2

Brandan Wright gets a start

UPDATE: Ah, the dangers of reporting from shootaround. After being told that Baron felt a little sore after Tuesday’s game and was not a big fan of the floor at the Stan Sheriff Center, Nelson decided to give him Thursday night’s game off.

In his place, the Warriors will give Stephen Jackson what he said is his first career start at the point.

“Gotta have those track shoes on,” Jackson announced to the locker room when told of the change.

“I’m not going to play (Davis) in every preseason game . . . I want to see Jack at the point anyway,” Nelson said. “I’m so strong at the (shooting guard) and (small forward) positions, that’s another option I have if Baron goes out. It’s an experiment.”

Matt Barnes will start at small forward.

Honolulu update from shootaround Thursday afternoon: Rookie Brandan Wright is slated to make his professional debut tonight. Don Nelson said he was going to start Wright in place of Al Harrington at the power forward position so he could see how Wright fared with the first team.

“It’s been a lot buildup,” Wright said. “I’m happy to get going on the court. It’s just like being a baby again: You’ve got to crawl before you can walk.”

Patrick O’Bryant will open at center in place of Andris Biedrins, who’s being held out with a sprained big toe on his left foot. The other three spots remain the same: Baron Davis, Kelenna Azubuike and Stephen Jackson.

Nelson said he also is planning on getting three other rookies who did not appear in Tuesday’s game — forwards Stephane Lasme and Carlos Powell and center Kosta Perovic — in tonight’s contest. Monta Ellis remains out with a sprained neck.

– Geoff Lepper

5

2008 Most Improved Player Award

I know it’s early, but I’m going to stake my claim now. I’ve been touting this dude since the first time I saw him play. He will be a complete player. Physically, he’s a force. He can also shoot, rebound, defend, drive and create on his own. The only thing I haven’t seen from him yet, which I would expect is coming based on his skill set, is his ability to create for others, which the Warriors don’t need that as much from him with Baron and Jackson on the roster. I think he’s the next Jason Richardson, but more skilled with ball-handling and not as good in the post. He’s a good guy, he works hard and he’s humble.
The 2008 MIP is none other than Kelenna Azubuike.

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See, he’s already got the ladies all over him.

4

Warriors 111, Lakers 110

More hijacking. The Warriors’ exhibition debut Tuesday night ended too late to get anything in the paper, so here’s some quick thoughts from the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu:

** You remember that scene in “Rocky” where Apollo Creed’s trainer watches Rocky busting the ribs on sides of beef and realizes this guy really means business? That’s what Kelenna Azubuike’s first-quarter performance was like: 14 points, 5-for-6 shooting, 2-for-2 from deep, five rebounds. He finished with a game-high 27 points, flinging himself into the lane several times in the fourth quarter when the Warriors had no other offensive options, and nine boards. Marco Belinelli suddenly has an uphill battle on his hands. “It was a hell of a showing for a first game,” Stephen Jackson said. “A lot of people were saying, ‘What are we going to do about (losing) J-Rich?’ I think Buke answered that.”

** Of course, Azubuike wasn’t the only thing hopping in that first quarter. With all five starters in, the Warriors just ran the Lakers off the floor, 41-20. Not only did Golden State shoot 15-for-23 in the quarter, but it forced Kobe Bryant into four turnovers and no points. Ridiculous. “It was so easy, those first minutes, we thought that our season only ended a couple of days ago, because everybody already knew what to do, where to pass the ball, where to help each other (defensively),” Andris Biedrins said. “It was a really good feeling.”

** Who are you and what have you done with Patrick O’Bryant? The 7-footer wearing uniform No. 26 bore no resemblance to the O’Bryant of last season. This year’s model more than held his own against young Lakers big man Andrew Bynum and starting center Chris Mihm, finishing with 12 rebounds and three blocks. Coach Don Nelson, who challenged O’Bryant to prove himself in preseason games, said: “That’s the best I’ve ever seen him play.”

** Troy Hudson’s definitely seems 100 percent healthy, if the way he was hounding rookie Javaris Crittenton is any indication. And, oh yeah, he looked pretty good on that game-winning 20-footer.

** At 32, Austin Croshere may be the oldest Warrior under contract for this season, but still has some spring in those legs, as witnessed by a brutal third-quarter jam. And give him credit for setting the screen that freed up Hudson to get the inbounds pass on the game’s final play.

** Posting up Jackson was a focus of the game plan, and it worked to perfection. He had eight points on only three shots (4-for-4 from the line) and five assists against one turnover is maximum efficiency.

** By the way, sitting next to the Warriors’ bench (a luxury we writers are no longer afforded at the Oracle Arena) made it clear how much coaching Davis and Jackson are doing from the bench. Davis is especially looking after Belinelli, constantly offering advice.

** Biedrins sat out the second half with a sprained big toe on his left foot. It’s not known if it’ll keep him for playing on Thursday.

** Fox Sports Net reporter Matt Steinmetz was showered with affection from the stands by Warriors die-hards who shouted “Let’s go, Matt!” during one of his on-screen appearances.

– Geoff Lepper

3

Wheeeeeeew!

That was scary. I got word about Monta’s injury at about 11 p.m. last night and my heart dropped. I could hardly sleep. It seems it’s always those innocuous plays that lead to the devastating injuries. All I could think was he didn’t get his big contract first.
Monta is really a good kid. He’s come through a lot to get where he is and he has such a bright future ahead – and not just as a basketball player. He could use a couple slices of humble pie, but you can expect that from someone in his shoes.
I am truly glad and relieved it is just a neck sprain and he’ll be able to resume the life for which he was headed.

2

Monta OK with sprained neck

Greetings from Hawaii … since we’re having some technical difficulties getting this updated story on the Web, I thought I would hijack Marcus’ blog and post it here. It’s obviously great news for Monta and the Warriors:

By Geoff Lepper
STAFF WRITER

LAIE, Hawaii — Warriors guard Monta Ellis walked away from a Hawaii hospital late Friday night, just a few hours after suffering a frightening injury during practice that left him lying motionless on the floor of BYU-Hawaii’s gymnasium for more than half an hour.

Team spokesman Raymond Ridder said Ellis was diagnosed with a neck sprain after banging his head on the hip of teammate Brandan Wright during a five-on-five scrimmage nearly 90 minutes into the team’s eighth practice of training camp.

During his roughly three-hour stay in the hospital, Ellis underwent several tests, including an MRI and CAT scan, all of which proved normal, Ridder said. His status was termed “day-to-day” and he was not ruled out from next week’s exhibition games against the Los Angeles Lakers in Honolulu.

Ellis, the NBA’s reigning Most Improved Player, was injured when he tried to knife between two other players on a high screen-and-roll play beyond the top of the key. The play went awry when Ellis tried to squeeze between Wright, who had been setting a screen for him, and defender Austin Croshere.

After the contact with Wright’s hip, Ellis turned 180 degrees, appeared to look in the direction of Marco Belinelli, who had been covering Ellis on the play, and then slowly crumpled to the ground.

Ellis lay face-down, with his arms and legs extended, for 33 minutes until paramedics arrived at 7:58 p.m., carefully turned him over, strapped him to a backboard and wheeled him out of the Cannon Activities Center on a stretcher. Ellis’ only apparent movement during that time was some twitching in his right leg.

Ellis was taken to Castle Medical Center outside of Kailua, approximately 30 to 45 minutes away from the BYU-Hawaii campus.

Ridder said Ellis moved both arms and one leg while being strapped in for transport to the hospital and described him as conscious and speaking to teammates before being wheeled out, although players were not allowed to speak to the media directly.

The injury did not seem to be that serious initially. But as athletic trainer Tom Abdenour attended to Ellis, alarm over the situation grew. Abdenour could be seen stroking Ellis’ right arm, as though to check if the 21-year-old from Lanier High in Jackson, Miss., could feel his touch.

Concerned teammates stood around in a ragged circle until coaches instructed them to shoot free throws, presumably hoping to restore some normalcy to the situation. Team captain Baron Davis lay alongside Ellis for several minutes to offer comfort.

Ellis, who turns 22 in three weeks, is making $770,610 this season as he reaches the end of a three-year deal he signed following his selection in the second round (40 th overall) of the 2005 NBA draft. The expectation around the league has been that he will receive a significant raise — either from the Warriors or another team — as an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Ellis has a history of being able to bounce back from seemingly serious injuries. Ellis collided with Heat forward James Posey in a game in Miami on Dec. 23 and stayed down, nearly motionless, for several minutes before getting up and gingerly walking off the court. X-rays and an MRI were negative, and he ended up missing only five games.

During summer-league play last year, Ellis had to leave the arena on crutches after his right leg gave way underneath him. But that turned out to be nothing more serious than a sprained knee.

However, Ellis did have to pass on an invitation to serve on the scrimmage squad against Team USA this summer due to a back injury that forced him to stop working out for the better part of a month. Ellis chalked it up to a congenital problem and said that it was “nothing serious, nothing life-threatening, It ain’t gonna jeopardize my career.”

Contact Geoff Lepper at glepper@bayareanewsgroup.com

6

Training Camp Battles

The best training camps are usually the ones marked by competition. The Warriors have a few unknowns that need to be worked out and will make for quite some drama during their stay in Hawaii. So, all you prognosticators out there, who do you think will emerge from training camp victorious? Better yet, who are you pulling for?

Monta vs. Marco

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The departure of Jason Richardson leaves a void at the starting shooting guard spot. Monta figures to be the no-brainer, coming off his Most Improved Player Award-winning campaign last season. But Belinelli, a natural shooter, probably makes more sense. Not only do the Warriors need a good outside shooter to start, but Belinelli’s inexperience can be better masked in the starting lineup as opposed to the second unit. Ellis would give the Warriors proven production off the bench.

Mickael vs. Kelenna

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These two will be battling for the back-up swingman spot, behind Jackson. This spot usually turns out to get a lot of playing time when the Warriors go small. It will especially be valuable the first seven games of the season, with Jackson suspended.
Pietrus — the most experienced and playing for a contract — has to be considered the frontrunner. But don’t sleep on Kelenna, who has a better all-around game.

Patrick vs. Kosta

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Will either one of these players emerge as Andris Biedrins back-up? Can either of them prove to Nellie they are worth throwing out there for some rebounding and defense?

5

MP2′ll always have Paris?

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Talked to Happy Walters, one of Mickael Pietrus’ agents, Sunday afternoon and was told that MP is still in Paris and does not plan on attending today’s Media Day session at Warriors HQ.
This does NOT mean that Pietrus is staging a holdout; he can “sign” the Warriors’ one-year, $3.47 million qualifying offer by fax, if necessary. But it does cut things close in terms of making the start of training camp, which begins Tuesday at 10 a.m., Hawaii time.
Walters said he was “cautiously optimistic” something would be resolved for Pietrus in the next 24 hours, although he wouldn’t give any more details than that. One thing Walters ruled out was having Pietrus flee to play in Europe, a threat that was made last week in a Sporting News article by the agent for Cleveland Cavaliers guard Sasha Pavlovic, who’s stuck in the same restricted-free-agent vortex as Pietrus.
It’s still hard to see how this plays out as anything other than Pietrus signing the qualifying offer — after all, Chris Mullin has had months to OK a sign-and-trade, so why would he suddenly change his mind now? — but it appears discussions will go down to the absolute wire.

– Geoff Lepper