The Warriors over the years have traded some fabulous players, Wilt Chamberlain being the greatest of all. The Chris Webber trade burst a balloon of hope nearly two decades in the making. Latrell Sprewell had to go because, well, it was time.
Mitch Richmond did not have to go and never should have gone. His departure – and its effect on the franchise – is one of the criminally underpublicized narratives in Warriors history.
Trading Mitch in 1991 crushed Richmond at the time and was the beginning of the end for the best roster to operate under Don Nelson in Oakland.
"I never should have traded Mitch," Nelson told me many times over the years, as recently as 2008. "That’s one I’ll always regret."
Richmond is certain to allude to the trade during his Hall of Fame induction speech this weekend. He joins Mullin in the hallowed hallways of Springfield, Mass. Three other Warriors – player and coach Al Attles, and guards Guy Rodgers and Sarunas Marciulionis – also will be inducted.
Richmond owns the shiniest player credentials of the bunch. For most of the 1990s, he was the best big guard in the league not named Michael Jordan. Richmond was a complete player, marvelous on offense and tenacious on defense, as reliable and maintenance-free as a Rolex. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, he was, for the now generation, a splendid combination of Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson – with defensive aptitude of a young Tony Allen.
Richmond was Jordan’s toughest opponent, according to Jordan himself.
[YAHOO: Mitch Richmond is a Hall of Famer]
Nelson’s Warriors were coming off a 44-38 season in 1990-91 and went to the following training camp with one of the league’s most exciting teams. The ’91 team would feature third-year point guard Tim Hardaway, seventh-year small forward Chris Mullin and Richmond, in his fourth season. Run-TMC was about to blast off.
And on Nov. 1, mere hours before the Warriors would open the season at Denver, Nelson traded Richmond (and rarely used big man Les Jepsen) to the Kings for the rights to 6-9 forward Billy Owens. Nelson wanted more size. Though Owens had solid all-around skills, he was nobody’s Mitch Richmond.
Richmond was angry and deeply hurt. Those emotions drove him to become a six-time All-Star in Sacramento.
The Warriors got better immediately, winning 55 games that season. Hoping to replace Richmond, they drafted Sprewell in ’92. The following year, they acquired a power forward named Chris Webber – the No. 1 overall pick in the ’93 draft – in exchange for the rights to Penny Hardaway and three future draft picks.
As good as the Warriors were with a Hardaway-Sprewell-Mullin-Owens-Webber lineup, the thought of a Hardaway-Richmond-Mullin-Anybody-Webber lineup ignites every corner of the imagination.
Webber’s chief influences as a rookie were Sprewell and Owens, who wrested the locker room from Mullin and Hardaway. That would not have happened with Richmond in place. More to the point, Mitch’s presence would have meant no Owens and no need for Sprewell.
Webber hypothetically would have joined Run-TMC and, I believe, meshed with three truly dedicated teammates. The veteran trio likely would have kept Nelson-Webber from reaching the point of ice-cold war and, eventually, the Webber trade demand and resolution that put the franchise in an extended tailspin.
When looking back at infamous Warriors deals, moving Mitch is at or near the top.
Chamberlain was traded because his value outgrew the payroll capacity of then-owner Franklin Mieuli. Webber was traded because he demanded it. Sprewell was traded because he choked the coach.
Richmond was traded because Nelson thought it would improve the team and because he had the authority to do so. It made sense on some level.
Nelson has long known better. We all know better. Seeing Richmond’s very deserving induction into the Hall reminds us of what might have been.