In 1965, the San Francisco Warriors traded Wilt Chamberlain to the Philadelphia 76ers for Connie Dierking, Lee Shaffer, Paul Neumann and $150,000. Chamberlain went on to win two NBA championships and three more MVPs after leaving San Francisco.
In 1980, the Golden State Warriors traded Robert Parish and a draft pick – used to take Kevin McHale – to the Boston Celtics for a draft pick. The Celtics landed two future Hall of Fame players who would join Larry Bird to form the franchise’s legendary “Big Three.” The Warriors used the draft pick they received in the deal to select … Joe Barry Carroll.
Chris Webber developed into one of the league’s better power forwards after the Warriors traded him for Tom Gugilotta and three draft picks. Tim Hardaway became an MVP candidate for the Miami Heat after the Warriors moved him. Mitch Richmond turned into a six-time All-Star for the Sacramento Kings after the Warriors traded him.
The list of players whose success grew after they left the Warriors is long and paints a not-so-flattering portrayal of the franchise. If you’re on the Warriors’ roster and seeking stardom, history suggests you should head elsewhere.
Like Jeremy Lin did.
Lin is the latest former Warrior to hit it big with another team, averaging 28.3 points and 8.3 assists during the Knicks’ current five-game win streak. What’s even harder for some Warriors fans to stomach is Lin is a Bay Area native whose signing was championed by none other than the franchise’s owner, Joe Lacob.
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“You can’t refute the facts,” Warriors general manager Larry Riley said. “History is history. Those guys went on to prove they were really good players. Jeremy is on a roll right now, so we’ll just have to see.”
Undrafted out of Harvard, Lin first attracted some buzz after playing well in a July 2010 summer league game against the top pick of that year’s draft, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall. The Warriors long had been intrigued about adding an Asian player to an NBA market considering the Bay Area’s high Asian population. Lin, a Taiwanese-American, also was a local star – who’d grown up with a poster of former Warrior Latrell Sprewell on his bedroom wall – after leading Palo Alto High School to a state title.
Lacob was fond of Lin, who he’d known since seeing Lin play against Lacob’s son, Kirk, when both were younger. When Lin signed his non-guaranteed contract shortly after the summer league, the Warriors even gave him a news conference because of the media interest. Riley, however, thought Lin needed to greatly improve his shooting and defense if he was going to have any success in the NBA.
“As a rookie, he had this funny little hitch when he was shooting,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said of Lin. “He kind of leaned to one side and kicked his right leg out. We always made fun of it. It looked weird. It looked like he was overexerting on the jump shot.”
Then-Warriors coach Keith Smart urged Lin to not solely rely on his driving ability, fearing he’d get his shot blocked regularly. While he was with the Warriors, Lin worked daily with assistant coaches Stephen Silas and Lloyd Pierce on his shooting and midrange game.
“His work ethic is incredible,” Smart said.
Lin averaged a modest 2.6 points and 1.5 assists in 29 games as a rookie with the Warriors, scoring a season-high 13 against the Los Angeles Lakers. Even so, Lin ranked third among the Warriors in fan popularity, trailing only Curry and Monta Ellis.
“He wasn’t comfortable at all with [the attention] and didn’t like it at all,” said Smart, now the Sacramento Kings head coach. “He said, ‘Coach, I don’t like it.’ But I said, ‘Embrace it because this window is not a long window. It’s not like you’re a golfer and you can play until you’re 55.’ ”
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Lin did show flashes of his potential last season during his stay with the Reno Big Horns of the NBA Development League. He averaged 18 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists in 20 games, and then-Reno coach Eric Musselman, a former Warriors head coach who is now guiding the Los Angeles D-Fenders, was impressed with Lin’s “mean streak” and confidence.
“I felt, at best, he was an NBA starter eventually,” Musselman said. “I could envision him scoring 20 in an NBA game, but not this quickly. Not over and over. But you couldn’t put anything past him because of his desire.”
Lin worked hard to improve his jump shot in the offseason. But because of the lockout, the Warriors and new coach Mark Jackson didn’t get a chance to evaluate Lin during summer league or in informal workouts. Jackson’s plan was to have Lin compete for the second point guard job behind Curry with rookie guard Charles Jenkins.
Hoping to clear as much salary-cap room as possible to sign Los Angeles Clippers restricted free-agent center DeAndre Jordan to an offer sheet, Riley and the Warriors waived Lin on Dec. 9 to save $762,195. Golden State pulled Lin out of the first day of practice to give him the news while also signing Jenkins to a two-year contract on the same day.
Said Riley, “I felt like if everything went well, [Lin] could be a good backup point guard in this league.”
“I told [Riley] it was a mistake, a bad choice,” said Lin’s agent, Roger Montgomery. “I asked him if there was any other way they could clear money for DeAndre Jordan. But he said he tried and exhausted every option and Joe [Lacob] was sick about it.”
Celebrated director and Knicks fan Spike Lee angered Jackson by recently sending him a text message thanking him for letting Lin go.
“I had nothing to do with Jeremy Lin,” Jackson said. “I never saw him do a layup. So … stop asking me. He never practiced for us, so leave me out of it.”
Riley hoped to re-sign Lin as a free agent if he cleared waivers, but the Houston Rockets claimed him Dec. 12. On the same day, the Clippers matched Jordan’s four-year, $43 million offer sheet to keep him. Lin was then waived by the Rockets on Christmas Eve – the night before the opening day of the season – to open a roster spot to sign center Samuel Dalembert.
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The Warriors still had interest in Lin, but were prohibited from claiming him off waivers for a calendar year and could only sign him as a free agent. The Knicks instead claimed Lin after rookie guard Iman Shumpert injured his knee. Rockets guard Kevin Martin remembered Lin as just being “one of six point guards” in training camp.
“I couldn’t tell anything about him,” Martin said. “He was cut [with the Warriors]. We cut him. That should tell you something. … It’s pretty amazing. We and the rest of the league are pretty stunned.”
The Knicks played Lin sparingly in nine games and sent him to the Erie Bayhawks for another stint in the D-League. With veteran point Baron Davis appearing closer to making his long-await debut for the Knicks, Montgomery feared Lin could be cut when player contracts became guaranteed on Feb. 7. Riley also was watching and planned to call if Lin happened to become a free agent.
Desperate for help, the Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni played Lin 36 minutes against the New Jersey Nets on Feb. 4, and Lin responded with 25 points and seven assists in the victory. Two nights later, Lin had 28 points and eight assists in his first NBA start. The next day, the Knicks guaranteed Lin’s contract for the rest of the season, making him a restricted free agent this summer.
“I’m not surprised he improved his game,” Curry said. “I am surprised at the stat line, as everybody else is. But I don’t think anyone doubts his ability to play basketball.”
Lin’s strong start has quickly made him a star in New York, saved the Knicks’ season and given Asian NBA fans another player to call their own. The Warriors are once again left to wonder what could have been.
“No one,” Smart said, “thought he could do the things that he is doing at this level.”