Once you have lived in the Bay Area for a while there is very little that can truly surprise or shock you. The homeless man peeing in the street, or two drag queens in a fist-fight on BART draws a collective shrug from locals. However, the transformation of the Golden State Warriors over the past three years has been genuinely surprising.
Just three years ago, the Warriors finished the 2009-10 season with 26 wins and 56 losses, coming in 13th place out 15 teams in the Western Conference. With the exception of the 2006-07 season – when Golden State was able to sneak into the playoffs and knock off the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks before losing to the Utah Jazz in the second round – the Warriors had suffered from years of poor management and bad luck.
The road from perennial lottery dweller to free-agent destination was long and uneven. It began with the Warriors using their lottery pick to draft Stephen Curry No. 7 overall in the 2009 NBA Draft. Although they made the dubious decision to trade away Jamal Crawford in the 2009 offseason, in Stephen Curry, Golden State had secured the future of the franchise.
After yet another injury plagued season in 2009-10, the Warriors made a bold move in the offseason of 2010. Golden State acquired All-Star power forward David Lee from the New York Knicks in a complicated sign-and-trade deal that was part of the transaction that sent LeBron James to the Miami Heat. That same summer, Joe Lacob and Peter Guber became the new majority owners of the Golden State Warriors.
The 2010-11 season ended with 36 wins and 46 losses–ten more wins than the previous season but still well short of a playoff berth in the hyper-competitive Western Conference. The summer of 2011 brought two key pieces to the franchise. Golden State’s new owners parted ways with coach Keith Smart and hired 17-year NBA veteran Mark Jackson to lead the team. They also drafted shooting guard Klay Thompson with the 11th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
Now, with both Curry and Thompson, the team had the two players that would go on to become the “Splash Brothers,” hitting more three-pointers in a single season (2012-13) than any other duo in NBA history.
The lockout-shortened season of 2011-12 did not see much improvement. Because of injuries to a few key players and the lack of a proper training camp for Jackson to implement his system, Golden State ended the season with a paltry 23 wins and 43 losses. Near the end of the season, the Warriors’ new management decided to take a big risk, trading fan-favorite and team leader Monta Ellis, along with Kwame Brown, for the injured seven-foot center, Andrew Bogut.
This move lead to the rise of Curry and Lee as co-captains and resulted in Thompson moving into a starting role. The pieces were finally falling into place for the Warriors.
In the 2012 Draft, Golden State selected small forward Harrison Barnes with the No. 7 overall pick, center Festus Ezeli with the 30th pick and small forward Draymond Green with the 35th pick. With the three players selected in the draft, the Warriors were able to fill some holes that had been created by trades and injuries. Over the offseason, the Warriors signed Jarrett Jack, to back up Stephen Curry, as well as Carl Landry, who would come off the bench for Lee.
Coming in to the 2012-13 season, expectations were fairly tepid. Injuries sidelined swingman Brandon Rush and Bogut. In their place, the rookies Barnes and Ezeli were thrown into the starting lineup. Despite the odds, the Warriors had their best start in decades, earning their 20th win before hitting the 30 game mark. They went on to finish the season with 47 wins and 35 losses, earning them a trip to the playoffs for just the second time in 19 years.
With the sixth seed in the playoffs, Golden State upset the third seeded Denver Nuggets, winning the series in six games. Despite winning two of the first four games in the second round against San Antonio, the Warriors’ improbable ride came to an end after the Spurs went on win the series four games to two.
After years of being a non-factor in the Western Conference, teams are finally taking notice of Golden State, and so are other players. The biggest free agent of this summer, Dwight Howard, was widely expected to either move to Houston or stay in Los Angeles. However, with their new found stature, the Warriors landed a meeting with Howard. He was reportedly impressed and seriously considered moving to the Bay Area, but in the end, Golden State was not willing to give up what the Lakers would have demanded.
In a surprise move, before Dwight had officially announced his decision, the Warriors signed arguably the second most coveted free agent this summer: Andre Iguodala. So, in a few short years the Dubs have gone from lowly lottery dwellers to the up-and-coming team in the West.