Monday, February 13, 2012

Jerry West and the Art of "Tanking"

Jerry West, a recently added head consultant for the Golden State Warriors, wants the team to stop winning. At least that's what he told my source in direct contact with him. Admittedly, West said that over the phone the morning after the Warriors' thrilling 119-116 home loss to the Thunder last Tuesday, and Golden State has been playing much better of late. However, I spoke with the source today, and it was re-established that West loves Kentucky big man Anthony Davis, the odds on favorite for the #1 pick.

It's yet to be determined how The Logo will make his impact.
Now, this isn't exactly groundbreaking news because, as my source reiterated, Jerry isn't in power. As Tim Kawakami and Sam Amick have noted in recent columns, West hasn't had a huge role in decision making so far. He was an influential voice in selecting Klay Thompson in the draft (which I wasn't the biggest fan of at the time, but he's growing on me), but that's about it...or else Jeremy Lin might still be in his native Bay Area. My source wouldn't elaborate as to whether West would push for any trades at the deadline to start "tanking," but for fun, there are some things I'd like to throw out there.
I'm in favor of the Warriors blowing it up. I think it's clear that this is a flawed roster because Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, and David Lee are the three best players for the foreseeable future, and none of them are even close to being above average on the defensive end of the floor. They're pretty much in that dreaded no man's land of battling for the 8th seed without the ability to add a true difference making player because they're drafting too late in the lottery. I'm not necessarily saying there has to be a complete rebuilding process, but a shake up has to happen.

Now, whenever thinking about a quick rebuilding process, I'm drawn to the amazing job Sam Presti has done with the Thunder franchise. Of course, getting lucky in the lottery and landing Kevin Durant with the #2 pick right away helps, but I'd like to point out some of my favorite Presti transactions:
  • After drafting KD with the #2 pick, Ray Allen was traded to Boston for the #5 overall pick in that same '07 draft (and Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak, both dealt later in the year) in order to shed a large contract and truly hand the franchise to Durant.
  • Sign-and-traded free agent Rashard Lewis to Orlando for a trade exception and used that exception to take on Kurt Thomas' large contract from Phoenix. The Suns were so desperate to cut their luxury tax bill that Presti nabbed first round picks in both the 2008 AND 2010 drafts for his precious cap relief.
  • At the trade deadline, Thomas was then dealt to San Antonio for a 2009 first round pick and Brent Barry in one of those *wink wink* deals where Barry was then waived and re-signed with the Spurs after 30 days. If you're keeping count, that's 3 first round picks thanks to Kurt Thomas.
  • The 2010 draft was truly a thing of beauty in terms of cap space manipulation as Presti took on Mo Peterson's expiring contract from New Orleans in order to trade the #21 and #26 picks (the latter from the first Thomas trade) for the #11 pick to select Cole Aldrich in the franchise's search for a bruising center.
  • But that's not all! The day before that draft, Presti pried away the #18 pick from Miami for taking on Daequan Cook's contract as the Heat were clearing the books to make their free agency splash. Cook has become a valuable 3 point shooter for the team, and the 18th pick was traded to the Clippers for a future protected first round pick...which was dealt to Boston in the trade for Kendrick Perkins. That free pick was the key piece going out with Jeff Green, who was drafted with that 5th pick in 2007 from the Ray Allen trade. I'm not even a huge Perkins fan, but that trade gave the starting 4 spot to Serge Ibaka...who was selected with that '08 draft pick from Phoenix. I love how things tie together.
Using cap space and salaries wisely to collect assets, and then actually using those assets. It's not exactly brain surgery, but it's what's made Sam Presti look like he's playing chess while the rest of the GM's are playing checkers. With that in mind, here are my trade ideas after one more pair of notes:
  • The Warriors could lose their draft pick in this star-studded class from the failed Marcus Williams experiment way back in 2008. Here are the messy details of the two mistakes leading to this, but the point is that if their draft pick isn't in the top-7, it is going Utah (via New Jersey). Thus, the Warriors better start losing to get a higher pick, pray that they win the lottery, and/or make a trade for another lottery pick.
  • Monta Ellis is the piece to trade in my eyes. I've always been on the Curry side of the Steph-vs.Monta debate because he's younger, still on his rookie contract, and less undersized for his position. I like David Lee, but I wouldn't be opposed to trading him because he's overpaid and power forward might be the easiest position to fill in the league right now. However, Ellis has a much easier contract to trade: $11 million this year and next, with a player option for the same amount the following year.
Alas, there are two teams that I have targeted as trade partners at the deadline because they both are relatively young teams that might be within a few spots of the 8th seed. Neither is likely to make it, though, which would give the Warriors a late lottery pick in addition to their own, which is like a top 7 pick in normal drafts.

The first is the Cleveland Cavaliers because they are in the weaker Eastern Conference and might have a shot at the playoffs if they get a scorer to pair with star rookie Kyrie Irving. Ellis for Antawn Jamison's expiring contract and an unprotected first round pick would be ideal. If Andris Biedrins' large contract could be dumped on Cleveland as well, even better, but I wouldn't push it. Gaining salary flexibility while nabbing an extra draft pick is a win already, and this would also open up more playing time for Klay Thompson.
See, they're close already.

This would obviously go against the Cavaliers' rebuilding plan, but if they feel like they have a shot, I have a feeling they'd go for it. After all, they already got Irving and Tristian Thompson (#4 overall) in last year's draft, so they may feel they're young enough already. Pairing Ellis with Irving for the long term would be an explosive backcourt, and they actually have the defensive big men to cover for the undersized duo on the back end, although losing Anderson Varejao to injury for a significant amount of time certainly puts a damper on this plan now. 

The second team is the Utah Jazz for much the same reasons. I said in the preseason that I loved all their young pieces, but they are playing so much better than I expected that they're actually in the playoff hunt. In particular, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson have been terrific, so you have to wonder if the younger big men Derrick Favors or Enes Kanter could become available. Of course, getting Favors in a deal for Ellis would be a huge coup with his defensive potential, but I'd file that under "highly unlikely." Instead, the objective of this trade for the Warriors would be simple: clear salary and get their draft pick back. Something like this.

Devin Harris has struggled mightily for Utah, and they have looked much better with Earl Watson and even Jamaal Tinsley running the point. Jamaal Tinsley! Rookie Alec Burks is a big combo guard, and a starting duo of him and Ellis in the future could work depending on the personnel around them. They would have to take on Biedrins' contract through the Mehmet Okur trade exception, and it would be worth it to dump the remaining two years of Harris and a very old-looking Raja Bell. Like Jamison in the first scenario, this would be Bell's second stint with the Warriors, and in the immediate future, the trade would be merely for depth. The first stint ended disastrously as he was hurt and the club merely released his EXPIRING CONTRACT instead of using it as a trade asset. That's almost as bad as wasting the amnesty clause on Charlie Bell's expiring contract. Almost.

Other teams in need of a 2 guard that aren't completely unrealistic trade partners are the Minnesota Timberwolves, Indiana Pacers, and Chicago Bulls. I'm a huge fan of Derrick Williams, Paul George, Joakim Noah, and even Omer Asik, so if a deal could be worked out involving them, it would be a major win. Of course, despite being available in theory, those players are likely untouchable, especially George, who is turning out to be a major gem. We'll see what the Warriors could pull off.

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