Willie Cauley-Stein was traded by the Warriors in late January, his departure reportedly followed 10 days later by Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III.
Cruel as it may seem, this always was the Warriors’ plan.
To move three veterans for as many future draft picks as possible, and they now have four more than they had two weeks ago.
Burks and Robinson were scratched an hour before tipoff Wednesday night in Brooklyn because the Warriors were deep in discussions to trade both wings before the noon Thursday deadline. As word went through the locker room, reality set in and the Warriors slumbered their way to a 129-88 loss to the Nets.
“It was a tough night to go out and play,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters at Barclays Center. “Two of our leaders, elder statesmen, guys who are really beloved in the locker room. For the team to find out that those two guys are most likely going to be traded was pretty tough. We all just found out prior to the game. There’s not a really good way to prepare for a game when something like that happens, and it showed.”
Burks and Robinson, both reportedly headed to the 76ers exchange for second-round picks in each of the next three drafts, said their goodbyes to teammates after the game.
This is the tough part of the sports business. In most instances, players are vulnerable to being uprooted. The Warriors, at least ownership and management, are willing to live with the short-term pain if it offers the possibility of long-term gain.
Burks, Cauley-Stein and Robinson were acquired with trade possibilities in mind. With Burks and Robinson moving on, it’s a clean sweep of the three veterans the Warriors signed last summer in the wake of the separations that left their roster looking nothing like the team that had spent five years terrorizing the NBA.
Even as conditions kept changing, the front office was determined to do something positive. They knew they would need more draft picks.
In the months before Kevin Durant announced he would be joining the Brooklyn Nets, the Warriors were deliberate in formulating two plans. Plan A if he stayed, Plan B if he left.
When KD ruptured his Achilles’ tendon in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, it was on to Plan C. That dialogue lasted two full days – until the moment Klay Thompson tore his ACL in Game 6.
The Warriors then knew that, no matter KD’s decision, 2019-20 would be challenging season. They felt forced to, one week before the draft, scrap Plans A, B and C for Plans D and E.
Needing a wing, they drafted guard Jordan Poole in the first round. Needing a big man, they chose forward/center Alen Smailagic in the second. Needing a rookie capable of producing immediately, they jumped on forward Eric Paschall, who during a four-year collegiate career proved mature and talented.
Once the draft was completed, and the Durant-for-D’Angelo Russell sign-and-trade swap completed, it was on to the final step. Plan E. CEO Joe Lacob and president/general manager Bob Myers had to confront very real issues. How to make this season matter? How to push the franchise further into the future?
The Warriors scanned a list of free agents that might be available and over a four-day span ending on July 11 signed Cauley-Stein, Burks and Robinson to low-salary one-year deals. Cauley-Stein received slightly above the veteran’s minimum and also a second-year player option.
Current assets to be swapped for future assets, none was likely to spend a full season as a Warrior. If they put up decent numbers on a bad team, well, that could inflate their value just enough to make them attractive in trades.
And now, having posted those numbers, especially Burks and Robinson, they’re gone.
“It’s ruthless,” Paschall said. “They worked so hard. And everybody loves them. They’re two guys that the fans love, that coaches love, players respect so much and see all the work they put in throughout this whole season ... it hurts to see them go.”
It appeared late Wednesday night that Russell, also acquired as a potential trade chip, will remain a Warrior past the deadline. Though at least two teams expressed interest, neither stepped forward with a proposal the Warriors considered worthy.
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They’re willing to wait until June to engage in discussions involving D-Lo. He’s a big-ticket item that should yield valuable assets for a Warriors franchise light on future draft picks.
When Cauley-Stein was traded to Dallas last month, he may as well have propped open the door for Burks and Robinson to follow. And if he didn’t, the Warriors surely did. At least figuratively.
In a season going nowhere, the Warriors are using what they have to get what they need. Just as they visualized last summer.