In 2012, the Golden State Warriors were coming off yet another playoff-free year, for the 17th time in 18 regular seasons. After a 23-43 record in a strike-shortened campaign, the Warriors had the seventh overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, but the team’s continual blundering of draft choices over the prior two decades was a sore spot with its fans.
That spring, ESPN’s Bill Simmons wrote a scathing critique of the joke the franchise had become in NBA circles, and we even attended a game at the Oakland Coliseum Arena that spring, which was sparsely enjoyed despite the opponent’s prowess (the San Antonio Spurs, featuring Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, and Tony Parker, et al—including rookie Kawhi Leonard).
Fans booed the Warriors in Oakland. Even though the team finished tenth out of 30 teams in overall NBA attendance, that was mostly because of the size of the arena: The Coliseum Arena is the tenth-largest venue. And we all know attendance figures are paid-attendance numbers, not actual butts in the seats.
Looking back now and knowing how Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson relatively struggled in their early years, it is amusing to note that the Warriors took Harrison Barnes, out of the University of North Carolina, at No. 7 before securing Draymond Green out of Michigan State with the No. 35 overall pick (in the second round).
Barnes has been a serviceable NBA player, accumulating 29.7 win shares—the seventh-best mark of any player drafted in 2012, in fact. Yet he’s now going to be looking for another team in 2019-2020 after declining the player option on his contract with the Sacramento Kings this week.
The Warriors did win an NBA title in 2015 with Barnes, before losing in the 2016 Finals to Cleveland. At that point, Golden State let their former first-round pick seek employment elsewhere, and Barnes played in Dallas for 2.5 seasons before being traded to Sacramento in 2019.
His career averages—13.6 points per game, 4.9 rebounds per game, and 1.5 assists per game—do not reflect the talent level a Top-10 pick should possess. Meanwhile, Green has become a (controversial) star in the league, and he is ranked as the fourth-best player taken in that draft.
(Interesting note: The No. 9 pick in 2012, Andre Drummond, ranks as the third-best player in that draft, and the Warriors passed on him, too, to select Barnes. What if the franchise by the Bay had drafted both Drummond and Green?!)
While Golden State’s eventual turnaround from moribund franchise to five-time, defending Western Conference champions now arguably began with the selection of Curry in the 2010 draft, the Warriors front office still screwed up somewhat in 2012.
We might be looking at the five-time defending NBA champs instead. Now, no front office in the NBA is perfect, and the Golden State braintrust obviously has done plenty right this decade. However, it did make some glaring mistakes that perhaps kept the Warriors from truly becoming a dynasty on par with the great ones in NBA history.
This is just a reminder that the NBA is a tough league, and teams can fall from grace just as quickly as they rise. The history of the sport is full of examples, and we may have seen the end of the Golden State run of dominance in the NBA for awhile now.