Whatever The Warriors’ Plan, It Doesn’t Involve Jordan Poole
11:20 AM EDT on June 23, 2023
There are any number of ways to look at the second biggest story of Thursday’s National Basketball Association carnaval de novidades, namely the face-melting trade of Chris Paul to the Golden State Warriors, to attempt to answer that age-old question: What happens when philosophically fast gets in bed with aggressively slow?
There is the historical piece, in which two old rivals are suddenly yet inevitably joined as soulmates. There is the financial piece, in which luxury tax evasion takes on exciting new forms. There is the comprehensive teardown angle, in which the Washington Wizards have gone all-in on membership in the Patriot League; and there is the acknowledgement that Stephen Curry has earned the right to go out in several years on his own terms, with his own age bracket of friends, in search of a thumb ring that he doesn't actually need for legacy purposes.
But then there is the Jordan Poole story, which is not a cautionary tale only because it is so structurally bizarre. What it will be is little noted nor long remembered after this season because as weird as Poole’s time was in San Francisco, it will still not match the hellscape of the Wizards, and he will confront another old age-old conundrum, "Can money and minutes overcome irrelevance and anonymity?"
And before you get all up in your moods, this isn't really about Poole and his talents as much as his place inside a whirlwind that took him from draft anonymity to the cusp of stardom, rewarded him for being exactly what he has always been as a player, then punished him for still being that player, and then punished him again for being rewarded.
Poole was the collateral damage in the Paul trade, and as much as the star-drivers who cover the league want to make it about Paul and Curry, there is also the very real feeling that the Warriors did this in significant part to get out from under not only Poole's money but his game as well. He was the 28th pick who looked like every other 28th pick, and things got weird. First, he found an intriguing niche as a one-skill guy on a team that relied on multi-skilled players, was at his best when he was a starter on a team that needed him to come off the bench, he was named as the heir apparent to the throne while the king was still in power, and the defining piece in the Warriors youth movement that couldn't rationally begin until Curry leaves.
Then he got paid. Then he got punched. Then he got pounded for still not being a good defender, ballhandler, passer, or sixth man, and ultimately for being what people condemned him as when he came out of Michigan: a shooter, first last and always, set up to be defined by his shooting percentage. He went from being an integral part of a championship team in 2022 to a contractual anvil in 2023. He is that strangest of ex-Warriors—the success who got paid because of his game, and then got banished for getting paid because of his game.
And Poole is not just any ex-Warrior, either, but a Wizard—currently the darkest corner of the NBA diaspora, a team at ground zero and armed with a truck full of shovels to see what lies beneath. Poole will get all the starts, minutes, and shots he can eat, which is all he ever wanted in Golden State, but now the fruit of his endeavors will be there for all to see and none to notice.
Does he deserve this fate? Well, it isn't ever about what you deserve at this level of the capitalist teeter-totter, but what you get, and you make peace with the $32 million per year as best you can. Maybe his career arc would be different if he didn't talk his way onto the end of Draymond Green's arm. That story has yet to be fully supplied, though the result remained the same; the oft-told tales of Warrior chemistry turned out to be just another blown-up laboratory, and confronted with a choice between a known past with a limited shelf life and a future fraught with future-y things, the Warriors have chosen familiarity. And you can't blame them, really, because the real choice is always going to be what is best for W.S. Curry.
Their benighted attempt to get young while aging has now failed twice, the other error being James Wiseman, the big man of their dreams who could neither change his game nor stay healthy until he did, and was eventually exiled to Piston Siberia. Their two-track plan to stretch the dynasty for the rest of the decade is now down to Jonathan Kuminga, who was rumored to be available yesterday, Moses Moody, who dipped in and out of their planning, and now Brandin Podziemski, last night's draft pick who will attempt to impersonate Donte DiVincenzo.
The Warriors are thus their own weird shop: demonstrably status quo on the floor and a fully morphing front office. The new general manager, Mike Dunleavy The Younger, made the phone calls that turned into Paul, but in no other way is imagined to be running the shop as former GM Bob Myers did until he left for either money reasons or not-money reasons, though the safe bet is that it was money reasons because he said it wasn't for money reasons. Joe Lacob, the very in-the-room owner, has signed off (or guided) the team's detransition from time-released youth movement to go-with-what-we-know until Curry joins the LIV tour, Klay Thompson becomes a dog breeder in New Mexico, Draymond Green offers to wrestle Kenny Smith naked on the Inside The NBA set as a 2028 ratings-grabber for a dying industry, and Chris Paul becomes Adam Silver's front man when Silver tires of explaining things like Bobby Sarver and Jimmy Dolan.
And Poole will be a Washington Wizard until he is Indiana Pacer, a Utah Jazz, a Charlotte Hornet, and eventually a Las Vegas Roulette, because he is about to begin his true career as a 13-year journeyman who rallied from a humble beginning, knew a moment of glory that seemed like the start of forever but turned out just to be a better-paid humble beginning.