Larry Riley, then a top assistant in the Golden State front office, had just stepped out the back door of the gymnasium at Salt Lake Community College. He ran into Rod Thorn, the sharp-featured New Jersey Nets president.
Both men were in Utah on July 23, 2008, for the Rocky Mountain Revue, the Jazz’s since-abandoned summer league.
The life of No. 21
July 23, 2008 » Golden State trades protected first-round pick to New Jersey for point guard Marcus Williams.
Sept. 15, 2009 » The Warriors trade second-round pick to Nets to push back pick, reduce restrictions.
Feb. 24, 2011 » The Utah Jazz receive the pick as part of the trade that sends Deron Williams to New Jersey. It is top-7 protected in 2012 and 2013.
April 26, 2012 » The Warriors lose to San Antonio to end the season as losers in 25 of their last 29 games, after a 19-25 start.
May 31, 2012 » At the NBA Draft lottery, no team jumps the Warriors, and Golden State ends up with the seventh pick.
June 28, 2012 » The Warriors select North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes with the No. 7 pick.
April 17, 2013 » On the last day of the regular season, Golden State wins in Portland, securing the ninth-best record in the NBA and the 21st pick.
June 27, 2013 » The Utah Jazz will pick No. 21 in the NBA Draft, held in Brooklyn, N.Y.
"Well, Riles," Thorn said, looking at his colleague, "I think we’ve got a trade that will be completed today."
Riley was puzzled.
"I hadn’t heard anything about it," Riley recalled last week.
The Nets and Warriors, though, had agreed to a minor trade that would swap New Jersey point guard Marcus Williams for a protected future first-round draft pick. The deal set in motion a peculiar series of events that will culminate with Thursday’s NBA Draft.
The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the biggest trade in franchise history.
"What it really does is it closes the books on the Deron Williams trade," Jazz executive vice president Kevin O’Connor said.
But the story of 21 is far more complicated. Over the course of a lifespan longer than the average NBA career, 21 has been nomadic. Teams have fought over it. It has teased.
Twenty-one helped resurrect two franchises. The Jazz on Thursday will begin to learn how it impacts their own future.
The birth of No. 21 • It all began with Marcus Williams.
The 22nd pick in 2006 had two moderately productive seasons in New Jersey as a backup to Jason Kidd. But in the summer of 2008, Williams was deemed expendable after the Nets acquired Keyon Dooling. Nearly 3,000 miles away in Oakland, Calif., Warriors GM Chris Mullin was trying to find a replacement for All-Star point guard Baron Davis, who signed with the Clippers.
Williams was not the right choice. He was an unmitigated disaster in the Bay Area and played in only nine games. He never started and was released five months into the season.
Riley, who replaced Mullin that summer, realized his team had not only traded for a bust, but had also sacrificed a highly valuable draft pick. The Warriors were bad, and rebuilding would be slow. The 2011 draft would be a good one, and teams may not trade first-round picks in consecutive years, costing the Warriors 2010 flexibility.
So on Sept. 15, 2009, Riley reached out to the Nets once again. He offered a second-round pick and less restrictive protections — top seven in 2012 and 2013 — if the Nets would push the pick back a year.
That’s when the Warriors’ fortunes really began to change. In 2009, Golden State selected Stephen Curry, their first good lottery decision in years. The 2011 and 2012 drafts, both years they might have lost the pick, yielded players who carried the Warriors in 2013 to one of the best seasons in franchise history — a season that knocked their draft pick out of the lottery, clear down to 21.
Trading and waiting • The New Jersey Nets of 2011 needed to make a splash. A move to Brooklyn was 18 months away and the franchise was floundering. But it had assets, including the draft pick from the Warriors.
"We knew it had strong value in either the lottery or the mid-first," Nets assistant GM Bobby Marks said.
There were no major trade talks involving the Nets in which the pick wasn’t included.Next Page >
NBA DraftThursday, 5 p.m.
TV » ESPN
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