Responding to Klay Thompson sustaining a season-ending injury last November, the Warriors needed less than 48 hours to acquire Kelly Oubre Jr. in what was, theoretically, the right move for an ambitious franchise.
There was, at the time, a season to try and salvage.
Thompson made his bones as a two-way wing and the perfect backcourt partner for team touchstone Stephen Curry. Oubre? A wing, six years younger, with two-way ability. He can’t shoot like Klay, but his superior athleticism provided an intriguing dimension.
Curry would have a new backcourt buddy, but one with the potential to produce. The Warriors, stretched their payroll to a grotesque degree to accommodate Oubre’s expiring contract.
The move was competitively rational and popular with a fan base reeling from losing Klay for a second consecutive season.
No later than midseason did it become apparent that Golden State’s gamble, worth north of $60 million in salary and luxury tax, had backfired. The player the Warriors hoped would be part of their next generation never adhered to the team’s established and previously successful style.
So, naturally, Oubre bolted, agreeing Thursday night to a deal with the Charlotte Hornets worth a reported $26 million over two seasons.
The sign-and-trade option, often discussed but always a longshot for the Warriors, never materialized.
Oubre, who arrived in the Bay Area longing for a place to lay roots, began pondering his next move long before the season ended with him sidelined by a wrist injury.
During his time in the Bay Area, Oubre learned enough to know this might be a fine place to build a life, but it was not the place to build the NBA career he wants.
The Warriors privately reached the same conclusion.
So, no, it wasn’t Oubre’s dreadful shooting over the first month that led to Warriors to question his future with the franchise. That phase eventually passed, and he delivered some dazzling moments, topping 20 points in 13 games and pouring in a season-high 40 in a win at Dallas in February.
What became clear was that Oubre’s best performances came when he acted as a freelancer on both ends. The occasional steal and slam. The isolating and dribbling his way into his shot, which sometimes led to a bucket but often came up empty, with four teammates watching helplessly. His star turns generally occurred when he was in a lead role.
That role, however, already was occupied by Curry. Oubre knew that from the start and he tried to make it work. He’d back off for a few possessions, then go looking for his shot. As if they were taking turns. He never learned how to play off Curry, which is or at least ought to be the first requirement for any Warrior.
The most glaring difference between Oubre and Thompson, within the offense of the Warriors, is that Kelly usually needed the ball to punish opponents while Klay could inflict maximum damage with minimal dribbling.
The Warriors are stung insofar as Oubre was an obscenely expensive 55-game rental for which they got nothing in return, aside from not having to pay him this season or beyond. The “savings” evidently is no small thing for the 2021 version of CEO Joe Lacob.
Maybe this episode is about balancing the scale of fate. The Warriors lost to house 18 months after shedding D’Angelo Russell while swindling the Timberwolves out of Andrew Wiggins and Jonathan Kuminga.