Perspective and direction matter as much in the NBA as they do in our everyday lives. Reading that back, it’s exactly the type of shallow and self-indulgent writing I try so hard to avoid, but it’s an undeniable truth nonetheless.
Understanding where you are, where you’re going, and the heights you could ultimately reach is as influential in the decisions made by NBA front offices at the trade deadline, for example, as it is a man or woman making a definitive choice when a relationship arrives at its crossroads. There’s really no difference. GMs, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, and wives all ask themselves three things when it’s time to make a choice one way or another: (1) Am I happy where we are?, (2) Are we treading water or moving forward?, and (3) How good could we ultimately be? And just like the questions are the same, so are the answers.
The trade deadline, then, is the NBA’s Valentine’s Day, the ultimate barometer and measuring stick for the viability and longevity of a current team or relationship. And like the effects of that mid-February day on a newly-minted single or happily engaged couple linger for days, weeks, or even years, so do the sometimes heart-breaking and gut-wrenching moves made by organizations of that day in mid-March.
Just look at the Golden State Warriors.
Golden State’s been immersed in one of the league’s most volatile and confounding love stories for years. Since the days of Baron Davis ended in 2008, the organization and its fans have clung to Monta Ellis as their franchise player. The dashing, undersized guard, with his unmatched quickness and home-grown story, was adored by a rabid Oakland crowd as he racked up points at a rate this team hadn’t seen in decades. The only problem? They weren’t winning. The Warriors won just 111 games since Baron departed and Ellis became GS’s leading man.
Coming into this season, a sentiment grew among outsiders – girlfriends, parents, other men, let’s say – that Golden State would be better off dumping Ellis and finding someone better suited to their needs. But as the season wore on and games were played it was clear the fans weren’t ready. (1) They were stupidly happy where the team was, (2) GS was winning more games than last season, and (3) They had an irrational belief they could eventually become a contender with Monta leading the way.
Perspective – theirs was irrational. Direction – they didn’t have one.
These fans were blind to Ellis’ flaws. Damned how clearly the rest of the world saw them. It didn’t matter because he was theirs, and they just knew he could get this team tured around. And even if he couldn’t, what could Golden State realistically find to replace him that would be so much better?
Then March’s NBA Valentine’s Day came, and their world came crashing down upon them. Ellis, Ekpe Udoh, and Kwame Brown were dealt to Milwaukee for the injured Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson, and Warriors fans went from a defiant to jilted lover. And worse, it wasn’t even Monta’s choice. This permanent breakup was orchestrated by management.
No matter that Golden State’s playoff chances were dwindling by the day when the trade was made. Or that Ellis’ departure would undoubtedly benefit Stephen Curry and free up playing time for rookie first round pick Klay Thompson. Or even that next season – once Bogut is healthy – Golden State seems primed for a postseason run. Who cared? Monta was gone and everything they’d known and loved since those 2007 Warriors was gone, too.
Perspective – theirs was colored black by an urelenting, blind love for Monta. Direction – ditto.
And it all culminated in this, one of the ugliest and most uncomfortable fan-related moments the NBA has seen since Malice in the Palace. Yikes.
In A River Runs Through It Norman Maclean wrote, “We can love completely without complete understanding.” He likely never thought this would apply so aptly to fans of a professional basketball franchise and how they they feel about a certain player, and not even I thought I’d ever think of it that way, despite my constant NBA-focused stream of consciousness. But it works.
Because Warriors fans do love Monta completely but they don’t even come close to understanding the flawed player he is. That his scoring numbers don’t match his efficiency. That his steal numbers don’t match his effectiveness on defense. That the Warriors, simply and most importantly, were a better team when he was on the bench.
It will take time, but things will get better for the Warriors. The players, management, and even the fans. Their grass is greener on this side with Bogut than it was on the other with Ellis, and next fall they’ll see that in the form of marks in the win column, and appreciate that Golden State’s front office brass was not happy (1) Losing, (2) Treading water, and (3) With how far an Ellis-led team could take them.