Standing 6-foot-5-inches and weighing roughly 215 lbs., Mitch “The Rock” Richmond was one of the most underrated shooting guards of his era. He played three full seasons with the Golden State Warriors, which began with him winning the Rookie of the Year award in 1988. Although he was later shipped to the Sacramento Kings, the bond he formed with Hall of Famer Chris Mullin and future Hall of Famer Tim Hardaway after just two seasons together is unmistakable.
Dubbed “Run TMC,” the trio made a memorable run in the 1991 NBA Playoffs, upsetting Hall of Famer David Robinson and the San Antonio Spurs before making a second-round exit courtesy of the Los Angeles Lakers (notables includes Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Vlade Divac and Mychal Thompson). Over a very respectable 14-year career, Richmond averaged 21.0 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists, appearing in six All-Star games and winning one NBA Championship with the Lakers in 2002.
Drawing comparisons to how the Run TMC era was forced to come to an end while addressing all the risks associated with trading away a number of the team’s core players for just a single superstar, the Warriors can look at their decision to not trade for Kevin Love and be secure in knowing they ultimately made the right choice.
No More Run for TMC
Richmond was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Friday, joining Mullin and Hardaway for a night of reflective speeches and emotional interviews. When thinking back to when Richmond was traded, Hardaway expressed how disappointed he was.
“When he told us he got traded, I knew that was the beginning to the end,” Hardaway said. “We were kind of upset, basically. We didn’t show it, because we knew it was a business. But we didn’t have time to grow as a team, didn’t have time to develop as a team. I saw the future, and we could’ve been a team to reckon with for, shoot, a long time.
It’s apparent that even decades later, Run TMC’s resentment of the Richmond trade is still very much alive and kicking. And who can blame them? They were one of the earliest examples of an NBA “Big Three”. They averaged roughly 72.5 points as a trio and helped lead the Warriors to become the second-most potent offense in the NBA at that time. But right after their first playoff run, their core was broken up unnecessarily.
Richmond’s situation draws a couple comparisons to the Kevin Love dilemma that the Warriors faced this offseason.
Don Nelson, the NBA’s winningest coach infamous for his run-and-gun strategies, had wanted a scoring big man to put into his high-energy offense. The Warriors pursued a deal with Sacramento for their 1991 first round draft pick, Billy Owens, who was a high school phenom and a solid college player out of Syracuse University.
Standing 6-foot-8-inches at the power forward position, the Richmond-Owens trade broke up Run TMC in their prime and forced the Warriors into a period of mediocrity. Owens never lived up to the hype and faded into obscurity following his three seasons with the Warriors.
With the Love situation, the Warriors had new head coach Steve Kerr come in and tell the media the roster could use a stretch four to fit into his newly designed offense. At the time, Love had expressed interest in being traded to the Warriors, which was the biggest news of the offseason.
A package of David Lee and Harrison Barnes was the earliest proposed deal, but the Timberwolves were keen on acquiring Klay Thompson. The Warriors refused to give up Thompson, which was one of the main roadblocks in any potential deal the Warriors could have made with the Wolves. According to ESPN, Love is now on his way to the Cleveland Cavaliers to join LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
Now the obvious difference between the two situations is that the Warriors had an idea of what they could have gotten had they traded for Love.
With Owens, the Warriors of the 1990′s took a chance on a draft pick that unfortunately never lived up to his potential.
With Love, the Warriors would have gotten a solid offensive player capable of making shots anywhere on the court. Pick-and-rolls between Love and Warriors superstar Stephen Curry would have been extraordinary to witness, and the outside shooting ability Love possesses would have opened up Kerr’s new offense.
Nevertheless, the idea of allowing a team to grow together rather than trading away core pieces for a single player still appears to be the smarter long term decision.
Run TMC was a solid core the Warriors could have built around for years, but a bad trade saw that dream destroyed. By not trading away core members for Love, the Warriors front office showed that they are confident in the core they’ve been nurturing the past few seasons and are willing to be patient as they continue to improve.
As it stands, the current core hasn’t given the organization any indicator to show they’re digressing, so why break up the band when they haven’t reached their ceiling yet?
Building Around the Brothers
Reflecting on the Love debacle this offseason, Warriors fans should be ecstatic that they have at least one more year to see their rising star shooting guard in action.
The 6-foot-7-inch Thompson, known for both his sharpshooting ability and defensive prowess, has solidified himself in Golden State as the other half of the Splash Brothers and an important piece to the franchise.
As a trusted part of Golden State’s core, Thompson is central to the team’s continued success. His ability to stretch the floor is second to only Curry, and he’s labeled as the team’s second best perimeter defender. He’s improved his ability to score inside, and he has great instincts moving without the ball.
He’s only going into his fourth year and was already highly regarded among the league’s best when he was a member of the 2012 Team USA Select Team. He’s been improving steadily since then and is arguably one of the most well rounded shooting guards in today’s NBA.
Though he could possibly improve his vision and passing ability, Thompson executes his role as a scorer and perimeter defender perfectly. He averaged a solid 18.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists on 44.4 percent shooting from the field and 41.7 percent from downtown.
As for Curry, everyone knows what he brings to the table. When faced with the decision to build around him or Monta Ellis, the organization chose to put their trust in Curry and have been rewarded for what seemed to be misguided faith.
Now, Curry is the NBA’s premier sharpshooter, differing from Thompson in that he’s is better at creating his own shot off the dribble. His passing ability as a point guard has improved, although he could definitely use some work on taking better care of the ball. He’s an underrated rebounder, the unspoken leader of the team and the face of the franchise, and he’s definitely looking to improve on his first All-Star season.
Together, the Splash Brothers provide the Warriors with a reliable and potent offense to run their offense through. Although it’s up to debate whether the Warriors have a “Big Three”, the fact of the matter is that they already have great pieces around Curry and Thompson and continue to add useful pieces to the puzzle every year. Generally speaking, the front office has done flawlessly in providing their sharpshooting tandem with a solid team.
Andre Iguodala was the biggest free agent signing the Dubs have had in recent years, and Lee has still shown himself to be a double-double machine.
There’s still hope for Barnes and Festus Ezeli, and the additions of Shaun Livingston and Brandon Rush will be huge for the upcoming season. Let’s not forget the coaching changes either, as that will prove to be an incredibly underrated offseason move.
As a single, cohesive unit, the Warriors are looking to have one of the more complete rosters in the league, and that’s saying something. The versatility of the roster combined with the intriguing improvements that the coaching staff is looking to add will help replicate the team’s success last season, if not build on it.
The Underlying Problems with Love
Many are probably thinking that the pair of Curry and Love would have been a better duo to build around than Curry and Thompson; when you see everything just as “Love vs. Thompson”, then of course you’re right. Statistically, Love is the better player. But there were so many risk factors involved in the Warriors dealing for Love that ultimately not trading for him makes it look like Golden State may have actually dodged a bullet.
One of the main risk factors had to do with the Warriors’ finances.
Joe Lacob on contract status of his shooting guard: “We are going to re-sign Klay Thompson. I will say that unequivocally.” #Warriors
— 95.7 The GAME (@957thegame) April 24, 2014
Yes, Thompson is up for a hefty extension, which could be worth up to $19 million considering his agent is looking to get Thompson a max deal. Warriors owner Joe Lacob had expressed prior to Love’s reported intrigue that the team would re-sign Thompson unequivocally, and now it seems he’s holding true to that statement. Had the Warriors traded for Love, it’s true they would have gotten rid of Lee’s horrendous contract and the stress of negotiating Thompson’s extension.
However, the Warriors would have gotten back Kevin Martin‘s terrible contract and the stress of negotiating a fairly expensive extension for Love that no one was even sure he was fully invested in signing! The 31-year-old Martin is known for his scoring ability, but suffers from a lack of ability on the defensive end. If Thompson continues to improve as expected, he’s likely to prove that he’s worth a max deal. Martin, while also a sharpshooter, just wouldn’t prove himself to be worth his contract.
The other main risk factor was the overall uncertainty in Love’s health.
At 6-feet-10-inches and weighing around 250 lbs., Love has accumulated a list of injuries worth some concern. Big men in the NBA are the most prone to injury as their huge frames are counted on to play over 25 minutes a night over the course of a 82-game schedule. They are asked to score inside, rebound and act as the last line of defense at the basket, all of which require them bang around in the paint and be extremely physical.
The problem with trading Love for a durable guard like Thompson is the latter has had no injury concerns ever in his career (knock on wood). Love has had several problems with his health and the physical nature of being a big man only keeps Love’s chances of injury high. Five years Love’s senior, the Warriors’ Lee is only just starting to feel the affects of big man play. Bogut isn’t the most reliable player when it comes to health, and neither is Curry or Iguodala. The addition of Love and Martin would have still given the Warriors a solid team, but it would have also been considered the most injury prone starting five in the league. For a team that already has plenty of health concerns, Thompson seemed like the safer bet over Love and Martin.
A Lesson Learned
History books were made so that the mistakes of the past wouldn’t be repeated by future generations. When Warrior fans remember Run TMC, they think back to how captivating their style of play was and the energy they brought each and every night whether they won or lost.
They were the underdogs, three very different players who together formed one of the most storied trios in the NBA history. After they were broken up, everyone still asks the same question: what if they had stayed together for just a few more seasons?
Individual production is important, but finding pieces that fit together on both a chemistry level and efficiency level is hard to find. Golden State has a young, promising core of players that compliment each other well and are worth building around. It was wise of the organization to not trade so many core pieces for Love, instead choosing to put their trust in what they’ve worked so hard to build.
This roster started with Curry as the cornerstone, and ever since then has been constructed from what many considered to be the bottom of the NBA. Adding Thompson and other pieces along the way, the ownership has only continued to build and still can’t see the ceiling.
The Warriors didn’t take the easy way out by giving up a huge chunk of their future to acquire a single superstar. Let’s hope they continue to believe in what they’ve built, making intelligent and informed decisions to help improve the core of their roster.