The Golden State Warriors are at war with themselves. The proven veterans who have won four titles are still here, but they are no longer as dominant as they once were. The young second generation is here, but they are inconsistent and haven't gained trust. And one particular way to alleviate this tension would involve stabbing a franchise legend in the back.
Betrayal in the NBA can take a number of forms. Owners have backstabbed entire communities by moving teams (Seattle is still hurting). General managers fire coaches to save their own jobs. Players pledge their loyalty to a city and a team only to leave in free agency months later; sometimes they even agree verbally to a contract before walking away.
Loyalty is discarded if the trade is right
The worst backstabs are via trade, however. A player under contract has no true options other than the team they play for; some stars have leveraged trade demands in recent years, but they aren't truly in control. The team? The team can trade a player anytime.
The Toronto Raptors were faced with a decision in 2018. They had been one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference for years, led by the dynamic backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. When it became clear that the San Antonio Spurs were open to trading MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard, Masai Ujiri and the Raptors swooped in and traded for Leonard.
The problem? It meant trading DeRozan, a player who had developed into an All-NBA guard with the franchise. He is the franchise leader in a number of categories, including points, games and free throws. The players were blindsided by the trade. Toronto was vindicated when the team went on to win the NBA Championship that season (beating the Warriors in the Finals), but it took a painful betrayal to get there.
A current Warriors player knows something about an unexpected trade; Chris Paul was traded by the Houston Rockets to the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that appeared to be heading for a rebuild after trading both Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Paul got the last laugh, as he helped galvanize a playoff run and earned a trade to a Phoenix Suns team that went to the NBA Finals.
There have been other notable backstabbings throughout league history. Chris Paul's teammate on the LA Clippers, Blake Griffin, signed a long-term deal and then was shipped out of town to the frozen tundra of Michigan. Norm Nixon was jettisoned from the Los Angeles Lakers during the early "Showtime" years. Isaiah Thomas was dumped on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Kyrie Irving trade after playing through a hip injury for the Celtics in the playoffs. As we outline next, the Warriors are no strangers to making the hard decisions.