The island of Manhattan for beads and mirrors. The Louisiana Territory for $23 million and change. Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Josh Powell for Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy, Ike Diogu, and Keith McLeod.
OK, so maybe the first two steals were a little more lopsided than the third one, but the founders of New York City and Thomas Jefferson didn't have to worry about salary cap restraints. One year ago today the Warriors pulled off a trade that can't be summed up in individual statistics, cap figures, or even wins and losses. On January 17, 2007, we traded the NBA's dunce cap for a rabbit's foot, and we've been letting it ride ever since.
I know there are Pacer fans that think The Trade helped their team. Even before Wednesday's win over the Warriors, they had a pretty strong argument: Jackson had worn out his welcome, Dunleavy fit a need, and Ike Diogu still may someday be dominant if David Stern implements the long rumored 6 foot 8 inch height cap for the league (As for Troy Murphy, please direct any suggestions as to potential contributions to Jim O'Brien c/o the Indiana Pacers). Even if the Trade made the Pacers a better team, I'd still argue that the Warriors got a steal. Here's why:
Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy came to embody a decade's worth of Warriors' futility. They were the empty vessels in which we placed all our dashed hopes. After all the years of losing out on high picks despite horrible records, Dunleavy became our loftiest reach into the lottery since Joe Smith. He shouldn't be blamed for failing to live up to expectations, but you similarly can't blame fans for expecting our highest pick in years to make the biggest impact. Likewise, after years of watching free agents run from Golden State's money like Carmelo Anthony retreating from a sucker-punch, it's understandable that fans would be frustrated with the thought of Troy Murphy frowning his way up and down the court for the next four years earning a hundred grand a night. Gilbert leaves, Mike and Troy stay. Baron and JRich pull up lame, Mike and Troy plod along. By the time January 2007 rolled around, the Warriors looked as if they were on another slow descent into months of garbage time. We had become the Los Angeles Clippers of a new era. The team was run like a permanent expansion franchise. We wore our fandom as a badge of courage, not a mark of honor.
Then Mullin pulled the trigger. I remember getting pinged over IM at work by my then-contact at the San Jose Mercury News the morning of the trade. Murphy and Dunleavy were gone. My head started to spin like Nellie's noggin after too much good scotch. Even in my most blindly optimistic moments I had only imagined that the Warriors would be able to ditch one of the guys. To have them both gone in a flash was an instant case of addition by subtraction, in terms of both basketball and cap dynamics, not to mention mojo and swagger. It was the type of move that only happened at the Warriors' expense, not in their favor. Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington both fit with Nelson's style of play. Even Sarunas and Josh looked at that point like they might be contributors (I'll blame that on the post-trade head-spinning). It was an unfamiliar experience for Warriors fans. It looked like the basketball gods were actually smiling down upon us. With a new coach, a new year, and now a new third of a roster, it felt as if our luck was finally about to change.
Having been burned annually by my high hopes for Warriors' moves, I immediately took my overwhelmingly positive gut feeling as a clear sign that things were about to get much worse. Even as I was typing about how well Al and Jax would run with this team, part of me expected Harrington's knee to explode in the lay-up line and Jackson to combine Chris Webber's maturity with Latrell Sprewell's anger management. But here's where the Warriors ended up with such a steal. For the first time in over a decade, the Warriors made a move that ended up far, far better than even their most optimistic fans imagined. The Pacers may have upgraded their team. We upgraded our worldview. Whatever chemical reaction sparked up when Baron, Stephen, Jason, Al, Monta, Andris and Matt finally took the court together, it was far more potent that our loss-numbed senses could handle. After years of slumping under even the lowest projections, it was as if the team couldn't restrain itself from smashing whatever underestimations were lobbed its way. Miraculously quick returns from injuries, madcap playoff runs, unbelievable upsets, and a nightly refutation of the laws of physics: the Warriors had broken out of a decade long rut with The Trade and, set free, simply refused to conform to anyone's predictions or expectations.
One year out, it's far too early to write the definitive history of The Trade. New ruts have started to form and the fresh faces brought along different problems (someone please mention to Stephen that missing your first 9 threes doesn't make the 10th more likely to go in). Still, I can't deny that something has changed. After years of taking comfort in consistent mediocrity, I've entered a whole new, uncertain world since January 17, 2007: I expect the Warriors to win.
Read Adam regularly at Fast Break, the San Jose Mercury News' Warriors Fan Blog