Warriors in Troubled Waters

Stephen Jackson talking to reporters on Warriors Media Day

Stephen Jackson asks for a trade at the Warriors' Media Day

Last season, the Golden State Warriors were 29-53 and missed the playoffs for the fourteenth time in fifteen years They also had a 19 game drop-off in wins. Their losing ways are the least of their problems.

During training camp, the Warriors’ two best players, Stephen Jackson and Monta Ellis, complained about playing for the Warriors. Jackson and Ellis combined for 39.7 points per game last year along with 10.2 assists, 9.4 rebounds, 3.1 steals, and .9 blocks. Ellis doesn’t want to play with lottery pick Stephen Curry, since they both play the same position and will both be starting. Jackson said, “At this point, I’m 31 years old. I have four or five years left. I want to be in a situation where I can continually be in the playoffs and get another ring. So that’s where my mind is at now.” He added that he preferred playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks, or one of the three Texas teams (Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, or San Antonio Spurs). Jackson also asked for his title of captain to be removed, which he was granted.

Even if the Warriors hang on to their two top scorers, they will probably end up missing the playoffs again and looking at a top 10 pick. That said, I’m not sure that Jackson will suit up for Golden State. This situation is not unlike what Stephon Marbury did to the Knicks last year; and it is echoed in the sentiment of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry this year. If Jackson doesn’t play, Warriors’ coach Don Nelson needs to suspend him for an indefinite amount of time and tell the media that he isn’t going anywhere except for the bench. At the same time, they need to listen to all offers for Jackson and think hard about them.

There will be complications if Golden State wants to trade Jackson. A GM can’t just call up another team and say, “Hey, do you want to go ahead and swap these two players?” That’s just not how it works. There is a process to trading players that includes number crunching, players’ impact on the locker room and much more research. Stephen Jackson did the one thing that makes all GMs in any sport angry: he demanded a trade. When a player tells the media that he wants out of a city, that lowers the leverage for his team to get a good deal in return. In a similar situation, Carlos Boozer exercised his $12.7 million player option to stay one more year in Utah, then said that he had reached an agreement with the Jazz that he would be traded before the season. At that point, any team calling up Jazz to inquire about Boozer could get him for less, since they new Boozer wanted out and the Jazz wanted him and his contract to go away. The same goes for Jackson. He has essentially shot his team in the foot and expects them to move on despite what he has done.

As for Ellis, he won’t be nearly the distraction that Jackson will be, but any distraction is one too many. Complaining players leads to lack of hustle, divided locker rooms, angered coaches, and bad news altogether. To make a point to Ellis, Coach Nelson needs to say that Stephen Curry is a starter, and if he has to bring Kelena Azubuike, Anthony Morrow, Acie Law, or Corey Maggette off the bench if Ellis won’t play, he’ll do it. One can only speculate whether or not the threat of other players starting will motivate Monta enough so he will be willing to play no matter the situation.

Currently, Ellis is starting at point guard alongside Morrow, but if the situation arises that Ellis and Curry need to play together, they need to be able to accept playing together. At this point, it seems that a trade of Jackson and Ellis could benefit the club. There was a rumor that Monta Ellis was traded to the Bobcats for a first-rounder and Stephen Jackson to Dallas for two expiring contracts, but nothing more about that has surfaced. The best solution for all parties would be to trade both players to one team.

If we stay within the realm of Jackson’s requests, that will limit the teams to the Knicks, Spurs, Rockets, Mavericks, and the Cavaliers. New York won’t take on the contracts, the Spurs and Mavs don’t have a starting spot for him, and the Cavs don’t have the talent to give up. That, of course, leaves the Rockets. Houston isn’t going to easily guarantee, if at all, a spot in the playoffs, but if they add Captain Jack and Monta Ellis, they’ll have a better shot.

The Rockets, however, will also need to find a starting spot for Jackson in order for him to accept the trade. Since Jackson is a swing man, they would have to trade either Trevor Ariza or Tracy McGrady, or get one to come off the bench. Ariza is perhaps their best player with Yao Ming out for the year, so its highly unlikely he will be traded. That leaves Tracy McGrady and his $22+ million expiring contract. McGrady could easily be moved and will be part of this trade. Monta Ellis also needs to start and he is a combo guard. Jackson would be starting at shooting guard, so the point guard, which is currently Aaron Brooks, who was a number one pick (26th overall) in 2007.

So, the question of which combination of guards are better, McGrady and Brooks, or Jackson and Ellis must be addressed. Brooks and McGrady combined for 27.8 points, 8.0 assists, 6.4 rebounds, 1.8 steals, and .5 blocks per game last year. T-Mac is on the way down, but Brooks is on the way down. As you can tell from the stats, Houston would get way better players. That may be evened out by the fact that Jackson and Ellis have two and five left respectively on their contract while T-Mac has one year and Brooks has two years before he becomes a restricted free-agent. If not, it would be likely that a Luis Scola for Brandan Wright swap would be part of the deal, too. Scola is more talented, but seven years older and slightly more expensive.  Scola averaged 12.7 points, 1.5 assists, 8.8 rebounds, .8 steals, and .1 blocks last year while Wright averaged only 8.3 points, .5 assists, 4.0 rebounds, .6 steals, and 1.0 block.

The Warriors need to move on from the debacle they are currently in, and they aren’t going anywhere with the team they currently have. Why not move on from their troubled players and try to start with a younger team. McGrady’s gigantic contract will be coming off the books next summer, so they can pursue a young free agent or two, or perhaps deal for a rising star.

At some point this team needs to cut their losses and collect what they can for a talented NBA Champion, albeit a problematic one. It appears that if the Warriors were to be lucky enough to move Mr. Jackson, it would be addition by subtraction. This trade with the Rockets will land them enough talent and cap room so that in two years, they will make the playoffs.

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