Trade a fan favorite and risk the wrath - NBC Sports

Trade a fan favorite and risk the wrath
Warriors faithful were merciless against owner during Mullin jersey ceremony
AP
Retired Golden State Warriors legend Chris Mullin, right, speaks next to majority owner Joe Lacob during a ceremony at halftime Monday.
March 20, 2012, 12:03 pm

Memo to Warriors owner Joe Lacob: Next time you retire a number, do it either well before the NBA trading deadline or well after.

No, it was not a pretty sight at Oracle Arena when the Warriors owner dared take the microphone amid the celebration of Chris Mullin's Warriors career.

But the jersey will remain atop the rafters long after the embarrassment from Monday's ceremony wanes.

But that doesn't mean there aren't lessons to be learned from the Mully-Monta madness.

In most NBA front offices there is a wall, in some cases an actual physical wall, between the basketball-operations department and the business-operations side.

For basketball opps, the singular focus is on winning. And from that perspective, the Warriors' move of Monta Ellis to the Bucks for Andrew Bogut presents the possibilities of a long-term net gain. In the NBA, you trade small for big just about every time, even with Bogut out for the balance of the season with his ankle injury.

For the business side, though, there is the emotional aspect of the equation. For as bad as the Warriors have been in recent years - and they've been awful - Oracle Arena has retained one of the most passionate fan bases in the NBA. They not only buy the tickets, but they show up and show their support. It is a wonderful basketball atmosphere.

It can be argued that few bad teams, in any sport, receive the type of embrace afforded the Warriors.

And that's what made the Warriors' move of Ellis so dicey. The Warriors are different. It has long been entertainment first. While Chris Mullin certainly deserved his Monday moment, what is often lost in the nostalgia is that for all the highlights created by Run TMC, the reality is that Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Mullin never produced anything truly tangible in terms of playoff success.

Ditto for the one-year wonder of the playoff run with Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson.

But that didn't matter as much in the Bay Area. Because their bad basketball was fun. And for many, in what makes the Bay Area such a unique basketball market, that was good enough.

Yes, Madison Square Garden has more history, Staples Center more celebrities, AmericanAirlines Arena more Botox, but Oracle is a must-visit experience for those with a true passion for, well, passion.

And that is what can bring basketball opps and the business side of the equation into conflict.

At times, some on the basketball side can lose sight of the reality that there can only be one champion a year, and that this is as much about entertainment as wins and losses.

To those in the stands Monday at Oracle, that is a reality the Warriors lost with the Ellis-Bogut deal. Monta was exciting. The pairing with Stephen Curry was intriguing, if not necessarily practical. Bogut? A utilitarian big man who is everything Andris Biedrins is not.

All of which brings us to a concept almost as difficult in sport as in life: when to let go.

With the Ellis trade, the Warriors not only let go of 2011-12, but of the latest bid to replicate something close to Run TMC with Ellis and Curry.

By contrast, take the situation in Phoenix.

It would have been easy for the Suns, with Steve Nash in the final year of his contract, and with a considerable rebuild in the offing, to cut ties.

Instead, the Suns currently stand among the hottest teams in the NBA, even as an imposing trip looms.

Granted, fighting for a No. 8 seed hardly evokes memories of the Kevin Johnson-Charles Barkley-Dan Majerle era. But basketball at US Airways Center is fun again. Score one for the business side. There still is a viable product to sell in Phoenix.

In Orlando, plenty could have been said for cutting ties with Dwight Howard at the trading deadline, for a package of prospects and picks. For a future. Instead, the Magic essentially decided to rent Howard for another season (based on the Magic's recent play, had the deadline been a mere week later, following losses to the Spurs, Heat and Bulls, Dwight might not have wanted to stay).

Who got Howard to commit? No, not Stan Van Gundy or Otis Smith, but Alex Martins. From the business side.

The delicate balance between basketball opps and the business side certainly is a tenuous one. When Shaquille O'Neal was moved out by the Lakers, there was only a temporary slip. Basketball opps, led by Mitch Kupchak, patched things together rather rapidly, with the acquisition of Pau Gasol.

But this time around in L.A., with the selloff of Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher and Luke Walton, business opps is taking the lead. And Jim Buss has made himself as popular in Staples as, well, Lacob has made himself in Oracle.

Sometimes it's about winning the hearts and minds of those most loyal not only to the standings but to the product.

Monta Ellis apparently mattered, matted plenty to the Warriors. To their fans, they sold out that nightly excitement for a few extra inches.

In Phoenix, the Suns could have jumpstarted their rebuild. Instead, their season still matters.

In L.A., the Buss family seemingly has placed as much a priority on payroll as championship payoffs, almost making you wonder whether Kobe Bryant is next to go.

Monday in Oakland was a black eye for the NBA. But it also was an eye opener. As times, teams lose sight of the emotional bonds developed with players.

Yes, winning eventually trumps all.

But in the moment, in this moment, being a fan of the Suns is easier than being a fan of the Warriors.

In the long run, the key is to give fans both their heroes and their hope.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.



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