Warriors

NBA Prospect Dilemma Hits Dubs

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A Post-Dynasty Prospect Funk Ends

As the 2021-22 season rapidly approaches, the Golden State Warriors find themselves in strange waters.

Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are three years removed from their last championship. Klay himself won’t return until later in the season, having already gone over 800 days without seeing the court. Fans, teammates and Warriors executives alike will be on a knife’s edge for his return. How he performs likely makes or breaks their contending hope, depending on the myriad of outcomes.

Finger-crossing over the health of stars isn’t all that unique over the Curry era. What makes this situation different is the situation on the bench. The last time the Warriors had this degree of rookie contract talent was Bob Myers’ first year as general manager: Steph, Klay, Draymond, Harrison Barnes, and (ahem) Festus Ezeli had yet to see their second contracts in 2012.

That was a team that made its first of many playoff appearances over the next decade.

Some high-profile entries, higher-profile exits, and a few titles later, they somehow find themselves with a very strong haul of rookie prospects. Jordan Poole, James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody form one of the league’s better young stables of talent. With the finely aged talent at the top of the roster, it’s an excellent situation on paper, and one loaded with expectations. What the front office chooses to do with this youth is the question that could decide the next decade of Dubs basketball.

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The Dividing Line

The NBA has two pretty distinct classes of prospects. The vast majority of first-round picks that aren’t stashed overseas see immediate playing time with the team that drafts them. Unsurprisingly, they tend to be the ones that pan out. Those that are a bit more of a shot in the dark spend time in the G League, and the more time spent in development, the less likely it becomes for that prospect to graduate into big-time upside.

It’s not a slight to these players or to the G League itself; the fact of the matter is the prospects fans get excited for are almost always suiting up from the jump. It’s a unique development process compared to other pro leagues. NFL draft picks have a similar path right to the roster, but aren’t traded at nearly the same rate and stand out less on a 53-man roster. The vast majority of NHL draftees take a year or two to graduate to the active roster, playing in minor leagues or Europe.

Major League Baseball is one of the more interesting comparisons to the NBA in terms of prospect flow. Most baseball fans know the top handful of prospects their team has, like NBA fans. But those prospects are rarely even seen on the field before they are deemed busts or traded.

The developmental process between the two is vastly different, and that’s another conversation. The major difference to the fans of the NBA is they have seen all of the big prospects in action, and have begun to form attachments.

Seeing Is Believing

When you’re a baseball fan, a trade always comes with a form of excitement. When trading a player away, it comes with a handful of prospects you may have never heard of, but they come with rosy scouting reports and the excitement of a lottery ticket. Getting a player means you know what’s coming in return, and have little-to-no attachment to the outgoing package.

Either way, it’s handshakes and smiles all around. The potential regret only kicks in years later.

For basketball fans, the level of attachment is entirely different. We see the big names on the floor, forming fandoms, opinions, all kinds of reasons to weigh in. That opinion matters in a big way to the fans, unlike a baseball fan. Not all trades are with cheers depending on the outgoing players. We all have that guy we believe in that we wouldn’t rationally include in any trades.

The Fan Variable of the Trade Equation

When working out a trade, all good GMs have to bring fan perception into the equation; after all, we keep the lights on. Are you selling players while selling fans on a rebuild, or pushing the chips to the table in chase of a banner? The fans have to understand the vision behind the move. Trades with a vision you can sell keep you employed even if they don’t pan out all the time. Bad trades without vision get you sacrificed at the altar of fan opinion.

The extra heat from NBA fans is being felt by Warriors GM Bob Myers. We’ve seen varying degrees of the prospects on the roster, and everyone has an opinion on their presence. The pressure applied by the Warriors situation makes these opinions extra drastic as the compulsion to make a trade grows.

The unfortunate events of media day may lead to more trade conversations, either now or before the deadline. Armed with contracts, picks and high-end prospects, anything could be on the table for the Warriors as they pursue opening a second run of contention. What’s important is staying centered about what the Warriors choose to do with said talent.

Chances of a major deadline deal are slim, and it’s likely the Dubs retain all four core rookie-scale players. This is a very process-oriented front office that wants to see out their vision of Klay in the current roster. That even further narrows the chances of a real shakeup move before the next offseason. It means development and some struggles as with all rosters trying to build a model of consistency, and building consistency around this many young players is a difficult task.

Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame The Kids

Possibly my least-favorite tendency of NBA fans is to apply lasting labels to young players. Half of NBA fans still laugh at the name Andrew Wiggins (some for new reasons) because he was a “bust”. Kevin Durant is the snake who left. People called Karl-Anthony Towns soft his entire career, and continue to do so.

There’s a likely world where the front office rolls the dice on these young players by not pulling any major deals. Banking on developing a new core to supplement the existing one is a high-risk, high-reward proposition. That could go very poorly, and the fans will be rabid looking for someone to blame, as they are wont to do. Not executing a trade that keeps the youth around puts their development squarely in the crosshairs of fan ire.

If that happens, so be it. This is an incredibly unique situation that could break in many directions; for most, anything short of another championship in the Curry era will have a bitter taste of disappointment. It’s hard to do much about the injuries, or the financial gut punch laid down by Covid-19 intersecting with a historic luxury-tax bill.

This team is loaded with talent, expectations and excitement. If they fall short of your expectations in the next handful of years, find a better outlet for your anger than bullying the young guys.

Follow us on Twitter @DubsLead for the latest Warriors news and insight. 

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About Charlie Cummings

Warriors writer born and raised in the Bay Area. University of Denver graduate currently living in Denver

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