When the Warriors signed Kwame Brown to a one year, $6.75 million deal this offseason, we laughed for a bit, and then looked at the logic for why they did it.
This logic was threefold. Firstly, it helped the Warriors shore up their and the league’s weakest position with a capable veteran, vital for a team like the Wariors that genuinely thinks it can (and should) make the playoffs, and gave the team its first starting center-who-is-actually-a-center-not-Anthony-Tolliver since Andris Biedrins went into the tank. Secondly, the one year nature of the deal kept alive cap space aspirations for next summer, which, in light of the unsuccesful cap space aspirations this summer, was going to give Golden State yet another chance at that elusive center. And thirdly, they could use his expiring contract to trade for Dwight Howard! Or someone like that.
The latter actually happened. There’ll be no cap space now, nor any more Dwight pipe dreams; apparently, Andrew Bogut will be the answer to the profound, endless, big man problems.
There’s a case to be made for that. When healthy, he is the answer. When healthy, Bogut is the second-best defensive big in the game, a shot-blocking, charge-taking, rebounding, rotating, always-in-the-right-placing anchor in the middle who, notwithstanding lacking any sort of shot from outside the paint, helps on the offensive end too with passing vision and strong left-handed finishing. When healthy, he’s also one of the better offensive centers, and all this for a highly competitive $12 million (pre-trade kicker) per season. When healthy.
But Bogut isn’t healthy. Not now, not for any of the last four full seasons, and not ever truly healthy again.
Because of this, the Warriors take an unashamedly massive gamble. They have invested heavily in the idea that a healthy David Lee/Andrew Bogut frontcourt is a very, very good frontcourt around which to build a playoff caliber team. And they’re right. It would be. But “would” is a highly speculative word. Much to all of our loss, Bogut has not been the player he was. While most of it has been sheer bad luck, that bad luck has compounded to create a wounded body that will never be quite right ever again, ever more susceptible to further injury. And it just keeps on coming. Andrew Bogut gets hurt a lot. Some guys just do.
The Warriors also agreed (and, surely, did not desire) to take Stephen Jackson back in the deal. This brings full-circle a strange saga that only Stephen Jackson could complete. When previously a Warrior, Jackson signed a highly generous three-year extension, then almost immediately demanded out. He got suspended, then got his way, got traded to the moribund Bobcats, and then got traded again to Milwaukee. He again demanded an extension, this time didn’t get it, again demanded a trade, and again got benched on account of his attitude. Throughout all this, he has continued to age, and his skills have eroded away. By this time, he is no longer starting caliber, but he doesn’t seem to know this. Hopefully, the Warriors do.
It is apparent, then, that Golden State assumes almost all the risk. The question, therefore, is why they were the team including the young lottery talent, when they were already paying the bigger price. They assumed all the salary, gave up the best player, took back the possible cancer, and still saw fit to include the only player in the deal with potential, Ekpe Udoh.
Udoh has looked lost for parts of his two years in the NBA, looking out-of-sorts on offense, showing scant little of the inside/outside game he had at Baylor, fouling far too often, and being indefensibly terrible as a defensive rebounder. Nevertheless, he has also shown far more on the defensive end of the floor. Even if he only ever projects to be as good as Kwame, and even if he is about to turn 25, Udoh has demonstrated good defensive potential on both face-up and back-down big men, with prolific blocked shot rates and staggering plus/minus. You don’t gift that away, even when he’s the guy you’re intending to upgrade.
Rather that just signing a center this summer, as the Kwame contract allowed for, the Warriors traded their best player for one. In the process, they lost the cap space, their most significant means available of adding further talent, and threw in one of their better young pieces for the hell of it. Whatever anyone may think of Ellis and Udoh in isolation, it is difficult to see how what has transpired over the past four seasons has culminated in Andrew Bogut carrying that much value. Particularly when the net negative that is Stephen Jackson is tacked on as well. Golden State is paying based on an absolute best-case scenario. Even then, they might be overpaying.
For their part, Milwaukee, as recently as this week rumored to be considering parting with their 22-year-old leading scorer, has seemingly decided to pair him with a player a little too similar for comfort. Their backcourt is now the undersized, inefficient, defensively questionable and poorly spaced lynchpin of everything they are trying to do. Nevertheless, Ellis gives the Warriors the isolation threat that they otherwise haven’t otherwise had, and a genuinely precocious offensive talent. The fit is very awkward, more so than the bonus of Udoh and the saving of salary offsets, and the long term prognosis for the team is harldy clearer, but the talent infusion is most apparent, most evidently in the short term. As duplicable as the backcourt is, it’s a good one. On balance, of the two teams, it appears Milwaukee comes out as the trade’s winner.
Neither side can be argued as being an emphatic winner, though. The Warriors are hereby committed to a short term future of three not-quite-All-Star players, one of whom incessantly suffers different injuries, and one of whom incessantly suffers the same injury time and again. Meanwhile, the Bucks commit themselves to a backcourt of two undersized, inefficient ball-dominant scorers, a series of useful wings who can’t create any offense, an excellent young forward whose contract expires in three months, and a front court consisting of Drew Gooden and a bunch of shot-blocking specialists. And probably lose their Aussie fanbase along the way.
This, of course, isn’t it for either team. By making this deal, and deliberately putting themselves in a position where the only center on the roster is the mere shell of the once capable Biedrins, and gifting away their best player for someone injured long term, the Warriors seem to be setting themselves up for a tank job. (And if they’re not, they should be. Playoff experience is valuable, but Stephen Curry’s ankle is invaluable.) Additionally, the fact that Brandon Jennings is being kept through the deadline does not necessarily mean he is being kept through the whole of his rookie deal, and with Scott Skiles about to hit the four-year anniversary mark, he is about to test his own shelf life. Milwaukee has more to do and they know it.
The deal also has upside for both teams. With plenty of rest and rehab, the Warriors figure to start next season with a Curry, Lee and Bogut trio, with Brandon Rush and Klay Thompson on the wings, another lottery pick to come, and a manageable cap situation. If Bogut’s luck does ever start to run better, the Warriors just found a defensive anchor, the toughest thing there is to find in this league. Milwaukee meanwhile saves some money (both next season on Jackson, and in 2013-14, when they will likely have great cap space), removes a problem, and gains a 20+ppg scorer. They need about 56 follow-up moves, but in isolation, this one is solid. They returned talent for players not really helping them any more, and made themselves favorites for the eighth seed in the East.
Apparently, though, that’s the sum total of the plan. Low playoff seeds. The two teams were both floundering, both out of the playoffs, both not going anywhere … so they swapped their best players. Now, they’re still not going anywhere.