OAKLAND – Unless the Golden State Warriors, the Houston Rockets and the Chinese basketball federation do something crazy in the final hours before the NBA draft, everyone expects Mike Dunleavy to be wearing the Warriors’ cap.
Dunleavy is expected be chosen by Golden State on Thursday night with the third overall pick in the draft. The 6-foot-9 Duke junior forward all but clinched it by choosing to remain in the draft last week after meeting with Warriors officials.
But the last-minute shenanigans around 7-foot-5 Chinese center Yao Ming’s draft status have thrown the entire event into turmoil, with the Rockets trying not to flinch at the possibility Yao won’t be allowed to play in the NBA next season.
If Yao’s paperwork isn’t completed on time, the Rockets may change selections or entertain offers for their pick. If they do, the Warriors might figure out a way to land Duke point guard Jay Williams, the player they wanted all along.
But the intrigue in Oakland won’t stop with the team’s first pick. If no way to draft Williams materializes, the Warriors still will hunt for a point guard, perhaps through a widely rumored deal with a team choosing midway through the first round. Golden State also has the first pick of the second round.
“We’ve had some very good workouts, not only with very good talent, but with very good people,” Warriors general manager Garry St. Jean said. “I know we’ll get a good, exciting player who’s going to be a big part of this franchise.”
After finishing 21-61 last season and missing the playoffs for the league-worst eighth straight season, the Warriors likely need a player who can help immediately with their top pick.
After Yao and Williams, most NBA observers consider Dunleavy the top talent available in a forward-heavy draft — and on paper, he’s a particularly good fit for the Warriors.
With his smooth outside shooting, innate court sense and impressive athleticism, he’s expected to become the Warriors’ starting small forward, allowing Antawn Jamison to move to power forward and obviating the need for Danny Fortson, a rebounding demon who can’t score and rarely plays good defense.
Fortson possibly could be included in a deal to land the point guard desperately needed by the Warriors. They gave up on Larry Hughes at the spot last season, which ended with talented swing guard Gilbert Arenas leading the offense.
The Warriors are known to be talking with teams who have a shot at the handful of talented point guards available midway through the first round. Among the candidates are Gonzaga’s Dan Dickau, Illinois’ Frank Williams, Memphis’ Dajuan Wagner, Fordham’s Smush Parker and Cincinnati’s Steve Logan.
Philadelphia, choosing at No. 16 overall, might be willing to pick a point guard for Golden State in a trade that might return the 2005 first-round pick the Warriors got from the 76ers in last season’s trade of Vonteego Cummings.
“Obviously, everyone writes about the point guard position for us,” Warriors assistant general manager Gary Fitzsimmons said. “But the reality is, sometimes you can’t get the ultimate that you want.”
No matter the results of the draft, changes already are taking place in Oakland. The Warriors aren’t expected to make a qualifying offer to Hughes, who lost two starting jobs in the backcourt last season to rookies Jason Richardson and Arenas, by the June 30 deadline.
Instead of extending the $2.9 million offer needed to keep Hughes, acquired from Philadelphia two seasons ago to be one of the franchise’s cornerstones, the Warriors likely will let him walk to another team for no compensation.