4

All in, or wait for the next hand?

I said it in my All-Star break summation, but it bears repeating: The Warriors haven’t been this close to the No. 1 seed in the West, this late in the season, since 1992. And ’91-’92 was their most successful season since ’75-’76, when they won a franchise-record 59 games.

So this appears to potentially be a once-every-16-years burst of greatness for the Warriors.

But will they make a deal to put themselves over the top before the trade deadline at noon on Thursday?

Now, no one’s banged the drum of “fiscal responsibility” over the last year harder than I have. Ever since the Indiana trade, I’ve said that the Warriors were saving their pennies for this summer, when they have to pay off Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins, and that they weren’t going to screw that up by taking on any deals that go beyond ’07-‘08.

That viewpoint is not just supposition. I’ve listened to Bobby Rowell say that the Warriors are simply not going to watch young talent like Ellis and Biedrins walk away over salary-cap/luxury-tax issues. I’ve had Chris Mullin tell me that if his team didn’t already feature Ellis and Biedrins, they’d be the exact kind of players for which he’d be scouring the league. I know the team won’t seriously consider taking on a contract unless it involves bringing in a player who’s going to push them to the Western Conference Finals or beyond.

I know all of that. But they’re so close to the top. So very close. These are the kind of heights that make men dizzy. And could lead to carefully laid plans getting thrown out the window.

If the Warriors were bumping around .500, lying 10, 11, 12 games off the pace of the No. 1 team, then the level of talent needed from an incoming player to push Golden State to the WCF would be on the order of a Kevin Garnett or Dirk Nowitzki.

Yet by posting the best record in the West since Nov. 15 (i.e., after the Jaxless 0-6 start), the definition of such a “difference-maker” becomes more elastic. Now, a guy like Memphis’ Mike Miller could conceivably be enough to get the job done. Miller, who is due $9 million next season and $9.75 in ’09-’10, is not without flaws (Defense? What is this “defense” of which you speak?). But he would be a pure shooter with unlimited range on a team that currently lacks one of those, yet still takes the most 3-pointers, by far, of any NBA squad.

Miller, however, appears to be one of those guys (like Milwaukee forward Charlie Villanueva, Marcus’ favorite pick) who will be dealt only if the acquiring team is willing to take a bad contract back (in Miller’s case, it’s the $13.05 million owed to Brian Cardinal over the next two seasons; for Villanueva, the tax is Bobby Simmons’ $20.5 million over two years).

I think the Warriors would seriously consider shipping out a package that includes players and/or a No. 1 draft pick in return for a second-tier “difference maker.” I think there’s basically no chance they’re going to take on a contract of the sort that Cardinal and Simmons have in order to get that guy.

Whatever the case, it’ll be fascinating to see how it all shakes out — not just for the Warriors, but the West as a whole.

– Geoff

15

Baron’s All-Star Hopes Still Alive?

It looks like Kobe Bryant’s hand is bothering him to the point he may be a scratch from the All-Star Game. He reaggravated his dislocated pinkie and has all but ruled out his presence in the 3-point shootout. He still hasn’t decided if he’ll play in the game, but the Los Angeles Times reported that Kobe has been telling teammates he’s not going to.
“We’d like him not to play,” Jackson said. “But that has to be a determination that’ll probably be medical more than anything else.”
If Kobe is too injured to play, the league could replace him. It’s commissioner David Stern’s call on who will replace him, but the big snub this year is B. Diddy. Kobe said he still planned on going to New Orleans regardless, something the league would love because of his appeal.

28

MP time: Almost at an end?

So Mickael Pietrus came right out and said it at practice Tuesday afternoon.

And said it, and said it, and said it…

In seven minutes of talk with the media, Pietrus didn’t go more than 20 seconds, on average, without using either the word “trade” or “move” to describe his fervent desire to play anywhere other than Oracle Arena.

“No matter where I go, I’ll prove myself and I’ll be a great player,” Pietrus said. “That’s all that’s on my mind right now. And I’ll be an All-Star, too.”

MP has popped off about playing time before, but this was hardly one of those situations. It was a clearly calculated attempt to force the hand of the Warriors, although it appears to have had little effect on the organization as a whole.

“I think it’s necessary to do a deal that’s good for the Warriors,” executive vice president Chris Mullin said when asked if the Warriors had no choice but to move MP. “That is necessary. . . . There’s a lot of things I’m willing to do, and I’ve been willing to do. But that does entail somebody else in that scenario.”

The problem remains the same as it’s been for months: Mullin and Pietrus’ agents are at loggerheads over what constitutes a fair deal. Bill McCandless and Happy Walters have flogged a lot of potential trades, but none of them have passed muster with the Warriors, who are looking for a very specific type of player — for the most part, either someone who’s going to take the team to the Western Conference finals or beyond, or someone who’s coming off the books this summer, so the money doesn’t get squeezed for Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins.

(Personally, I’m partial to Miami’s Jason Williams, but I’m not convinced the Warriors would be willing to use their $10 million trade exception on J-Will — nor am I convinced they’re enamored with Williams’ game in general.)

McCandless brought up an interesting point Tuesday: If Pietrus is worth so much to the Warriors when it comes to making a trade, why isn’t he on the floor more?

“(Pietrus) is either a contributor on your team — in which case he plays 25 minutes — or he’s not,” McCandless said. “If he’s not a contributor, why expect to get the same things in return?”

In Kawakami’s absence, here are the Q&A transcripts:

Mickael Pietrus:
I definitely want to be traded to another team that I can help at the 2/3 position. I think that it was good to play the 4/5, but it’s not really my primary spot, it’s not where I’m so efficient. So I want to move on. I think I came here, I worked my ass off for the team, and now it’s good that we have a playoff team and I feel like I need to move on and go somewhere else I can help the team right away.
(What if you’re still here on Feb. 22?)
I want to be traded. I want to be traded. I don’t think about after Feb. 21. I think about now, and I think for me it’s time to move on and go to a team that I can — as a player, you’re always looking to improve yourself and I feel like I need to prove myself and be a better player every day.
(Most players say, “I just want to play for a winning team.” You just called this a playoff team. Why leave?)
Because I feel like the 4/5, if you compare my statistics at the same time last year, before the trade, I was averaging 14, 15 points, and this year, they’re trying to move me to the 4/5, which is not my primary spot. I would like to get back to where I came from, like the 2/3, and play at a high level.
(Nellie says you’re playing better than earlier this season.)
I don’t feel like I’m playing more minutes, but I feel like when I step on the floor, I’m trying to be a professional and do the right thing for the team. I know I’m not going to stay on the floor for 40 minutes, so I’m trying to help the team the best way I can, but I feel like I need to move on and go to a team that wants me and wants to use me at the 2/3.
(You think the Warriors don’t want you?)
I never said they don’t want me. It’s nothing against the organization, it’s just always as a player you want to improve yourself and I feel like I need to move on.
(But doesn’t the fact they only made the one-year qualifying offer speak volumes?)
If you look at the team, the only tradable guy on the team is me, and I won’t mind that.
(What did Nellie say to you?)
Between coach and me, I think it was a private talk. He told me that he only has 10 minutes for me at the 2/3, and I’ve been through a lot this year, a lot of frustration, and when I was to play the 4/5. To me, to play just 10 minutes at the 3, it’s kind of tough. I’m trying to be as professional as I am, try to help the team the best way I can before I move on.
(Nellie said they’re not just going to trade you for the sake of a trade.)
I want to be moved. I want to be moved. I want to be moved. I want to be traded.
(Sad that it’s come to this?)
Since I came here, I’m a vet now, I gave the team a lot. We were a bad team five years ago, and I worked hard to put the team where they are now, and I feel like I’m ready to move on and look forward and get better.
(Happy with where Nelson has played you, or frustrated?)
I feel frustrated, because when you look at my statistics from last year, when I used to play the 2/3, I was averaging a lot of points and a lot of rebounds. But since he moved me to the 4/5, I’m not as efficient as I was. I’m trying to find myself at this point, but this team doesn’t belong to me. I think I’m better at the 2/3 and I can help the team better.
(If you leave, what would you take from Nelson?)
It’s no hard feelings against the Warriors, no hard feelings against anybody, no hard feelings against Chris Mullin. I feel like I want to improve my game from last year to this year, and for me it’s time to thank them and move on.
(If you had it to do over again, would you have stayed out instead of signing the qualifying offer?)
It’s a good qualifying offer. It wasn’t bad. I don’t think it’s a problem with the contract. I think it’s a problem where you give so much to the team last year and I was expecting more this year, and try to help my team and try to play at a high level and try to focus in. But I feel like for me, it’s just time to move on after five years. I gave so much, and I would like to thank everybody and be traded.
(Expecting “more” of what, exactly?)
In terms of playing time. It’s kind of tough when you play 10 minutes and you try to improve as a player. I know that I’m a better player, and I will be a great player.
(Did you try to convince Nelson to play you more at 2/3?)
No, I understand that we have a good vet in front of me in Stephen Jackson. It is no problem. But I feel like there’s more teams out there who would like to use me at the 2/3 and I feel like it’s time for me to move on.
No matter where I go, I’ll prove myself and I’ll be a great player. That’s all that’s on my mind right now. And I’ll be an All-Star, too. I told you before.

Don Nelson:
(What was the upshot of Mickael’s meeting with you?)
Real simple. It was nothing I didn’t know. His agent asked him to see me so he could put the quote in the paper that he did. Anyway, he did.
(Problems with guys playing for contracts?)
No, actually, it was getting better (with Pietrus).
(How so?)
Well, at least he’s playing know, playing hard, playing the best he’s played all year right now. That hasn’t transformed to the games, but he’s working hard in practice, those kind of things.
(Was he pouting earlier this season?)
I wouldn’t say that. You call it what you want. I don’t really know. He has not had a good year.
(What did you tell him?)
I told him exactly what you would think I would tell him: That we’re not just going to trade him because he wants to be traded, and if we can get a player for him, we’ll trade him, and if we can’t, he’s gonna stay here. Real simple. It has to be somebody that we like, somebody that can help us. He’s an NBA player. I have to get an NBA player back for him that I like. I like Pietrus. When he’s playing, I like him. He played 26 minutes a game last year. Why are his minutes cut down? Because of his production. No other reason. I had him penciled in for at least 26, 28 minutes. Losing JR, you assume that he and Matt have to really step up for us to play well. Matt is just now starting to play, and so is Pietrus. I’m shocked we’ve don as well as we’ve done without those guys being major contributors. I think Monta, Baron, Jack, Pietrus, guys that are playing a majority of the minutes have done a really good job.
(What kind of problem will it be if he’s here Feb. 22?)
It would be no problem for me. I think it’d probably be a positive for him too, one way or the other, once the trade deadline has passed, and he’s either gonna be here for the year or he’s not. It’s gonna help him as well.
(Was the meeting the reason behind putting him at the 3?)
No. That’s a mental thing. He feels if he’s a 3, he can play better, so I made him a 3. There’s not a lot of minutes there, however; Jack plays 40 minutes at the 3.
(He played some 4 last year.)
It didn’t change. It’s just in his mind. I don’t know.

– Geoff

27

Monta’s a Stud

I hope you all are paying close attention. If you are, you’re witnessing Monta Ellis take his game to another level.
He’s not just scoring because the other team is focused elsewhere. He’s not just living off the exploits of Stephen Jackson and Baron Davis. He’s making it happen independent of his teammates, sometimes even in spite of.
He carried the Warriors against the Kings tonight. Literally. He has scored 56 points on 22-for-26 from the floor his last two games. One thing I don’t understand is, when someone is going like that, why is Jackson and Davis taking more shots than Monta? Both nights they did. Shouldn’t they be feeding the hot hand. Monta is on fire.

12

Q&A with Marcus

Editor’s note: This is the first of what should turn into a regularly scheduled online “chat” with Marcus Thompson II, the Bay Area News Group’s NBA writer and author of the “Inside the Warriors” blog.

Joe T.: What’s your opinion about the Warriors’ playoff chances this year?

Marcus Thompson II: They are much better than at the beginning of
the season. I just knew the Warriors were going to finish 10th in the West. Now, I’m
not so sure. They are better than Denver. They are better than Portland (despite
their 0-2 record against the Blazers). They are better than Houston. Usually, the
better teams prevail. Will it be a dog fight? Sure. Could they end up in the draft
lottery? Absolutely. But with the way they play on the road, I think they have as
good a chance as anyone.

Ron: What would it take to get Ron Artest from the Kings, and do you
think it would be a good move?

Marcus Thompson II: I would offer Mickael Pietrus and Patrick
O’Bryant, and one or two draft picks. But I would not be at all surprised if
Sacramento just decided they were not going to help a Pacific Division rival. Since
there will be other teams bidding for Artest’s services, such as Denver, they could
get something good for him without helping a foe. The Warriors would have to really
sweeten the deal, make it a no-brainer. The only way I see them doing that is with
picks. I don’t think they’ll give up Brandan Wright or Marco Belinelli or Kelenna
Azubuike for Artest, because he could opt out and be gone at season’s end. If they
did manage to get him, I like the move. Artest is usually pretty good the first few
months after a trade because he is focused and has something to prove. If that
pattern flies, he’ll be on good behavior for the stretch run and play good ball. That
will only motivate him to opt out, as he’s only scheduled to make $7.4 million next
season, pretty low for his production. The Warriors could end up signing him, if they
really like him, or just renting him. Even if Artest doesn’t opt out, it won’t be
costing the Warriors much. Either way, they’ve added another talented piece without
sacrificing the core..

Goldy Fan: Why did the Warriors sign Chris Webber when they could
have just let Brandan Wright play more?

Marcus Thompson II: Coach Don Nelson doesn’t believe Wright is ready
to contribute right now, especially not while the team is fighting for a playoff
spot. It’s hard to disagree with him. At best, Wright could give the Warriors spot
minutes, energy off the bench. That certainly would help his development. But the
Warriors need a playmaker. They need someone who can draw a double team and make
things happen. Wright isn’t there yet. Webber, they are hoping, is.

NateDogg: Did Nelson sign Webber just to repair some old wounds?

Marcus Thompson II: I don’t think so. Nellie is old, rich andaccomplished. He doesn’t care about that type of stuff. He could repair therelationship with Webber on his own time. Nellie is concerned about winning and
making money. Believe it.

Craig, Oakland: In your opinion, will the Warriors shop Mickael
Pietrus before the trade deadline?

Marcus Thompson II: Will they? They’ve been shopping him since the
offseason, probably before that. I’m not sure whether the Warriors want too much for
MP2, or if he just has no value on the trade market. For sure they’ve been shopping
him though, and will continue to shop him. Knowing Mullin, though, he won’t pull the
trigger unless it’s a deal he likes.

Stan, Walnut Creek: Will having the TPE (traded player exception) be
any help for the Warriors come deadline time or are too many teams scared of the
luxury tax?

Marcus Thompson II: It isn’t that other teams are afraid of the
luxury tax, as several are willing to pay it. It’s that the Warriors don’t want to
pay it. Team president Robert Rowell has said time again that the team will pay the
tax. But it has to be worth it. They would’ve paid the tax for Kevin Garnett. They’ll
probably pay the tax for another core piece if management was convinced that player
would push the Warriors to another level. They won’t do it, I don’t think, for a
quick fix. If I had to guess, I’d say that TPE expires on June 28 without the
Warriors using it.

Kory K.: In looking toward the playoffs, which team do the Warriors
match up with the best?

Marcus Thompson II: The obvious answer is Dallas. The Mavericks have
no answer for Baron Davis, while the Warriors have an answer for Dirk Nowitzki. But I
would be leery about seeing Dallas again, if I were the Warriors. Revenge is a great
motivator. So, with that said, I would go with Houston or Phoenix. Houston because
they can’t keep up with the Warriors. They don’t have the firepower to last in a
seven-game series. And Phoenix because the Warriors can run with them, even out run
them, because they don’t play any defense. It would be a high-scoring affair. I would
say the Warriors _ especially now that the Suns have replaced Shawn Marion with Shaq
_ have more firepower.

W’s4Ever: Will Monta Ellis ever become a big-time point guard?

Marcus Thompson II: No. He’ll become a big-time combo guard. Think
Allen Iverson or Gilbert Arenas, not Steve Nash or Chris Paul. Point guards are born.
They have intangibles you can’t learn, such as vision, a relationship with the ball
(in regards to dribbling), innovation and spontaneity. Monta doesn’t have that. He
has an innate ability to put the ball in the hole, though. And he can defend point
guards. That’ll make him a really good, if not great, player for years to come. But
not a big-time point guard.

BDiddy21: Are the Warriors REALLY trying to trade for Ron Artest?
Why! Wouldn’t he just create more trouble than he’s worth?

Marcus Thompson II: As I said before, it would more than likely be a
quick fix, which the Warriors prefer. They don’t want to bring in someone who will
eat up cap for the future, unless that guy is going to be part of the core. Artest
would come in and make the Warriors better immediately. Then he’ll likely opt out.
The Warriors would possibly talk to him about re-signing, but if the price is too
high, he walks, and both sides get what they want. Artest gets a chance to play for
something in March and April, and maybe even May and June. The Warriors get a good
playoff run before making some difficult roster decisions.

MagicMan: Will Chris Webber be happy playing limited minutes and a
limited role, or do you expect him to whine about not getting enough shots?

Marcus Thompson II: I don’t know Webber enough to answer that
question. But I know enough to know not to buy into what he’s saying. He’s saying all
the right things. But Webber is charming, very personable and smart. He understands
how to play the media game because he’s been around the block awhile. What was he
supposed to say? “If I don’t get 30 minutes, all hell will break loose.” Webber is
smarter than that. He said what he wanted us to hear. That doesn’t mean he’ll whine.
But it certainly doesn’t mean he won’t.

Oaktown510: Read your blog about going after Shawn Marion. I’m all
for it. Now, do you think it’s realistic?

Marcus Thompson II: The Lakers just got Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown.
Miami just unloaded $40 million worth of an out-of-shape, injured, aging man onto
Phoenix. It is realistic, more realistic than before as Phoenix wouldn’t want to help
the Warriors. Miami, on the other hand, should have no reservations and may want to
pick up a couple of players and some picks instead of letting Marion opt out and walk
for nothing.

10

Somebody Guard Chris Duhon?

Here’s my one knock on Baron. He turns it on and off.
Part of it is because he’s so good. The game really does come “Too Easy” to him. Part of it is because he carries such a big load for this team, and it’s practically impossible to have it “on” all the time. But part of it is because he’s not mature enough of a point guard to not overlook lesser opponents.
Duhon has 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting. He scored his season high in 10 minutes. Monta was matched up with him. But I give Baron some of the blame for that. Monta loses focus on defense. He gets lost in the shuffle when he’s competing against a less heralded guy. He spent the first quarter losing sight of Duhon, waiving at him instead of running out to contest his shot. Remember Monta was a pesky defender? He is when he wants to be. Assuredly, he can turn it on in a blink just as Baron. But it’s a bad habit for such a young talent.
Baron is the king of that. B.D. lifts his play against the best PGs, and coasts against the lesser ones. From eyes, Monta is picking up that habit.
Baron should go for 40 regularly against some of the other point guards in this league. He should be averaging double-digits in assists. He is undefendable one-on-one, and against many double teams. But he coasts when he’s not motivated, and he bails out the defense too much with jumpers. He relaxes on defense against the no-name PGs in the league.
When Baron gets to the point where he can play at an All-Star level no matter who he’s going against, he’ll be in the Hall of Fame. Let’s hope that starts while he’s playing alongside Monta.