Editor's note: Twice a week, NBC Sports Bay Area will look back on biggest "What If?" moments in Bay Area sports history in our "Hindsight 2020" series. The sxith installment: What if the Warriors didn't trade Vince Carter on draft day in 1998?
Of the 12 atrocious seasons the Warriors dropped on their fans between 1994 and 2007, there is a runaway winner for organizational atrocity.
That would be 1997-98. They traded five-time All-Star Chris Mullin in August. Unveiled the remodeled Oakland Arena in November. Opened the season losing their first nine games. Their record was 1-13 when, during a Dec. 1 practice, Latrell Sprewell assaulted coach P.J. Carlesimo, resulting in the NBA slapping the star guard with a one-year suspension.
Ahh, but help was on the way. By posting a 19-63 record, the Warriors held the fifth pick in a 1998 draft that included Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce.
The Warriors, to the delight of a wounded fan base, chose Carter, a shooting guard from North Carolina touted as the “next Michael Jordan.” The Bay was getting back on the NBA map.
Minutes later, however, a trade was announced: Carter – along with $300,000, according to one source – was going to Toronto. Jamison, a North Carolina power forward selected fourth overall by the Raptors, was coming to Golden State.
So much for what might have been. Goodbye to the Warriors boasting one of the league’s most exciting players.
Toronto got the guy it wanted. So did the Warriors, who targeted Jamison partly because they’d gotten a negative review of Carter from a trusted member of the UNC basketball fraternity.
“We got some bad intel,” Garry St. Jean, then the general manager, recalls.
It didn’t take long for the Warriors to feel regret. Carter was the near-unanimous Rookie of the Year. With his soaring dunks, he became a staple of the nightly highlight shows, earning one of the NBA’s most enduring nicknames: Air Canada.
Jamison showed promise as a rookie power forward and in his second season was the best player on the Warriors. The 19-63 Warriors. Which is to say their record was exactly the same with Jamison as their ace as it was before he was drafted.
Antawn was not a bad player. He was solid for five seasons, averaging 20.2 points and 7.5 rebounds. Also, in the wake of the Sprewell-Carlesimo incident, it mattered that Jamison’s character was impeccable. His production and professionalism were crucial in him being rewarded after his third season with a six-year, $84 million contract extension from Warriors owner Chris Cohan.
Antawn, however, was no Vince. While his former Tar Heels teammate was making international noise in Toronto, an Eastern Conference All-Star in all except his rookie season, Jamison was trying to survive the league’s most dysfunctional franchise.
[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]
In five seasons as a Warrior, Jamison never was an All-Star. Never experienced the playoffs or a winning record. Moreover, he spent a total of nine days – all in the first month of the 2001-02 season – above .500. The Warriors that season finished at 21-61.
It must be said that Carter reached the playoffs only twice in seven seasons in Toronto, the peak coming in 2000-01, when the Raptors came within a game of reaching the Conference Finals.
Whether the Warriors would have been an appreciably better team with Carter instead of Jamison can be debated.
What defies debate is whether the Warriors would have been a more spectacular attraction.
If there was a definitive highlight during the Jamison era, it was supplied by Carter. With Oakland Arena hosting All-Star Weekend in 2000, he won the Slam Dunk contest, beating out the likes of Tracy McGrady, with conceivably the most impressive array of dunks ever.
Jamison was among the cheering spectators jammed into lower-bowl seats.
In the five seasons Jamison spent with Golden State, home attendance averaged more than 5,500 below the arena’s capacity (19,596), topping out at 15,486 in 2002-03, when Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson were promising rookies.
Three months later, Jamison and three other Warriors – Danny Fortson, Chris Mills, Jiri Welsch -- were traded to the Mavericks. What did the Warriors get in return? Try this: Evan Eschmeyer, Avery Johnson, Popeye Jones, Antoine Rigaudeau and Nick Van Exel.
The Warriors were 38-44 in Antawn’s final season in Oakland. One year later, after the big trade, they finished at 37-45.
Three players from the 1998 draft are bound for the Hall of Fame. Nowitzki, who entered the NBA as a gawky but highly skilled teenager. Pierce, who interviewed with and worked out for the Warriors. And Carter, who spent about three minutes as a Warrior.