its decision somewhat tough.

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell

For anyone who thought the Golden State Warriors were finally free of the long and sleepless nights, anxiety, angst and all other psychological demons that are byproducts of a miserable season, please reconsider, because there’s one more remnant from that rubble they must deal with.

Which is: How do they handle the reward for surviving that?

To be more precise: What should they do with Draft pick No. 2?

This proud franchise, just 16 months removed from an appearance in The Finals and slightly over two years removed from a dynasty, finds itself in a peculiarly pleasant pickle. The Warriors just endured an NBA-worst 15-50 season, no thanks to major injuries suffered by Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, and now the team is ready to boomerang back among the championship contenders.

This makes them a rare elite team that’s choosing high in the NBA Draft, which obviously is a premium place to be, and also obviously a perplexing one as well.

The Warriors, you see, are ready to win now, but the teenager they choose Wednesday with the No. 2 overall pick, by most accounts, will not be.

And so, the Warriors can either use the selection on someone they must groom patiently … or trade it for more immediate help. Do they take the long-term view, which might not pay immediate dividends and could waste the prime years of Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green? Or do they sacrifice rookie talent for very good veteran talent and go championship-or-bust the next three-to-four years?

If the Warriors trade the pick, there’s also the good chance they’ll package it with Andrew Wiggins, if only to match salaries with the incoming player. The mood around the league regarding Wiggins is mixed, but he did play well with the Warriors last season and might flourish in the right spot. Wiggins suffers mainly from perception and money; he’s not the star many thought he’d be, but he’s paid like one.

Can the pick and Wiggins get Bradley Beal from the Washington Wizards? Would the Toronto Raptors swap Pascal Siakam and bring Wiggins, who’s from Toronto, back home? Some other possible names to consider: Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon or Buddy Hield, all in some sort of package that also brings back an additional sweetener to the Warriors.

From a positional standpoint, the Warriors could use a big man, and in that case they’d probably be more willing to keep the pick and take James Wiseman, assuming the seven-footer doesn’t go No. 1 overall to Minnesota (which already has Karl Anthony-Towns) or some other team if the Wolves trade the pick.

However, while Wiseman runs the floor well and brings a knack for low-post offense and rebounding, he’s raw and requires player development. The Warriors might not have time for that. Plus, they were never built around or featured a big man during their championship era and, therefore, it could be a weird fit.

Here’s what Warriors general manager Bob Myers said recently: “A big man almost can’t stand around the rim anymore, that’s hard to do. If we get a big man that can protect the rim and guard on the perimeter and switch, that’s obviously highly valuable. There’s not too many guys that can do that. Perimeter defense has never mattered more because so much of the offense is coming from the perimeter instead of passing it to the post.”

If Wiseman is gone or the Warriors simply aren’t high on him, they’ll have some swingman-type players who’ll form a three-guard rotation along with Curry and Thompson. But again, this Draft doesn’t project much in terms of immediate help for a contender, even at No. 2. Those candidates include LaMelo Ball, who who played in Australia, Anthony Edwards of Georgia, Deni Avdija from Europe or Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton.

“Whoever we pick,” Myers said recently, “I am sure there will be some people that are happy and some people that won’t be, and then they’ll change their mind a month later because they’re allowed to and I’m not.”

It’s unusual to see heavyweight teams sitting in the close company of lightweights on Draft day. It’s an envious position for sure; while their Draft neighbors are mired in a rebuilding process, the Warriors are in the reloading business, prepared to play deep into next spring or hopefully into summer. The Draft pick can only enhance their status; essentially, the rich getting richer.

The NBA historically has a small sample size of contenders holding high picks, although the end result wasn’t always a bonanza. Since 1980, there are eight examples of elite teams with a top-three pick, and faced with those good and tough decisions, they either flourished or fumbled it away.

1980: Here’s why Red Auerbach was a basketball savant. The year before, on the eve of Larry Bird helping the Celtics win 61 games, Auerbach flipped Bob McAdoo to the Pistons for a pair of first-rounders. Then Dick Vitale — yes, that guy — subsequently coached the Pistons to 66 losses and one of those picks became No. 1 overall in 1980. Auerbach then flipped that pick to the Warriors for Robert Parish and the No. 3 overall. He drafted Kevin McHale and the greatest front line in history was born.

1982: Two years prior, Cavs owner Ted Stepien was reckless with first-round picks — the “Stepien Rule” now forbids teams from trading consecutive No. 1 picks — and he packed Cleveland’s 1982 pick plus Butch Lee for the Lakers’ No. 1 in 1980 and Don Ford. OK, fine. Well, the Cavs went into a tailspin and that ’82 pick became No. 1 overall. The Lakers were defending champs and loaded with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and others. They then added the dynamic James Worthy, fresh off an NCAA title with North Carolina, with that No. 1 overall pick in 1982. With “Big Game James” in the fold, Los Angeles won three more rings.

1984: Three years earlier, the Portland Trail Blazers sent a lanky center named Tom Owens to the Pacers — he’d only last one season with them — for a first rounder in ’84. This became one of the greatest Drafts in NBA history, which is the good news. The bad news for the Blazers is they used the No. 2 pick on Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan, who went third to Chicago. Portland already had a hang-time swingman in Clyde Drexler and believed Bowie, a shot-blocking and rebounding force in college, would fill a need. You know the story: Bowie suffered a series of career-interrupting broken legs and Jordan, well …

1986: The defending-champion Celtics benefitted from another Auerbachian heist when, two years earlier, Red sent Gerald Henderson and cash to the Sonics, who were more desperate for the cash than Henderson, so they exchanged an 1986 first-rounder. The pick became the No. 2 overall and Boston selected NBA-ready power forward Len Bias, believing him to be a perfect bridge for the Larry Bird dynasty. Less than two days after being drafted, Bias he died of cardiac arrhythmia related to usage of cocaine.

1997: When David Robinson (and later, Sean Elliott) suffered a season-ending injury in 1996-97, the Spurs collapsed. Or, according to suspicious NBA folks at that time, the Spurs tanked. In any event, they went from 59 wins in 1995-96 to 20 wins in 1996-97. Their front office executive, Gregg Popovich, took over the coaching job in December of 1996. Just as important, they entered the Tim Duncan Sweepstakes. Interestingly, the Spurs had only the third-best odds of winning the top pick. Had the Celtics (No. 2) won the lottery, Rick Pitino might still be coaching in Boston, Popovich probably doesn’t become recognized as an all-time great, and the Spurs surely don’t go 23 years before missing the playoffs again or get lauded as the model franchise.

2003: Once again, a defending champion had the No. 2 pick. This time, it was the Detroit Pistons, who six years earlier traded an old Otis Thorpe to the desperate expansion Grizzlies for Vancouver’s future first-rounder. As we know now, the 2003 draft became one of the greatest ever. But after LeBron James went No. 1 overall as expected, the Pistons outsmarted themselves. They rolled the dice on European big man Darko Milicic, who wowed the Pistons during pre-Draft workouts. The Pistons thought they could buy time while Milicic developed. Well, Milicic was immature, had poor work habits and just wasn’t very good. Meanwhile, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, ignored by the Pistons, all turned out OK.

2017: Celtics boss Danny Ainge dumped an old Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on Brooklyn in 2013 for a batch of future first-rounders and also gave the Celtics the right to swap picks in 2017 with the last-place Nets (when Boston was fresh off a 53-win season). That pick was No. 1 overall, and then Ainge traded down with the Sixers for No. 3. Philly took Markelle Fultz — who’s no longer with the Sixers — and the Celtics took Jayson Tatum, who’s about to sign a max deal any day now.

Next up, the Warriors. Like many of those previously mentioned teams, the Warriors don’t have a simple choice here with the No. 2: Keep it, trade it, or even trade down. What they decide could have major ramifications on the next five or so seasons and might make-or-break the remaining prime years of Curry, Thompson and Green.

Also, there’s a huge financial stake riding on this decision as well. The Warriors have only played one season in the pricey and privately-financed Chase Center, and that season wasn’t very good. This season might have fewer (or maybe no) fans because of coronavirus and therefore won’t generate as much revenue. If the Warriors make the correct decision with the No. 2 pick, it will reflect well on the bottom line, too.

So there’s a bit of pressure facing Myers and his staff, who didn’t have the luxury of working out prospects prior to the Draft because of the coronavirus.

As a team that’s restless and healthy and ready to return to championship glory, the Warriors are in a good place come Draft day. Or so it seems.

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter .

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