Omari Spellman motivated to rectify career on Warriors with fresh start

Omari Spellman motivated to rectify career on Warriors with fresh start

Every person has a unique way of showing emotion, Omari Spellman literally wears it.

A lover of sweatshirts, he typically covers his head with the hood, pulls down the drawstring and ties a knot around his face when he's down. When confident, he'll throw the hood off, exposing a smile for all to see.

At the moment, the Warriors' big man is balancing his feelings in basketball purgatory. A former first-round draft pick, he was traded from Atlanta to Golden State in July after weight issues nearly derailed his promise. Now, his new team has until Oct. 31 to pick up his team option for the 2020-21 season.

Through three games, Spellman is averaging 8.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. While a signal of progress, it might not be enough for Golden State to commit long term.

"I know anything I get I'm going to have to earn it," Spellman told NBC Sports Bay Area. "If they pick it up, great If not, cool."

While stability would be welcomed, Spellman is looking for something bigger entering his second year: A piece of mind in the chaotic world that comes with the league he inhabits.

"Playing in the NBA is not easy," Spellman admits. "Like no one, no one talks about that. That s--t is not easy."

Sixteen months ago, Spellman had what seemed like the ideal life for a basketball player. Following his freshman year at Villanova -- where he won a national championship -- he was taken with the No. 30 overall pick by the Atlanta Hawks in the 2018 NBA Draft, providing the opportunity to play alongside talented rookie Trae Young and help build a budding young core. For the Hawks, he provided the promise of a successful modern-day big.

A nimble 6-foot-8 forward, he led Villanova in 3-point shooting, shooting 43.3 percent from deep in 40 games. To supplement his scoring, he grabbed 8.0 rebounds a game. In a Sweet 16 matchup against West Virginia, he finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.  

But once in the NBA, the league's vices began to prey on the 21-year-old with newfound generational wealth. Initially, he says family members began to use him for his money, cash and access.

"At first, it was people trying to take advantage of me," Spellman admitted. "Then, it was me knowing people was trying to take advantage of me and letting it happen anyway.

"People that I was able to be around, being in Atlanta, like the Black Hollywood, like it didn't help that some of the things, some of the things that happened, happened."

Worse, his game began to plummet. He averaged just 5.9 points per game, shooting 40 percent from the field. A high ankle sprain ended his season in March. But his tenure would be defined by something within his control. To combat the stress caused by the perils of the league, he would eat food to ease the stress.

"I would eat like sh--t knowing I had a weigh-in the next morning," Spellman said. "I would just eat period. Like I would just order food on whatever. Wherever I was around like we'd be driving knowing like I got some in the morning.

"I really believe and I've spoken to like a lot of people and it's the only explanation I can have for my actions. At that time that was sometimes where your mental side goes to a place where it's like you don't want to be in it so bad that you start sabotaging yourself."

The food spree, which included the occasional trip to Waffle House, prompted his weight to balloon to more than 300 pounds. By the summer, the Hawks had given up, trading him to Golden State in exchange for Damian Jones and a second-round pick, continuing Spellman's spiral.

Following the news, he broke down to tears.  

"I heard things, I had seen things. And that really messes with you," Spellman says. "Some people always like, that not everything you see is true or not everything you see is real. It gives you a mental roulette sometimes. I got to get myself out of that too because I had seen myself being traded."

In a sense, Golden State provided a familiar environment. While he never played for the team, he was on Warriors draft boards before the team drafted Jacob Evans. Upon arrival, Warriors assistant Aaron Miles -- assigned to look out for Spellman -- had a simple message for the young big man.

"There's a reason why we traded for you," he said. "You're not here to be an extra body."

In the ensuing months, Spellman says he dropped nearly 50 pounds, hoping to rectify his career. A brief look at Spellman's game shows his promise.

Ten minutes into Monday's 134-123 win over the Pelicans, he tip-slammed a D'Angelo Russell miss. In the second quarter, he received a pass from Russell and converted a layup over two defenders. By night's end, he accumulated eight points, eight rebounds and a block.

In the event Golden State declines his option, Spellman doesn't have to look far for motivation. Two years ago, in an effort to ease their luxury tax bill, the Warriors declined Kevon Looney's $2.2 million option, opting to invest in fellow center Damian Jones' future. In the following months, Looney became an indispensable piece in Golden State's 2018 title run, posting a 91.7 defensive rating in the Western Conference Finals against the Rockets.

By 2019, he earned a three-year, $15 million contract.
"Even if they don't pick it up, we have a legitimate example that's not the end of the world on the team," Spellman said. "I don't want to call it inspiration cause I don't want to, you know, before it happens, say it's going to happen. But if it does for sure."

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Late Monday evening, with a bus waiting to take his team to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, Spellman is getting dressed. Shortly before departure, he picks up a black hoodie, puts it on and lets the hood hang over his denim jacket, publicly displaying his spirit.

"I just want to not feel like I left anything on the table," he said. "If I just wasn't good enough, that's what happened. But I don't think that's the case, so let's do it."

NBA rumors: Warriors 'not pushing' to trade guard D'Angelo Russell now

NBA rumors: Warriors 'not pushing' to trade guard D'Angelo Russell now

When the Warriors acquired D'Angelo Russell as part of Kevin Durant's sign-and-trade with the Nets this past offseason, and signed the star point guard to a four-year, $117 million contract, it seemed like a bit of an odd fit.

How would Russell fit with fellow point guard Steph Curry? What about when shooting guard Klay Thompson became healthy? More than anything, it looked like Golden State added a great trade asset. 

But the Warriors reportedly are in no rush to trade D-Lo. 

“If it is something that they’re going to do quickly, like before the end of this month, I wouldn’t say they’re pushing for it,” one NBA general manager recently said to Heavy.com's Sean Deveney. “Maybe they have a deal in mind, maybe they’re sitting on something and laying low. But I’d be surprised.

That’s not how they’d approach it, I’d think. You want to create a market if you are going to trade a player like him, you want to pit teams against each other, drive up the price. You don’t want to lock into one deal. But the market thing, that’s not really happening yet. They’re not pushing the market for him.”

If the Warriors do indeed have a trade in mind, they soon can start taking calls. The NBA's collective bargaining agreement prohibits the Dubs from parting ways with Russell until Dec. 15. 

Since acquiring the All-Star, general manager Bob Myers has made it clear the Warriors have no intentions of getting rid of Russell. 

"We didn't sign him with the intention of just trading him," Myers said to reporters on July 15. 

Russell has been a bright spot on the 5-19 Warriors when healthy. He has been limited to only 12 games while dealing with a sprained right thumb, but has averaged a career-high 22.3 points, 6.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game. 

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The Warriors truly won't be able to evaluate the 23-year-old's future with the team until he has played more with Curry and the rest of the injured Dubs.

Golden State has until the Feb. 7 trade deadline to move Russell, but as of now, that doesn't seem to be at the front of the team's priority list.

Warriors' Steve Kerr shouts out Larry Bird on NBA legend's birthday


Warriors' Steve Kerr shouts out Larry Bird on NBA legend's birthday

On Larry Bird's 63rd birthday, Warriors coach Steve Kerr tipped his virtual cap to the Basketball Hall of Famer. 

Kerr shared Yahoo Sports' retrospective video on Bird's career on Twitter, imploring "all you young NBA fans out there" to watch and get a sense of just how good Bird was. 

In his 13-year career, Bird was a 12-time All-Star, nine-time All-NBA first-team member, three-time champion and three-time MVP. The trash-talking forward shot 50.9 percent from inside the arc and 37.6 percent from 3-point range, emerging as one of the league's sharpest shooters in the nascent 3-point era. 

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Bird retired as the NBA's 11th-leading scorer all-time, averaging the 12th-most points per game in league history (24.3) through 1992. The "Hick From French Lick" made a clear impression on Kerr, and the Warriors coach recalled being starstruck when he played against Bird during his second NBA season. 

“You know my name,” Kerr said to KNBR in a 2017 interview, recounting when Bird said hello to him before a game. "[I said,] 'Hey guys, Larry Bird knows my name!'"