Yet no decision is ever simple and trading their leading scorer was not by any means a simple choice for the franchise.
A brief trip down memory lane should allow us to see this from a different lens.
Let’s remember this isn’t the first time the Warriors have made an unpopular choice or a risky one. However, this front office sports a strong record when it comes to taking gambles.
Looking back about eight years ago will bring memories of Golden State making one of the most unpopular moves when it comes to pleasing its fan base. Then-assistant general manager Bob Myers and GM Larry Riley chose to trade Warriors scoring leader Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson.
Capt. Jack was consequently flipped to the San Antonio Spurs. Bogut, a former No. 1 pick, stayed but was injury-prone. While he showed flashes of brilliance as a shot-blocking presence and potential double-double man, many expressed doubts that he could be a stable pillar, considering he had only played over 70 games twice in his first seven seasons and had only appeared in 12 games in 2011-12.
Fans bashed the move, as the front office had seemingly swapped the team’s most dynamic player for a questionable center and a player the Warriors had long ago ousted. Furthermore, ownership was risking the butts in the seats, considering Ellis’ electric end-to-end play was the reason many still came to watch the Warriors, despite their many shortcomings.
Wiggins and Bogut couldn’t be further apart as players. They play different positions and come at very different times of the organization’s process. Yet they are both former No. 1 picks looking to shed the pressure from being drafted that high and being unable to perform at the level they had long been expected to reach.
Bogut never came close to sniffing double-digit scoring with the Warriors, but he did become a key part of the Warriors’ rise thanks to his back-line defense and screening that helped free up Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for their shooting barrages.
Much like Ellis, Russell was let go after the front office noticed his style of play would deter from Curry and Thompson’s well-cemented roles in Steve Kerr’s offense — becoming just another mouth to feed instead of another wolf that would add to the pack.
Instead of forcing their star backcourt to coexist with Russell, the Warriors chose to address a positional need and set themselves up for the future.
Golden State received a top-three-protected 2021 first-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick, setting themselves up for not one but two potential drafts where they could get a top-five pick. That’s amazing value for a team that will regain its strength by next season.
While the 24-year-old comes with plenty of questions, he’s enjoying a bounce-back season of sorts with career highs in rebounds (5.1) and assists (3.7) while chipping in 22.5 points per game. Wiggins won’t be asked to be that other 20-point threat like Durant was the last three years, but instead complement Curry and Thompson while developing into a more versatile player.
Part of what makes his trade smart is where he’s going. The Warriors have a history of strong player development, one of the best in the NBA in recent years.
Since the two-way program was implemented, the Warriors have turned a bevy of players into sound pros: Quinn Cook, Alfonzo McKinnie, Damion Lee, Ky Bowman, and Marquese Chriss among the most recent. Kent Bazemore was also signed to the roster, but spent a large part of his first season in Santa Cruz. Ian Clark developed from an undrafted talent to a key rotation piece.
It won’t take long before the Warriors’ coaching and training staff start to shape Wiggins into the piece they envision him to be, much like they turned Bogut from a double-double presence to a hulking screen center and a reliable help-side defender.
At his worst, Wiggins can be a more capable Harrison Barnes. At his best, he can be a sound complement for Curry and Thompson, further extending the championship lifeline along with the key players who could come through the draft.