9

NBA Sunday: Miami is Indeed Better

New to the blog will be a twice-monthly look at the NBA.  We’ll delve into injuries, news, the business side, fantasy hoops and other NBA entertainment. This Sunday, we debut with our first-ever rankings.
Yes, Miami is No. 1.

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22

Team Drama At It Again

The Al Harrington situation just turned another page. After playing just 16 minutes and scoring four points, coach Don Nelson threw Harrington under the bus. A question from S.F.’s Janny Hu started this brush fire, though all she did was ask about Brandan Wright. The result was Nellie vomiting his thoughts about Harrington:

Did Brandan earn himself more playing time?

“Well, absolutely. I think two things are going on here. Al wants to be traded, I think everyone knows that, and we would like to oblige him. We’d like to get a good player for him. He’s playing like he’s unhappy and I kind of feel for the guy because he doesn’t want to be here and it’s probably very difficult to really gear it up and play up to his ability.”

“I made a deal with him that I was going to play him as many minutes as he would want and I would have kept that word. But when he surprised me with going public with wanting to be traded, it’s made it pretty difficult for me and everybody else.”

“And he hasn’t been playing well to go along with it, so we might as well start making the change now. I think the people in the league know he’s a good player and know that if there’s a trade to be made there, we’ll make it. But our front line is young and some of the guys are on the bench a lot, but Brandan is ready to play more. So I’m going to play him, and I hope I’m not breaking my word. But I’ve kind of been forced to change the way I was going to go about the playing time with Al.”

“I thought there was going to be so many minutes between the four and the three that I didn’t have to worry about it. But if he’s not going to be here anyway in the future, we might as well start to think about bringing some of these younger guys along.”

“Now I’m only going to bring the guys along that are ready to play in an NBA game, so don’t get me wrong. And as I said before the game, Brandan is ready. I’ve held him back a few games where he probably should have played, but I think it’s to the point now where he needs to grow into his position and he’s going to be a member of our team and Al isn’t. So we have to face reality and go from there.”

Sounds like you really need to trade him now?


“I think Al will be traded, but we’ve got to wait until we get the right deal for him. But in the meantime, I have to bring his replacement along. I don’t know what kind of player we’re going to receive for him. It could be any position from one to five. We just want a good player in return.”

Do you feel you need to wait to see what Monta can bring when he comes back? Do you feel like you need to wait on trading Al to see what Monta can bring?


“We’ve told Al, and I told him this summer that as soon as we get a good player for him, I would trade him. I didn’t want it to go public, I thought it would be just between the two of us. But he made it public, I didn’t.”

“And so here I’m stuck in a situation where I don’t have a great team anyway, but I have a disgruntled player that I was going to play probably 40 minutes a night. And so I can’t keep my word on that anymore. We have to do what we have to do, we’ll wait until we get a good player. We’re not going to wholesale and all of a sudden just get rid of him, because he is a talented player and we’re going to have to receive something for him. But anyway, that will happen, Mully’s been working on it and when he finds the right thing that’s good for our team, that will happen.”

Exactly. Wow. So, Brandan Wright is in, Al Harrington is out. Sounds like Nellie’s going to cut Al’s minutes drastically until he is traded (inactive?). Is this a smart move by the Warriors? By Nellie? Or was Al killing his stock anyway with his last few games?
Anyway. So, of course, we went straight to Al:


Nellie said he’s going to give Brandan Wright your minutes?

“I’m a B-Wright fan. As long as he plays well, I’m happy for him. As far as me, whatever happens is what happens. I can’t control it. If just because of one game, that means he’s got to bench me, he’s got to do what he’s got to do.”

“As far as what coach said, I don’t care. If he wants to trade me, he can trade me. I’m not a contract that can’t be moved.”

He said you were disgruntled.

“Who am I disgruntled to? If you ask any of my teammates, I don’t say anything about being traded. I’m always about the team. … If I’m disgruntled, I don’t know who I’ve been talking to (about it).”

Is controversy over your trade request getting to you?

“It’s not like anobody’s shooting a great percentage. I had two rough shooting nights. I feel like tonight I didn’t have a chance to get into the flow or whatever. We went to the bench, the bench was a huge lift. Night’s like that, you’ve got to take your hat off to them and let them guys rock. They did a great job. I don’t know. Whatever is my future is my future. But when I’m playing in the game, I’m going to play as hard as I can.”

Then I went to ask Stephen Jackson what he thinks about the seemingly inevitable break-up between Harrington and Nelson. Harrington is one of his best friends. And Jackson is in awe of Don Nelson. I didn’t think he would talk. I thought he would duck the question or whatever. But Jax didn’t. He was candid, as usual:


Nellie said, pretty much, he’s done with Al. How do you feel about that?

“That hurts me. I love coach and I’m going to always love coach and respect what he says and he does because he is the coach and he knows more about coaching than me. I love Al. I’m going to be hurt to have to see him go. I can’t explain my feelings about this. It hurts. I just wish everything would work out and everybody get along, man. I don’t want to see him go. That’s my personal opinion.”


Can their relationship be repaired, or is it time to move on?

“Anything’s possible. Like I said, I really can’t speak on what’s going on or what’s going to happen. I just know how I feel about Al as a friend and as a brother and I know how I respect coach and what he does. I’m kind of torn. I’m in the middle. It’s just, It’s just, I don’t know. I’m at a loss for words about it.”


Can this team handle all this drama?

“Anytime there’s a cloud around things, if it’s not just about basketball, obviously it’s going to bother people. But it’s a business. Things happen. You go through injuries. You go through ups and downs. You go through trades. I think the biggest thing for us is we’ve got to be professional about it and regardless of what’s going on, we’ve still got to come and play and win games. That’s where we’ve got to keep our heads at.”

Can you carry this team in this environment, or is being “torn” hampering your ability to lead this team?

“It’s not as much can I. I have to. That’s how I look at it. Like I said, I love Al. Al’s like my brother, my blood brother. And, like I said, what coach has done for me and my career, it’s explainable. Like I said, I really don’t know. I love both of them and I respect both of their positions.”

42

Whew! Now Let’s Play Catch-Up

OK, a lot has happened super fast. There was quite a bit of info, thoughts I didn’t get into my story for tomorrow’s paper. Here are some of the major points of the article, some of my thoughts, and some answers to your questions. Ready? Breathe. Read.

* I was told consistently by a source that Maggette got five years, $50 million. At the last-minute, I heard it was five years, $40 million. But my source reiterated that it was $50 million. That $10 million is a huge difference. That deal looks a whole lot better if it is for $40 million.

* Heard late in the evening that the Warriors made an offer to Ronny Turiaf! Don’t know all the details yet, but I was told it averaged about $4M a year. Ronny is restricted, so if the Warriors sign him to an offer sheet, the Lakers can match. I’m not sure if I like this or not yet. Turiaf is one of those dudes who impresses you in spots, but when you step back and look at what he brings overall, he’s not to impressive. He does some things well, not so much others. Is he worth $4M? Over three years, sure, why not. The Warriors need a hustler, a body not afraid to bang.

* I was shunned by Baron’s people. He nor his agent responded to the one question I had: With Brand going to Philly, is there ANY chance AT ALL that Baron goes back to the negotiating table with the Warriors? I got no love. A contact did tell me that the Clippers spent Tuesday evening talking to Baron, convincing him to stay, even working out the details of the contract (as well as preparing a fat offer sheet for Atlanta’s Josh Smith). They were pretty sure he was staying, but he was rumored to be livid over Brand’s Boozer impersonation.

* Pietrus got love from Orlando because Otis Smith, the Magic’s GM, likes Pietrus. They had some kind of bond when Smith was with the Warriors and Pietrus was a youngster. That helped MP2 get what he got. Orlando needed a replacement for Maurice Evans, who is now a free agent. There is even talk that Pietrus could start.

* Didn’t I say top-tier ballers don’t want to play for the Warriors? Brand turned down some $10 million more from the Warriors to go to … Philly! Dang. That was a straight slap in the face to the Warriors. Did the Warriors really think they were going to get a player better than Baron?

* Speaking of Brand, he just went from one of the league’s character examples to supplanting Carlos Boozer as the face of reneging. Check this out – Brand, according to insider scuttle, turned down virtually the same amount from the Clippers. Los Angeles got up to $80 million and was willing to renounce more players if necessary to give Brand more. Still, he chose Philly.

* So the salary cap is $58.7 million. The luxury tax will be $71.1 million. Based on my estimation, and figuring this out cost me hours of my life I’ll never get back, the Warriors are at about $50 million including the cap holds. Here is the breakdown:
2008-09
Al Harrington – $9.23
Corey Maggette – $8.50
Stephen Jax – $7.14
Andris Biedrins – $7.90 (cap hold)
Adonal Foyle – $6.50 (buyout price)
Brandan Wright – $2.50
Kosta Perovic – $1.70
Ant Randolph – $1.70 (rookie scale max)
Monta Ellis – $1.54 (cap hold)
Marco Belinelli – $1.45 (rookie scale max)
Kelenna Azubuike-$0.89 (cap hold)
Richard Hendrix – $0.44 (league minimum)
C.J. Watson – $0.71 (minimum salary, non-guaranteed)
Total – $50.20

That leaves the Warriors with some $8 million to spend before hitting the cap. If Andris signs a deal starting at a salary equal to his cap hold, the the Warriors can sign a free agent or two before signing Ellis and Andris. They’ll have close to $10 million if they wait to sign Randolph until they hit the cap, which they can do under CBA rules. They would also have more if they traded Harrington and got less money back.

*Here’s a concern I have: what happens when Monta and Andris want more than Maggette? Monta certainly has a claim. Say the Warriors start Monta at $9 a year (which would be $67.5M contract over six years). And say they start Biedrins at $8. That would make Stephen Jackson the fifth-highest paid player on the team.
Now, he’s up for an extension. I seriously doubt if he gets one. How is he going to react to being so far down on the salary pole but being a leader on this team while getting no extension love? Remember, Jackson has watched Richardson get shipped out unexpectedly as if he wasn’t the heart and soul of the team. He watched Pietrus and his boy Barnes get hardballed into a one-year deal. He watched his “brother” Baron Davis get his extension requests rejected in consecutive offseasons and then “lowballed” (in his eyes). He’s watching his other close friend, Al Harrington, once highly coveted by the Warriors, become a role player.
You have to wonder if Jackson is going to take one for the team or try to get his paper.

* With the way restricted free agents are about to get squeezed (only the clippers have money left), don’t be surprised if several of them ask for a sign-and-trade or choose to play for the one-year qualifying offer (and become restricted free agents next season). Including Andris. The free agent market is kind of skimpy this offseason – thanks to all the money going to the few big names out there. Some of the second-tier stars will shine a lot brighter in 2009.

* I still say go after Rasheed Wallace or Shawn Marion or Lamar Odom. Use Harrington, future draft picks, etc. – maybe even Stephen Jackson – to get a proven All-Star. They all are one-and-done, which could give the Warriors cap space next year if they don’t work out.

15

What’s that on the ESPN crawl?

Sorry for the long blog silence on my end and thanks to Marcus for keeping things going. I was taking some much-needed R&R, but I guess that’s over…

Since ESPN has been all over this morning’s story, let’s get some things out of the way first:

* I didn’t assert that the Pistons and Warriors are in current negotiations because I don’t have proof to back that up. If I did, that would have been the lead, and Baron’s decision not to opt-out (something that’s been widely expected by pretty much everyone who reads this blog, or has a pulse) would have been buried eight paragraphs down.
* What I do have is someone whose information and motives I trust telling me that the Pistons are interested in Baron and are willing to deal Rasheed and Chauncey (in general, not just for Baron), a stance that matches up with Joe Dumars’ “no sacred cows” speech at the conclusion of the Pistons’ season.

Let’s not go jumping the gun and buying BD a plane ticket out of town, but let’s say this … if these two teams aren’t currently contemplating such a deal, they should be.

When you write a news story about two opposing sides of a debate, you know you’ve done your job well if neither group has a complaint; that means you’ve given equal treatment. A trade with Baron and Al and Chauncey and Rasheed as headliners is kind of the NBA’s version of that theory, something with pluses and minuses on both sides.

FOR THE PISTONS:
They clear the decks for Rodney Stuckey to take over at PG in 2009-10. They don’t have to worry about next summer, when Rasheed will be looking for a new deal that will take him to 37 or 38 years of age. They get the best individual player in the deal in Baron, and can either let the $17.8 million slide off the cap to use as space to chase another free agent, lock Baron up with their own extension (although that seems less likely, given that they love Stuckey), or sign-and-trade him to any one of the teams that are desperate for point guard help (the Lakers, Clippers and Trail Blazers all jump to mind immediately).

BUT:
They get back a forward who may not fit what they want to do (Al’s not going to be able to replace Rasheed’s defensive versatility). And unless they proactively sign Baron to an extension, there’s always the chance that he’ll walk away and they’ll have little to show for their two best players.

FOR THE WARRIORS:
They get arguably the second-best option to plug their power-forward spot (the best option is busy smoking victory cigars and having free drinks bought for him in Boston), especially given Rasheed’s 3-point range. They get rid of one player (Al) who was unhappy with the way he was used last season and another (BD) who was disappointed by the team’s lowball extension offers this summer. They get another big point guard who can defend 2 guards so Monta Ellis can play the same 2-on-offense/1-on-defense hybrid that made him one of the league’s hottest young players.

BUT:
They give up a lot of years in this scenario (BD is 2 1/2 years younger than Chauncey; Al has more than 5 years on Sheed). A LOT. And while that jump-starts a final push under Nellie, it puts them in jeopardy of paying out eight figures three years from now to players on the far side of 35 who have declined.

Any deal with Baron won’t happen until after July 1 (and won’t be finalized until July 9) because there’s no reason for Baron to agree in writing to not use his opt-out provision. We’ll have to wait and see if Thursday changes the dynamic for either team before determining if this possibility remains viable.

– Geoff

3

Report Card: Guards

It’s hard to not look at the stats of the Warriors guards and come away impressed. But there were some areas where the guards fell short – and it hurt because of their importance to this team. I’m a little harder on them (especially Baron Davis) because their value to the team and their overall talent is greater than anyone else’s on the team.

Baron Davis — He averaged 21.8 points in 39 minutes, his highest marks in those categories since 2003-04, whe averaged 22.9 points in 40.1 minutes. He also set a career high in rebounds. But where Baron falls short — and this is only a shortcoming because he is expected to be elite — was being a point guard. Baron proved two things this season: 1) he is still a top-notched scorer and 2) he can stay healthy (though that is relative). Unfortunately for the Warriors, they only need No. 2. Golden State doesn’t need Baron to be a dominant scorer, but a playmaker. They are better when he’s not the leading scorer. His assists (7.6) dropped under 8.3 for the first time since he joined the Warriors. His field goal percentage also dropped (42.6) fairly significantly off last season’s career-best 43.9 percent. They needed him to make stuff happen for everyone else, not get his. Last year, he played like Chris Paul. This year, he was Gilbert Arenas. They are much tougher to defend when he’s racking up 15 assists than when he’s scoring 40. Plus, he was bad down the stretch.
Grade: C+

Monta Ellis — He really took his game to another level this year. His became a reliable offensive weapon, partially filling the void left by Jason Richardson. There’s no question this dude has the potential to be the next. But looking at just this season, he was atrocious on defense, and that hurt the Warriors in the long run. If Baron is going to play 40 minutes, Monta has to guard the Allen Iversons, the Chris Pauls, the Tony Parkers, etc. He couldn’t this season. His best defense was getting 30 himself. Plus, Monta has the tendency to force offense and take quick shots at the wrong time. He was excellent on the boards, though, and he’s already a much better ball-handler than he used to be.
Grade: B

Marco Belinelli — I give him a lot of credit for keeping a great attitude while not playing and while sitting in the disgruntled section of the locker room (with MP2, Matt Barns and Al Harrington). He thought he should’ve played more, but he always kept a smile on his face and kept working hard. And when he got in, he stroked it some. Grade: B

C.J. Watson — He was much better than I expected, and he fit because he can score. Could’ve been more aggressive, but I understand why not. He produced when he got the minutes, and that’s all you can ask from a guy who started on a 10-day contract.
Grade: A-

11

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.

Highlights:
• 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.

Lowlights:
• 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+

4

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