OpinionAugust 14, 2007

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Rounding ‘Em Up: A View From Atop ‘The City’

By jphanned

The news broke around 8:20 PM PST – The Warriors had traded Jason Richardson and their second round pick, Jermareo Davidson, to the Charlotte Bobcats for Brandan Wright. As many other Warriors fans felt, I was both shocked and outraged. There were so many poor decisions leading up to this trade that should have been avoided, and the Warriors’ management felt they needed to make this trade to right those wrongs. The responses that it received definitely took me by surprise and made me very skeptical. Immediately after the trade was announced on ESPN, Stephen A. Smith came to the bold conclusion that Michael Jordan, the GM of the Bobcats, had made a ’stupid’ trade and that the Warriors were the huge winners here. And when the fact was made public later that day that the Warriors had also netted a $10 million trade exception, articles supporting the trade ran for days with optimistic headlines such as ‘The Wright Move’.
Many of these articles stressed the same thing – the positive financial benefits the Warriors would gain and the seemingly infinite opportunities that lay ahead. These observations actually only began to scratch the surface of the many other implications this trade had. A more analytical and in-depth analysis reveals otherwise. In this article I will examine the trade from both sides, explain the negative effects it will have on the Warriors’ current and future outlook, and look into the events that led up to this trade.
Jason Richardson: Was he worth his remaining 4-year, $51 million contract?
Many people say that he wasn’t – some citing his injury last season, while others point out his inability to ever become a superstar who could be the cornerstone of a franchise. I contend otherwise, based on his individual production as well as the contributions he has made to the Warriors as a team member.

• The 2005-2006 season has been his best statistical season so far, and based on his production and minutes played that season, his fair salary was $12.51 million. At 27 years of age, Richardson is just entering the prime of his career and has not even reached his full potential yet. His best seasons of production are yet to come. Up until last year, his per-game statistical production has increased every season since he came into the league back in 2001. Although he struggled early last season to find his form, Richardson redeemed himself during the last two months of the season after he returned from a broken hand injury that he suffered in late December. His production during this two month span put him 15th in the NBA based on per-game value, topping his production during the 2005-2006 season that put him 33rd in per-game value. Compare his production after returning from his injury to his ‘05-’06 numbers, respectively:
18.6 PPG, 2.9 3PTM, 5.9 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 1.8 TO, 44.6 FG%, 70.8 FT%
23.2 PPG, 2.4 3PTM, 5.8 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 2.2 TO, 44.6 FG%, 67.3 FT%

• Based on a study done on player pairs, seven of Richardson’s nine active teammates improved their +/- per 48 minutes averages when playing with him on the floor last season. During the 2005-2006 season, all ten of Richardson’s teammates improved their +/- per 48 minutes averages with Richardson on the floor. He makes his teammates perform at a higher level and the Warriors are a much better team with him (29-20, 59%) than without him (13-20, 39%). When Richardson is playing at his best, his PER (Player Efficiency Rating – a measure of how well a player contributes to his team), puts him amongst the top 30 in the NBA. He was the heart and soul of the Warriors, and their unquestioned leader. While guys like Mike Dunleavy and Adonal Foyle sat by idly and collected their paychecks, Richardson was out there night after night giving it all he had and earning every last dollar of his contract.

• Today’s market has changed, and players like Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis are signing massive contracts even though they, like Jason Richardson, lack the superstar abilities of Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant to carry a team on their own. Vince Carter recently re-signed with the New Jersey Nets at four years, $62 million; while Rashard Lewis received a six-year, $110 million contract from the Orlando Magic. Both Carter and Lewis finished outside the top 20 in terms of PER and do not offer much more to the table than Jason Richardson does. The price for an elite second option has risen, as it has been proven that a single player cannot take a team to a championship (Parker/Duncan, Wade/Shaq, Kobe/Shaq). According to his market value, Jason Richardson’s contract was very reasonable compared to what other players of his caliber are making.
Marco Belinelli, Brandan Wright, and the $10 million trade exception
Was the short term loss of trading away Jason Richardson for this package outweighed by the long term benefits? Based on the Warriors’ current situation, trading for two prospects and salary cap room was not in their best interest and they would have been better in both the short and long term by keeping Richardson.

• Although Marco Belinelli is well suited for Coach Don Nelson’s system, the expectations for him are way too high right now. Keep in mind that Louis Williams, Von Wafer, and Anthony Roberson also averaged 20 points a game in this year’s Summer League. What we have seen from Belinelli so far is most likely a mirage. His lack of upper body strength and tendency to rely on his jumper will limit his NBA potential. To be effective in the NBA, Belinelli will need to be much more aggressive and physical, improve his slashing ability, and be able to create his own shots. With his current skill set I could see him developing into a 3-point specialist off the bench much like Brent Barry, but not much more.

• Brandan Wright is an intriguing prospect with a lot of potential and his athleticism is what sets him apart from others. He has certainly had his share of downs – highlighted by the Elite Eight game against Georgetown where he had great difficulty finishing against the Georgetown defenders and was abused by Jeff Green on the defensive end. However, Nellie Ball will help mask his weaknesses (strength, post skills, man to man defense) and let him do what he does best (run the floor, finish around the basket, help defense). The big problem I see with trading for Brandan Wright though is that Don Nelson is on a year-to-year plan, and if he returns this season it will probably be his last. Wright is still two or three seasons away from being able to contribute, as he will need to polish his game and focus on bulking up in order to go up against the likes of Tim Duncan and Carlos Boozer. By the time Wright is ready to go, Don Nelson will no longer be the coach and there will be no more Nellie Ball to accentuate his strengths and hide his weaknesses. His talent and potential will in a sense be wasted, and the Warriors will certainly not be getting the bang out of their buck in the end.

• As enticing as a $10 million trade exception may have looked for the Warriors, their actual chances of using it to swing a deal for Kevin Garnett and his $21 million contract would have been slim to none. Many of these articles kept hyping up this possibility in order to keep excitement around the team, but realistically it just wasn’t going to happen. Contrary to popular belief, a trade exception cannot be used in combination with a player to trade for another player. For example, you can not trade away a $10 million trade exception with a $10 million player for a $20 million player. For a Garnett trade to have worked, it would have had to been worked out through two separate trades – something like:

Warriors trade: $10 million trade exception
Timberwolves trade: Troy Hudson and Trenton Hassell

Warriors trade: Monta Ellis, Al Harrington, Brandan Wright, and Adonal Foyle
Timberwolves trade: Kevin Garnett

The problem was that there was no way the T’Wolves would have taken on Adonal Foyle and his remaining 3-year, $29 million contract. Garnett was never in the Warriors’ sights to begin with. In most cases, trade exceptions are not used because teams would rather have the financial flexibility and stay under the luxury tax limit. And since the Warriors are only about $3 million under the luxury tax limit right now after extending a qualifying offer to Mickael Pietrus, it seems very likely that they will not be using this exception. They do have a year until the exception expires though, and they may be able to take on a player around the trade deadline with an expensive contract that is going to expire, or work out a sign-and-trade involving Pietrus. Either way, they will not be able to acquire anyone that is nearly as good as Jason Richardson who can fill his shoes.
Effects of the trade on the Warriors’ outlook

• The Warriors have taken a big step backwards from being the team that recently pulled off an incredible first round upset of the Dallas Mavericks in their first playoff appearance since the ‘Run TMC’ days back in 1994. Not only have they traded away their starting shooting guard and their leading scorer, but they have lost the heart and soul of their team. And for what, to rebuild towards an uncertain future that does not have Don Nelson in its plans? With Nelson’s tenure coming to an end soon, the time to win is now. They still have a shot at making the playoffs, but without Jason Richardson, there will not be a first round upset to write home about this season. The incredible chemistry the team had last season that was able to overcome the gaping holes on their roster is no longer there. General Manager Chris Mullin has broken up the family atmosphere of trust and camaraderie by sending the clear message to the players that he is interested in the business and financial aspect instead. He is more interested in the luxury tax limit than the number under the “W” column at season’s end.

• They are putting their future in the hands of Chris Mullin, who in an inspired act of good will, decided to commit $144 million in contract extensions to Mike Dunleavy Jr., Troy Murphy, and Adonal Foyle several seasons ago. We all know how miserably that ‘plan’ failed. Even though Larry Bird bailed Mullin out by foolishly taking Dunleavy and Murphy in a eight-player trade earlier this year, Adonal Foyle’s 3-year, $29 million contract is still on the books and a big financial burden since it accounts for nearly 20% of the salary cap. It is because of Mullin’s terrible signings that the Warriors were in this situation where management felt they needed to trade away Jason Richardson for financial flexibility. History is set to repeat itself, as Mullin’s ‘plan’ for the future is to set aside a large amount of money to re-sign Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins. I am a big supporter of both in their current roles, but they are not the type of players that will take the Warriors far into the playoffs – Jason Richardson was. Ellis is limited by his size and maturity, while Biedrins has trouble staying on the floor because he is always in foul trouble (league leader last season in fouls per game). Mullin is expected to commit nearly $20 million a year between the two, which would be another big mistake that will hold the Warriors back financially and not get them anywhere in the future. I am hoping that Mullin will come to his senses, or that he at least makes a couple trades with Isiah Thomas and Kevin McHale along the way.

Justin Phan is an aspiring sportswriter and one of the Cafe's recognized fantasy experts. Catch up with Justin, who posts as Rounders Block, and many other great minds at the Cafe's forums.
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