Today, the Golden State Warriors are seen as one of the preeminent organizations not just in the NBA, but in all of North American team sports. They own the best regular season record in NBA history, have gone to three straight NBA Finals, and have two of the best and most marketable athletes in the world in Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. Every game they play in is a sellout and even with the Lakers down south; they have become the most popular team in California. Team owner Joe Lacob once said that his team was “light years” ahead of all other NBA teams and with the success the team has had over recent years; it’s hard to disagree with him.
While the current Warriors roster was mostly comprised through the draft, the team hasn’t always hit home runs, or doubles, or even singles when it comes to selecting players. As one of the three franchises who have been around since the NBA’s inception; the Warriors have had plenty of draft picks, and plenty of draft busts. Don’t let the team’s recent success fool you; the Golden State Warriors were once seen through the same lens as their eastern neighbors, the Sacramento Kings. For much of their franchise’s history, the Warriors were a laughingstock and much of that stemmed from their draft decisions. We will take a look back at some of those decisions as we present the top 15 draft mistakes the Golden State Warriors should still be embarrassed about.
15 Drafting Joe Barry Carroll First Overall In 1980
The fact that Joe Barry Carroll’s nickname was ‘Joe Barely Cares’ says pretty much all you need to know about him. JBC had all of the talent in the world but the motivation of a sloth and did just enough to get by and earn his next paycheck. The Celtics held the first pick of the 1980 NBA Draft but the Warriors desperately wanted it to draft Carroll so Golden State traded Robert Parish and its own first round pick to Boston for the number one overall pick. Boston would end up drafting Kevin McHale so, yes, Joe Barely Cares was traded for two Hall of Famers and kick-started the Celtics’ dynasty. Carroll would put up good numbers with the Warriors but he also displayed strange behavior including leaving the team for the entire 1984-85 season so he could play ball in Italy.
Carroll would eventually leave the Warriors for good in 1987 when he was traded to Houston for yet another Hall of Famer, Ralph Sampson.
14 Drafting Shaun Vandiver In 1991
Never heard of Vandiver? Me neither and he is one of the few players to be a first round draft pick but never play in the NBA. He was a two-time All-Conference player at Colorado and left the school as the third highest scorer in Buffalos history. But after being drafted by the Warriors, Vandiver elected to play overseas instead of in the NBA and Golden State could have surely used his infusion of talent as they traded away Mitch Richmond that offseason. The 1991 draft wasn’t loaded with prospects but the likes of Bobby Phills, Robert Pack, and Darrell Armstrong were either taken after Vandiver or not drafted at all.
Since the NBA’s lottery era began in 1986, Vandiver is one of just three American players to have been drafted in the first round but not play an NBA game. The other two were Ken Barlow, who also went overseas, and Len Bias who died two days after the draft.
13 Drafting Ekpe Udoh In Between Steph Curry And Klay Thompson
Former Warriors’ GM Larry Riley deserves credit for drafting the best shooting backcourt in NBA history. He used lottery selections to draft Steph Curry and 2009 and Klay Thompson in 2011. But it’s his first round selection in between those two that was head-scratching. He used the #6 overall pick on Ekpe Udoh who had one decent season at Baylor after he couldn’t get off the bench in two years at Michigan. Udoh would only play 96 games for the Warriors before being included in the Monta Ellis trade to Milwaukee that brought back Andrew Bogut. Riley selected Udoh with Paul George and Gordon Hayward still on the board. If he really wanted a big man, he could have gone with Greg Monroe or Hassan Whiteside; but Riley gambled on potential and lost.
Despite hitting home runs on two of his three first round selections; the Udoh selection ended up costing Riley his job as he was replaced by Bob Myers in 2012.
12 Drafting Patrick O’Bryant In 2006
Like many watching the 2006 NCAA Tournament, O’Bryant’s performances on an undermanned Bradley team wowed the Warriors’ front office. Despite playing against lesser competition for about 95% of his college career, the Warriors thought O’Bryant was worthy of the ninth overall pick in the 2006 draft. But he wasn’t ready, physically or mentally, and he became the first lottery pick in NBA history to be sent down to the D-League. His coach, Don Nelson, also wasn’t a fan of O’Bryant and said this about him: "I told him if he goes down to the D-League and isn't a dominant player, there should be red flags all over the place, and he should be the first to notice. He's not only not dominating, he's not playing very well…He hasn't gotten better one bit.”
O’Bryant would ride the bench for two seasons with the Warriors and played just 90 total NBA games. He would then go overseas and, for what it’s worth, he won a championship and was named the Finals MVP for the Taiwan Beer of the Super Basketball League in Asia.
11 Breaking Up Run TMC For Billy Owens
Before there were the “Light Years” Warriors and before there were the “We Believe” Warriors; there was Run TMC. The Warriors’ trio of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin played an up-tempo, run-and-gun style that many teams now use today. They spent just two years together but the Warriors finished first and second in the NBA in scoring during those seconds. Coming into the 1991-92 season, coach Don Nelson felt the team needed some more size so he traded Richmond to Sacramento for rookie Billy Owens who was the #3 overall pick in that year’s draft.
The move didn’t pay off as the fans lost a fan favorite in Richmond and the team never coalesced around Owens. Richmond would go on to become a Hall of Famer while Owens would never even make an All-Star team. Nelson would later regret the trade by saying he was under pressure from ownership to get bigger and would say he ‘would never make that trade again.’
10 Passing Over Clyde Drexler In 1983
Russell Cross was a McDonald’s All-American in high school, a first-team All-Big Ten selection in college, and arguably the biggest NBA bust that no one has ever heard of. The Purdue big man was sixth overall in 1983 which was three spots ahead of sharpshooter Dale Ellis and eight spots before Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler. Cross wasn’t a fit for the NBA and would play just 45 games in his lone season. Since the ABA-NBA’s merger in 1976, Cross played fewer minutes than all but two other top-6 draft picks. Only Len Bias and Ben Simmons (for now) played fewer minutes in their careers than Cross did. Golden State cut him after his rookie year and he never appeared in another NBA game. He would go on to play in the CBA as well as various European leagues.
9 Drafting The Wrong Bryant
The Warriors had some historic draft selections in the mid-1970s as used first round picks on two future Hall of Famers in Jamaal Wilkes (1974) and Robert Parish (1976). Their first round pick in between those two greats will also be going to the Hall of Fame…when his son, Kobe Bryant, is enshrined there. In 1975 the Warriors drafted Joe “Jellybean” Bryant in the first round but before he could even play a game he was sold to his hometown Philadelphia 76ers. Jellybean would have a nondescript career but he did father the Black Mamba who would be born and raised in Philadelphia (among other places).
Twenty-one years later the Warriors had the chance to draft a 17-year-old Kobe Bryant in the 1996 NBA draft. However, they went with center Todd Fuller with the 11th overall pick and Bryant was taken two picks later. Fuller would have two fewer 10 point games in his career (23) than Bryant had 50 points games in his career (25).
8 Drafting Chris Washburn Third Overall In 1986
You can find Washburn on any list of “Biggest Busts In NBA History.” Washburn’s problems started at NC State when he was arrested for stealing a stereo and sentenced to 5 years of probation. After bypassing on such players as Dennis Rodman and Mark Price; the Warriors took Washburn third overall behind Brad Daugherty and Len Bias. Before he could even finish his rookie season, Washburn developed a cocaine addiction and had to check into rehab. With the Warriors’ 1985 first round pick, Chris Mullin, going through an addiction to alcohol; Washburn definitely wasn’t a positive influence for the franchise. He averaged just 3.8 PPG in 43 games with the Warriors and received a lifetime NBA ban in 1989 after failing his third drug test in three years.
Washburn would then play for a few years in the ABA and CBA as well as in South America and Europe. It would take decades, but Washburn would finally kick his drug habit and his son, Julian, had the chance to play in the Summer League in 2015 for the team that drafted his father 29 years before.
7 Trading A First Round Pick For Marcus Williams
Remember Marcus Williams? He was on UCONN’s 2004 national championship-winning team but was later suspended for stealing laptops and attempting to sell them. After backing up Jason Kidd for two years with the Nets; the Warriors saw enough of Williams to believe that he would be their point guard of the future. Thus, in 2008 they traded a conditional first round pick to New Jersey for Williams. Williams would last all of nine games with the Warriors before being cut mid-season so the Warriors basically gifted a first round pick to the Nets. This move (along with many others) would spell the end of Chris Mullin’s tenure as VP of Basketball Operations and he would not be re-signed at the end of that season.
The draft pick that was traded would be shuffled amongst a couple of different teams and eventually became property of the Timberwolves who used it to draft Gorgiu Dieng in 2013.
6 Leaving Otis Smith Unprotected In Expansion Draft
This gaffe by the Warriors didn’t occur on draft night, but was a draft mistake nonetheless. With the Magic and Timberwolves joining the NBA in 1989, there was an expansion draft. Each NBA team could protect eight players on their team under contract and Otis Smith unfortunately ended up among those unprotected. He was taken by the Orlando Magic and would be a starter for the franchise’s first two seasons. The Warriors lost their sixth man in Smith who was also their best perimeter defender. It showed the following season as Golden State went from playing in the second round of the playoffs in 1988-89 to missing the playoffs in 1989-90.
The team’s defensive rating also dropped from 12th to 26th (second worst in NBA). The Warriors lost one of the smartest players in the NBA and that was evident after Smith’s playing career wrapped up as he would go on to work in the front office for both the Warriors and Magic.
5 Drafting Joe Smith First Overall In 1995
Joe Smith may have the most boring name in NBA history and his game wasn’t much more exciting. The Warriors wanted a power forward and took Smith out of Maryland with the first overall pick. In the process, they passed on power forwards Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace, and Antonio McDyess who would all become All-Stars. In fact, 7 different players from that draft class made at least one All-Star team, but none of them were named Joe Smith. Just as Chris Webber did a couple of years previously; Smith was a number one overall pick who engineered his trade from the Warriors as he would be shipped to Philadelphia after two-and-a-half years.
Smith had a long career that lasted 16 years, and he also made over $60 million; however, the Warriors could have hit a home run with their first overall draft pick in 1995 but they settled for a single.
4 Drafting Mike Dunleavy Jr. Third In 2002
Dunleavy has had a solid NBA career with 15 years of service for various teams. But when you are drafting third overall, you are looking for more than ‘solid’ as you’re hoping for an All-Star caliber player. Dunleavy did everything on the court reasonably well, but wasn’t great at any one thing and you had a tendency to forget he was on the court at times. No one would make that statement about Amare Stoudemire who was taken 6 picks after Dunleavy. Even Dunleavy’s Duke teammate Carlos Boozer wold have provided more punch to the Warriors but they passed over him not once, but twice. Perhaps the best thing Dunleavy did for the Warriors was to get shipped to Indiana as, in return, Golden State received Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington who helped usher in the “We Believe” era of the Warriors.
3 Traded A First Round Pick For Alton Lister
Lister was a 7’0 center and a Don Nelson favorite as Nellie had drafted and coached him in Milwaukee. After leaving the Bucks for Seattle; Nellie then wanted to reunite with his former center so he acquired him to join the Warriors and Golden State sent a first-round pick back to Seattle. This was in 1989 so it was way before picks would be ‘protected’ and thus; the Warriors just straight up sent their 1st round pick to Seattle. That pick would end up being the second overall selection in 1990 and the SuperSonics would draft Hall of Famer Gary Payton.
To make matters worse, Payton was an Oakland native and grew up a huge fan of his hometown Warriors. As for what happened to Lister; he is best known for being posterized by Shawn Kemp in one of the Reign Man’s most iconic dunks. (You’ll also notice Payton in the video and with hair!)
2 Trading Away Vince Carter In 1998
In case you forgot, the Warriors drafted Carter with the 5th overall pick in 1998 only to then immediately trade him to Toronto for the 4th overall pick, and Carter’s college teammate, Antawn Jamison. Nothing else was included in the trade so why Toronto didn’t just draft Carter is beyond me. While Jamison would become one of the most underrated scorers in league history, Carter became a Hall of Famer. He was the most popular player in the league while in Toronto and his presence led to the Raptors leading the NBA in attendance three straight years. Carter would lead a downtrodden franchise to the playoffs three times during his tenure in Toronto while Jamison couldn’t do the same for the Warriors.
Golden State would get somewhat of a do-over three years later in the 2001 NBA draft. In that draft they selected, and kept, a high-flying two-guard by the name of Jason Richardson who is basically the poor man’s version of Carter.
1 Trading The House For Chris Webber In 1993
Don Nelson had a thing for big men who could handle the ball (see Billy Owens) and he saw Webber as the prototypical center for his run-and-gun offense. The only problem was that the Orlando Magic held the number one overall pick while the Warriors had the third pick. Thus, once Orlando drafted Webber, Nellie and the Warriors had to give up their third overall pick (Penny Hardaway) as well as three future first round picks (1996, 1998, 2000). Peak Webber vs. Peak Penny is basically a coin flip, but the three additional first rounders give the advantage in this deal to Orlando.
To make matters worse, Webber only played one season with the Warriors because the team stupidly put an escape clause in his contract. Webber didn’t like playing center so he demanded a trade after winning Rookie of the Year and would link up with his old Michigan teammate, Juwan Howard, in Washington. Webber’s historical trade forced the NBA and NBPA to redo the rookie contracts so that players couldn’t force their way out of town.