Report Card: Swingmen

The Warriors have a wealth of small forward/shooting guards. Last year, this position was one of the team’s great strengths. It was where the Warriors versatility lied. It was the position their best defenders played. This year, they weren’t so good. The Warriors, with the way they play, need swingmen who produce consistently. One of the reasons for the lineup shuffling was the inconsistent production of the swingmen.

Stephen Jackson: He had a career year. He averaged 20 points for the first time in his career. He averaged four assists for just the second time in his career (both coming with the Warriors). He shot his best percentage from 3-point range ever. He averaged 39 minutes, five more than last season. His previous career high was 36.8. So Jackson certainly had a big year. He wasn’t as good defensively this season as he was last season. He wasn’t the stopper he proved to be a year ago, and he didn’t make it to the defensive end way too many times. That is mostly due to the amount of minutes he played.
Grade: A

Mickael Pietrus: He was the distraction this year – not Baron’s health, not Jackson’s temper, not Monta or Biedrins’ contract. But Pietrus’ contract issues and trade demands, then late-season injury woes, was the biggest locker room issue. That’s a sign of a good locker room.
His play picked up late in the season, negating a horrible first half of the season. He evidently relaxed when the trade deadline passed. What he gained with stellar bench play, he lost with an elongated groin injury.
Grade: D

Matt Barnes: He just didn’t bring it this year. He has reasons. His mother dying. The disappointment of not getting the deal he wanted plus the pressure of trying to do even more to get a bigger contract. Nellie riding him. Barnes certainly had distractions this season and they obviously took away from his play. Not only did he shoot drop three points off his scoring average from last season, and dropped from 36.6 percent from 3 a year ago to 29.3. But he didn’t have the zeal on defense, the all-out hustle, the blue-collar, do it all resolve he showed last season, especially during the playoffs.
Grade: D

Kelenna Azubuike: He improved this season. He played more, raised his scoring and rebounding averages. Came up with some big plays. Solidified himself as an NBA regular. He did have some growing pains. He stepped out of his role too much, especially down the stretch, and he wasn’t as consistent from behind the arc. His defense was poor sometimes, but that could be expected from a second-year player. He’s cheap, so his production looks a whole lot better and his mistakes are a way easier to swallow.
Grade: B-


Report Card: Big Men

The few the Warriors do have, at least the ones who played did well. I know that sounds odd, considering the Warriors routinely get beat on the boards and pounded inside and give up easy layups. But the big men the Warriors did what they do well. To me, it is unfair to ask Biedrins to be an enforcer. It’s not fair to ask Al Harrington to protect the basket. It’s not fair to ask Patrick O’Bryant to run the floor. These players have never done that. I wouldn’t blame them for not providing the inside presence the Warriors’ need, but management.

Andris Biedrins: He was great this year. Led the league in field goal percentage, nearly averaged a double-double. This is despite being down low by himself in most situations. That has to be a tough job rebounding 1 against 4.
Grade – A

Al Harrington: He had the difficult task of being a spot-up shooter, something he’s never done before. I was encouraged by the fact he took it upon himself to diversify his game — shaking a fist of rebellion in the face of Nellie. He should have rebounded better, though. His average dropped (from 6.4) to 5.4 per game. Though he would have a hard time rebounding from the perimeter, that shouldn’t impact his defensive rebounding. Plus, he shot his worst field goal percentahe (43.4) since 2002-03. It was a tough year for Al. His ppg and minutes dropped, too. Some of that had to do with Nellie.
Grade: C-

Austin Croshere: He was big in spots this year when he did play. He often was key energy off the bench. But his shot was suspect (sorry, I expected him to be a shooter). His back is jacked up, so what he gave despite his injury was considerable.
Grade: B-

Brandan Wright: He was surprisingly further along than I thought. He was labeled a project so much during the draft that I was thinking he wouldn’t be able to contribute. He turned out to be better than expected. He knows how to use his length and athleticism. He brings energy on both ends and does what he can do, which is about what you should expect from a rookie. Grade: B

Chris Webber: Poor guy. He was set up to fail. He should’ve known better.
Grade: Inc.

Kosta Perovic: Now, he is as raw as expected. He is big and long, which definitely fits the Warriors need. He looks pretty skilled, but he is slow.
Grade: Inc.

Patrick O’Bryant: I don’t think he is as bad as he looks. He’s just really a bad fit for here. This is a fast team that wears it’s emotions on his sleeve. He’s too slow and he doesn’t LOOK like he’s trying hard enough. He has some offensive skills and he can protect the rim – if his confidence is up. It hasn’t been since he’s been in Golden State. Grade: D


Report Card: Coaching Staff

Last season, I considered Nellie a legitimate Coach of the Year candidate. This season – though the team added 6 wins to it’s record from last year – I don’t think he did as good a job. As a matter of fact, I think he had as much of a hand in the Warriors missing the playoffs as anyone. That said, he did a solid job. I don’t know how many coaches could squeeze 48 wins out of this roster. I thought they’d get 42 or 43 wins and miss the playoffs. I wasn’t sold on the hype, so Nellie gets credit for making the Warriors practically a 15-win team.

The assistant coaches, from what I could tell, had a big hand in keeping that locker room from falling apart. They did the ego massaging and explaining that Nellie wouldn’t.

• 48-34 record
• Nurtured Ellis into a productive force despite his obvious flaws. Though Nellie believes Monta’s brightest future is at PG, he didn’t stubbornly stick to that and went with a small backcourt. Turning Monta loose was at SG was key to the team’s success
• Same thing applies for Biedrins. Nellie would much rather a center who can shoot from outside. But he, instead, milked Biedrins for what he could bring. He probably shouldn’t get kudos for that, as that is what coaches do. But with Nellie’s judgemental coaching style, its worth mentioning
• Gave responsibility to Keith Smart, presumably the next head coach. Smart ran practices, led the huddle during timeouts, addressed the team in the locker room after games, etc. It is important that the players see Smart as head coach when he does take over, and Nellie helped make sure that happened by letting Smart spend some time in the big chair.

• Ran Baron and Jackson into the ground (and tried to run Monta in the ground) because of his lack of faith in reserves. Justified or not, you can’t play 82 games with seven players.
•He ruined a lot of players confidence, which is counterproductive to the task at hand. His irregular rotation and sharpe tongue didn’t bring out the most in everyone – namely Harrington, Barnes, Pietrus and Azubuike.
•Failed to get rookies of the future much-needed playing time, which means they’ll still be green next year (not so much B-Wright), just like Kelenna and Patrick were still raw this year. It’s hard to believe Belinelli and Watson couldn’t give anything if given some decent playing time.

One argument is that the Warriors won 48 games and that is a major plus. But another argument is that they misses the playoffs by a game because they couldn’t beat a suspect Denver team at home. Nellie is a major reason for both.
GRADE FOR COACHING STAFF: B- (the assistant coaches boosted it up from a C+


Report Cards: Management

Now is a good time for a thorough, honest evaluation since there has been time for emotions to subside and reflect on the entire season.
Let’s start with the decision makers, which primarily include Robert Rowell and Chris Mullin.

*Shed $10 million by trading Jason Richardson and got Brandan Wright and a $10M trade exception in the process
*Did not resort to past bad habits and overpay to keep free agents. By not offering lucrative deals to Mickael Pietrus Matt Barnes, by not giving large extensions to Baron Davis and Andris Biedrins, the Warriors are in a good position to make moves this offseason. They have the flexibility to keep Monta and may get bargain prices for Biedrins and Davis because of the market.
*Put Nellie in his place by not giving in to his demands, which means another dramatic hold-out is unlikely (better believe Nellie would do it again if he knew he would get what he wanted)
*Did not panic at trade deadline and use their $10M exception to take a bad contract. They now have it to use through the draft, which is probably the best time to use it all along.
*Wisely decided not to keep the Patrick O’Bryant experiment going
*Got good value at No. 18 in the draft in Belinelli

*The Chris Webber fiasco
*Putting together a suspect bench for Nellie
*Failed to nab Kevin Garnett!

I differ a bit from my colleague, Geoff Lepper, who gave Mullin a C+. I think his poor bench construction wasn’t that big of a deal. Instead, I think he understood that this year was a giveaway, that even if they made the playoffs, they wouldn’t do anything. It looked to me as if he made a strategic decision not to invest too much in the bench and keep the salary cap problems under control.
I do agree with Geoff in that the C-Webb signing was a complete joke.

What grade would you give Mullin & Co.?


Inside: The End

Emptying out the notebook at the sooner-than-expected conclusion to the Warriors’ season:

** Just as Don Nelson is unrepentant regarding l’affaire Baron, Chris Mullin is equally OK with the waste of time, money, energy and resources that was Chris Webber’s Warriors comeback. Before they signed him, I said on KNBR that “the guy can’t run,” and I saw no evidence to dispute that theory while he was with the Warriors.

The recognition of the need to add another rotation player to a rapidly tiring team was good; settling for a guy that clearly gummed up the works in his season debut – which just happened to be the Chicago loss on Feb. 7, a game where the visiting Bulls were missing their top three players – was not.

Nevertheless, Mullin gave an immediate “no” when asked if he thought the Webber fixation cost his team any games.

“I think we may have won that Boston game (because of Webber), actually,” Mullin said. “I thought he did a good job in that game (on Feb. 20). I thought he played well. Baron made that incredible shot, but I thought defensively, (Webber) helped us that night.”

** Mullin was in pretty good form, humor-wise, during his season-ending chat with print reporters on Wednesday. Among the highlights was his response to a reporter noting that Baron might want “17, 17, 17 and 17,” referring to a three-year extension on top of his $17.8 million salary for the upcoming season.

“That’s a good number,” Mullin said. “I like the number 17, especially if it wasn’t just my (uniform) number. If that was the going salary (when Mullin played), that’d be pretty sweet.”

As for who will represent the Warriors at the draft lottery on May 20, Mullin knows one thing – if past history with the event counts for anything, he won’t be the one in the chair in Secaucus, N.J.

“From that standpoint, I shouldn’t do it, because the first year they had it, it was the worst (outcome), the booby prize,” Mullin said, referring to the initial lottery of 1985, when the Warriors were denied a shot at No. 1 pick Patrick Ewing despite a league-worst 22-60 record and ended up with a certain lefty out of St. John’s. “They could have got (No.) 1 through 7, and they got 7. So I’m a bad candidate.”

** Nelson said last week that he made the determination as early as training camp that he’d have to ride the Baron/Jack/Monta triumvirate into the ground in order to compete for a playoff spot. What about guys like Austin Croshere and Troy Hudson, the veterans brought in to firm up the Nos. 9 and 10 spots on the roster? Couldn’t they have been some sort of stopgap measure?

“Do you have any idea who you’re talking about?” Nelson said. “Were you hoping that those guys rise up? They’re at the end of their careers, they were never great players anyway, and now you’re going to ask them to rise up and all of a sudden be something special? At best, they’re a good veteran.”

** The trade-Al-Harrington door swings both ways. While the team mulls over its future with Al – and decides whether his $9.2 million price tag might be better spent on other roster priorities – he will ponder if he wants to endure another season of Nelson’s pointed needling or wants to demand a change of address instead.

That’s not to say Harrington is undeserving of blame, but he certainly bore a disproportionate share of Nellie’s insults. And though Al is too much of a pro to ever admit it, it was clear from watching him that he’s frustrated at being the team’s designated whipping boy.

** Stephen Jackson gets the last word. Asked about the urgency to win during what Nelson says will be his last year (assuming he comes back), Jackson couldn’t help for laughing: “I love Nellie. I hear something different from y’all every week with Coach.”

— Geoff


Looking on the Bright Side 2

The Warriors not making the playoffs isn’t all bad. They would’ve lost to the Lakers in the first round anyway (I wouldn’t have been surprised if Kobe’s boys disposed
of the Baron’s boys in five), and the sting of losing to the hated Lakers assuredly would have been much sharper than not making the playoffs. Warrior fans should still be numb to the embarrassment of being a lottery team, but can you imagine the irritation of hearing Lakers fans gloat over a postseason series win?
To be sure, there are other bonuses to this season:

• The Warriors will be adding a lottery pick to a 49-win team. How often does that happen? Worst-case scenario, they draft at No. 14, where they can nab UCLA PF Kevin Love or Kansas PF Darrell Arthur. Better-case scenario, they use the pick and a current player (Harrington? Pietrus? Jackson?) for a proven producer, ideally a power forward who can defend and rebound and score inside – routinely. Best-case scenario, they win the lottery and draft Michael Beasley

• Month came into his own, which means the gamble of trading J-Rich worked. The Warriors have an above average two guard, a budding young forward and a $10 million trade exception.

• Andres Biedrins stock dropped, at the very worst did not rise. The Warriors gambled by not locking him up this past offseason, but Biedrins – though really good – did not seem to do enough to blow his salary way up. He’ll get paid, but the Warriors may get him for a good price.

• Baron still has a reason to be hungry. The popular opinion is that Baron was motivated by his desire for a contract extension. He will likely get it. But being an All-Star snub, missing the postseason and watching fellow point guards get lionized throughout the playoffs should bring him back next season with a chip on his shoulder. He plays better with something to prove.


Lookin’ on the Bright Side …

Call it hope or the teasing delay of inevitability, but there is reason to believe the Warriors could pull this off. There are a few factors that, at the very least, keep you watching. For some, it may be cause to sleep in their “We Believe” shirts.

• Houston, which visits Denver on Sunday, still have something to play for. They are tied with San Antonio for the No. 3 seed, the loser getting the No. 5 seed. Whoever gets the No. 3, would get Phoenix and have homecourt advantage. The No. 5 seed will Utah, owner of the West’s best home record. Plus, homecourt advantage isn’t a lock. Houston needs to beat Denver to stay ahead of Utah for homecourt advantage in the first round.

• Denver will be concluding a back-to-back. Houston has been in Denver chilling, waiting for the Nuggets and getting used to the altitude. Denver is 5-12 in the second game of back-to-backs. Just two were in Denver, and the Nuggets split them.

• Should Houston win at Denver, the Warriors would need to then win at Phoenix. The Suns would be pretty much locked in to the No. 6. The Lakers have already won the Pacific. The are too far ahead for No. 7 Dallas to catch. The Suns could use some rest. This would be a good time rest up their old heads: Steve Nash, Shaq, and Grant Hill. Raja Bell has been nagged by injuries and Amare’s knees are always a subject of concern. I wouldn’t expect Phoenix to start Brian Skinner and Gordan Giracek, but I would be surprised if they fought to the death. If the Warriors are on their A game, it would be reasonable for Phoenix to wilt.

What all this means? Nothing on the court. But it could add to your stress levels.