Is it better to be lucky or good?
How about being both?
As the Warriors sit one win away from a fourth title in eight years, it’s important not only to recognize the faith, determination, and incredible talent necessary to achieve such a feat, but also to make note of the good fortune that has befallen Golden State amid this rise to greatness.
Specifically, the good fortune that the Minnesota Timberwolves have bestowed upon them.
It’s good to spot a mark and to repeatedly exploit the mismatch both on and off the court.
The Warriors — consciously or through serendipity — found their mark with the T-Wolves.
And if they raise the Larry O’Brien Trophy in the coming days, Minnesota’s front office should get a special shoutout amid the celebration.
Not only did Minnesota fail to draft Steph Curry, despite having not one but back-to-back picks above the No. 7 spot, where the Warriors selected him. No, they also failed to finalize a deal that would have brought Klay Thompson to the Twin Cities and then, in 2020, traded the Warriors not just Andrew Wiggins, but also a first-round pick that became Jonathan Kuminga for D’ Angelo Russell.
Do you think Russell would have been part of a Warriors’ championship push?
If you do, you didn’t pay any attention to the lost season of 2019-20.
Three big decisions, three team interactions, and each worked out, without question, in the Warriors’ favor. Each has an overt impact on these Finals.
There’s a lot of legend around the first Minnesota mistake — the biggest Minnesota mistake: not drafting Curry.
Of course, four other teams failed to secure one of the greatest players in NBA history, but Minnesota, by virtue of having two picks ahead of the Warriors and using one of those picks on Jonny Flynn, who busted out of the league in three years, puts the Timberwolves in the spotlight.
So why didn’t Timberwolves general manager David Kahn draft Curry with either pick No. 5 or No. 6?
It’s been alleged that Curry threatened to not sign with the Timberwolves. Those rumors don’t hold up to scrutiny, though. Nor do the claims that the T-Wolves didn’t draft Curry, an avid golfer, because Minnesota has a short in-season golf window.
The truth is that Minnesota didn’t think Curry was big or strong enough; that his greatest skill, 3-point shooting, either wouldn’t translate or wouldn’t be worthy of an early pick.
Perhaps the Timberwolves felt justified in their choice in the early portion of Curry’s career, where constant ankle injuries kept him on the sidelines.
But 13 years later, we’re still talking about it. Clearly, it didn’t work out for Minnesota.
There’s also a great deal of legend around the Warriors and Timberwolves’ trade negotiations in 2014.
The baseline of the deal was Thompson for Kevin Love. A blockbuster, no doubt. There was a time when a true power forward could be a top player in this league, kiddos.
Asking about it years a later, with the Warriors on the right side of history, there’s an admittance that Golden State had serious interest in the move.
But then-advisor Jerry West shut it down. He threatened to quit if the Warriors traded Thompson, such was his belief in the then not-yet-broken-out Splash Brother. Steve Kerr, just hired as the team’s head coach, concurred, he wasn’t going to leave a job he just got as retaliation, though.
The fact that it came to a vote tells you how far negotiations were. Had Minnesota sweetened the pot a bit, who knows, they might have been able to convince the Warriors to override The Logo and Kerr.
Instead, the deal died with West’s threat and history has been kind to the Warriors for that.
These teams did make a trade, though — Wiggins and a first-round pick for Russell and some deep-bench role players in February 2020.
With Wiggins making a case to be the NBA Finals MVP, it’s fair to say the deal worked out for Golden State. Hell, the upside of Kuminga alone might have been worth the pick. Russell might be a bucket-getter and a friend of Wolves big man Karl Anthony Towns, but for the Warriors, ridding themselves of the point guard was addition by subtraction.
(And in the case of trading away Omari Spellman and Jacob Evans, that subtraction saved tens of millions of dollars for the Warriors, as they went under the NBA’s luxury tax line, as to avoid paying repeater tax in the years to come.)
Russell was a nice guy, but he wasn’t a winning basketball player.
I remember this like it was yesterday: I asked Draymond Green about Russell’s length and athleticism before the start of the 2019-20 season. He had the tools to be a great perimeter defender — so why wasn’t he?
Green said that he was going to take Russell under his wing and train him to be the kind of defender the Warriors wanted him to be next to Curry.
Three games into the season, three games in which Russell was truly abysmal on defense, I asked Green was asked follow-up question about Russell’s defense.
There was a lot of dancing around the issue, but then, after Green started rolling, he delivered the truth: “Some guys just don’t want it.”
But Minnesota wanted that guy.
And while Wiggins was seen as perhaps the worst contract in the NBA at the time of the trade, the Warriors knew they weren’t going anywhere fast with a secondary point guard who couldn’t play alongside Curry or inside the Warriors’ offensive systems. They figured they would be better off betting on Wiggins’ upside. No harm, no foul.
Wiggins, of course, has been a professional since he arrived in Golden State. He was a clear fit from Game 1 of his tenure, too. And while it took him a while to find his groove with the team, now that everyone has been in sync, he’s been a godsend for the Dubs and arguably the best wing in the NBA Finals.
That’s kind of a big deal.
The fact that a first-round pick was attached to the deal makes it even more comical. Kuminga is the future of the Warriors — a player with the talent (and temperament) to be an All-Star down the line, as Wiggins was this past season.
Had any one of these three events not gone the Warriors’ way, there’s no way the Dubs are playing for a championship today.
So if the trophy is raised on Thursday, Sunday, or even if the Western Conference crown is all the Dubs win this season, and you’re thanking Curry and Kerr, Bob Myers and Thompson, Wiggins and even Kuminga, give a shoutout to the Timberwolves as well.
They had a big hand in building this championship squad.
They just had no idea they were doing it.
Contributed by local news sources