“Is Joe a schlub? Maybe. But he’s OUR schlub, fans, c’mon!”
“BOOOO! SELL THE TEAM, YOU MORON! YOU SUCK!”
Barely two seasons into his tenure, things weren’t going terribly well for the owner of the reigning world champion Golden State Warriors, who pay our Atlanta Hawks a visit tonight (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Bay Area in SFO). Only six years ago this month, Joe Lacob approved the trade-away of the Warrior fans’ heart-and-soul.
A second-round pick who would become the NBA’s Most Improved Player two seasons in, Monta Ellis was the long-term investment that, by his seventh season, seemed to be paying off, the occasional moped incident aside. Fans unilaterally understood, if ever their team could arrive at the elusive Shangri-La known as the NBA Finals, or even just the playoffs, it was essential to build the roster around a high-scoring, playmaking guard like Ellis. Alas, Dubs, Inc. didn’t seem to share that sentiment. Not exactly, anyway.
At the trade deadline in March 2012, Monta, the reigning Western Conference Player of the Week, was sent packing to Milwaukee, in exchange for the talented and occasionally upright center Andrew Bogut. The trade didn’t necessarily spoil a possible playoff run, what would have been just the second in the franchise’s prior 16 seasons. The last one, in 2007, was a magical carpet ride guided by Baron Davis, and Ellis was looking the part of an heir apparent once Davis bolted for L.A after the following season. The momentary success from the 2007 We Believe season never sustained itself.
The playoff appearance before that one was in 1994, back when the fellow being honored at halftime on this cool March evening, Chris Mullin, led the charge. This night was supposed to be about Mully. And it was, right up until Lacob tried to partake in the good vibes, after Mullin thanked the crowd, to reveal the jersey banner. By then, We Believe had become We Berate.
“Now that we got that over with…” Lacob snidely remarked, after allowing the din of disdain to die down once he grabbed the mic. “Today is about history… and respect.” Bump that! What kind of history had Lacob (and his even more-reviled predecessor, Chris Cohan) built up with to earn respect from the long-suffering ticketholder mob? Where’s the respect for Monta? BOO! Keeping his speech in line with pro-wrestling heel protocol, Lacob interrupted himself and put the mic down, in fading hope that the crowd might encourage each other to simmer down. Not happening.
The Guest of Honor stepped forward to try and save Lacob’s forlorn face. “Sometimes, change is inevitable,” Mullin remarked, speaking somewhat directly to the elephant in the room. “It’s gonna work out just fine.” When the good-cop approach didn’t work, the one guy in the arena with a Warriors championship ring took matters into his hands.
“Show a little bit of class!”, derided Rick Barry, incidentally one of the least classiest greats in the history of the league. Yeah, Rick, we’ve been down this stay-classy road already, take your pleas down to San Diego. “This is crazy! Seriously! C’mon, you’re doing yourself a disservice!” No, Rick, trading away a 25-point scorer that you’ve developed over seven years for a potentially washed bag of bones? THAT is a disservice. BOO! HISS! HISS!
It was amazing the Warriors’ brass ever got through the ceremony. But you could see how their dedicated fanbase was past its boiling point. They had been sold bills of goods on draftees Chris Washburn, Mitch Richmond, Tim Hardaway, Chris Webber, Joe “Yes, we tanked for him” Smith, Adonal Foyle, Antawn “Shoulda Just Kept Vince” Jamison, Jason Richardson, Mike Dunleavy, Ike Diogu, Patrick O’Bryant, Ekpe Udoh, all of them top-ten NBA picks spanning 25 years. Each, including Mullin, was the lottery pick that was supposed to help the team turn the corner toward NBA greatness. They’ve endured the handing of the franchise keys to C-Webb, to Run TMC, to Spree, to Tawn, to J-Rich, to B-Diddy.
It’s now 2012: Old Man Kobe and the Lakers are running laps around these division “rivals”. The once-equally downtrodden Mavericks just won a title, and even the Clippers – the Clippers! – are finally starting to get their act together. The latest Warriors Savior is gone, and everyone is still tapping their toes, pointing at their watches.
One guy who couldn’t make it to these proceedings? Wardell Stephen Curry II. The third-year guard had just suffered yet another ankle injury days before, this one season-ending. Say, couldn't we have just traded one bag-of-bones (Curry) for another (Bogut) and kept Monta around?
Guess who was in the building that day? Klay Alexander Thompson. The rookie hadn’t started more than a game yet. Nice fella, he just can’t carry a team anywhere. Lose just a couple more games at the end of last season, and we coulda had Jimmer instead! Darn that Curry kid, out here spoiling things.
All this losing, all this pseudo-tanking, all this cycling through middling talent. When, pray tell, are we going to draft ourselves a real, bonified Savior? This was Warrior fan thinking in 2012, when the notion of Splash Brothers was still in the nascent stages.
What if Lacob could have told the crowd: “Listen, I know you’re unhappy. But that broke-down guard we drafted a few years ago? He’s gonna win back-to-back MVP awards, and soon! Your Savior is still here on the roster, folks. He’s gonna join forces with our mid-tier lotto rookie, from this past year, to form a backcourt tour-de-force the world has never seen before! Your next NBA Finals MVP? I got a guy named Schlenk upstairs who will be bringing him over in a couple years.”
“That center you’re all bitter-beer-faced about right now? What if I told you him getting injured is the ONLY reason you fall one win short of a three-peat? In a season where we win over 70 games! 70! We'll be half-a$$ing it and still be 48-14 six years from now!"
"This very summer, people, we’re drafting one of the greatest defensive non-centers of all time… in the second round! Not only that, how about this: that player will help us woo a future league MVP to become our MVP of our NEXT victorious NBA Finals… you know, the one after the LAST Finals MVP, who will still be here?”
“Show of hands, who wants to sign up for all that? Okay? Then, all of you, shut your pieholes, give it a minute, and thank me later! Go f’n Warriors!” Mic drop. Banner raise.
There will be no scintillating analysis of tonight’s Hawks-Warriors matchup. Not on this glorious March afternoon. But I do want Hawks fans, particularly the skeptics about management, ownership, and The Way Forward, to look at the Dubs not through the prism we see them in today, but the looking-glass Dubs fans peered through, unapprovingly, just six years ago.
A rebuild of our beloved Hawks (19-43) remains the right move. But we should all understand by now, tear-downs and rebuilds can be tenuous, cyclical, frustrating, and downright exhausting. They usually don’t pay off quite the way you anticipate, if they do at all. Just ask a Warriors fan. Not one of these new-jack johnny-come-latelys flaunting jerseys in Philips Arena today, no. Talk to the older-school supporters, the ones who foresaw Monta Ellis’ abrupt departure as a harbinger of yet another decade full of terrible things to come.
Let’s Go Hawks!