Warriors trade J-Rich, pick up Wright, Belinelli on draft day

Updated: June 29, 2007, 1:24 AM ET
Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Golden State Warriors welcomed two young talents and said goodbye to an old favorite on NBA draft day.

The Warriors traded guard Jason Richardson to the Charlotte Bobcats on Thursday night for the rights to North Carolina forward Brandan Wright, the eighth overall pick.

Golden State also selected Italian guard Marco Belinelli with the 18th pick, adding another athletic scorer who might thrive in the Warriors' uptempo game.

Richardson's departure had been rumored for months, ever since coach Don Nelson sometimes struggled to fit the six-year veteran into his schemes. But Richardson was the Warriors' most popular player during their lean years before last spring's playoff run, making his departure bittersweet for top executive Chris Mullin.

"He's been one of my favorite guys," Mullin said. "I think he's given his heart and soul to us, and that's the tough part about this job, when you have to make a decision like that. You know it's the right decision for the team to get better, but when you get close to somebody, it's hard."

Richardson has spent all six of his NBA seasons with the Warriors, but returned slowly from knee surgery last winter while Golden State built the team that ended the franchise's 12-year playoff drought. He averaged 16.0 points and 6.7 rebounds in 51 regular-season games, then scored 19.1 points in 11 playoff games.

Mullin repeatedly said he wouldn't trade Richardson, who has four years and about $50 million left on his contract. But the chance to land a big-name prospect at power forward -- all while clearing salary-cap room and increasing prospects for future trades -- proved irresistible.

"It definitely frees us up and gives us flexibility," said Mullin, who acknowledged recent conversations with the Minnesota Timberwolves while they shopped forward Kevin Garnett.

"I've always felt like (if we) have to go 16-4 or 9-1 (to finish the season) just to get into the playoffs, we need to improve -- not just today, but going forward. This will allow us to do that."

Mullin's stance should keep Golden State fans attuned to trade rumors throughout the summer, with Garnett clearly the top prize available.

Wright was one of the top prospects in the draft after averaging 14.7 points per game and making nearly 65 percent of his shots as a freshman with the Tar Heels. His athletic ability should fit well with the Warriors, who love his shot-blocking and rebounding acumen.

"I can see him and Andris (Biedrins) taking care of that basket for us and outrunning forwards," said Mullin, who wants the skinny Wright to add muscle before camp opens in October. "It addressed an immediate need, but also his long-term future I think is just tremendous."

After ditching his Bobcats cap at draft headquarters in New York, Wright pronounced himself thrilled to head to the West Coast.

"I think I fit in great," said Wright, the Atlantic Coast Conference's rookie of the year and tournament MVP. "They like to play the uptempo style, try to use a lot of forwards, a lot of pieces -- you know, guys that can really run the court. I can get up and down and play with a lot of guys that flourish in the open court."

In the second round, Golden State chose Alabama forward Jermareo Davidson with the 36th pick, but quickly traded him to Charlotte in the deal for Wright. The Warriors then selected Massachusetts forward Stephane Lasme -- another talented defensive player -- with the 46th selection.

The 21-year-old Belinelli had been playing professionally in Bologna since 2002, and he starred for the Italian national team in last year's world championships -- including a standout game against the U.S. team. His pedigree and performances intrigued Mullin, who visits Italy regularly during scouting missions.

"He's a young shooter, slasher, scorer, athletic guy who I've watched for a few years," Mullin said. "I think he's going to fit our system perfect. He can handle the ball well ... and play a little point forward. He's another guy that can go out there and put the ball in the basket."

Belinelli has three seasons remaining on his contract with Fortitudo Bologna, but has an escape clause to join the Warriors.

"I think that I am a good shooter -- a streaky shooter, but I know I can play," Belinelli said. "I can do everything. I can put the ball on the floor and go to the basket. I can play on the ball, and I can play defense."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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