66

Well, well, well

Where to begin? Of all the things I thought might happen to the Warriors this summer — and that’s a mighty lengthy list — Baron Davis passing on $17.8 million is not one of them. Of course, that’s because Baron was telling everyone who would listen it wouldn’t happen.

First off, let’s cover some turf that was discussed in the story you’ll never read — the one I sent into the office around 6 p.m. or so last night, or just in time for me to call back within the hour and say, “Tear that sucker up.”

Obviously, this was before BD dropped his bombshell, so I’m not sure this stuff still has relevance in the new Warriors world, but . . .

Don Nelson had this to say at Monday’s press conference for rookie picks Anthony Randolph and Richard Hendrix: “Matt Barnes and Cro, those guys will not be back, so there’s going to be some minutes there (at the forward spots). The team is going to take on a different shape, a different look. So there will be more opportunities for our youth.”

Chris Mullin didn’t necessarily agree, but did say it wasn’t realistic to think the Warriors could bring back both Barnes and Mickael Pietrus. And he said Patrick O’Bryant is as good as gone.

For his part, Barnes said, via text message: “(Nelson) is the boss. I would love to be a Warrior. I owe so much to Nellie and to the organization. But with the tough season I had last year, it doesn’t look like I’m wanted. . . . This is a cold game and a tough business.”

As for the point guard . . .

Here’s a Nelson quote that I couldn’t get into the paper due to language restrictions: “Opting out of a $17 million contract, that’s ballsy. Nobody can say Baron doesn’t have balls.”

Although I’m sure that a certain radio host who’s not a media member will disagree with me, the Warriors most definitely have been lowballing Baron. Consider this: When Chauncey Billups was 15 months older than BD is now, he got four guaranteed years worth approximately $11.5 million per season. When Steve Nash was 18 months older than BD is now, he got five guaranteed years worth $13 million per. BD was being asked to take significantly less security than that.

Thing is, nobody should be shocked by this turn of events. Lowballing has been the Warriors’ default negotiating position for a few years now; it’s how they chiseled Barnes down to a lone season at $3 million after his breakout year in 2006-07, and how they forced Pietrus to eat the one-year qualifying offer last season. It’s why the books look better and has worked for the team.

In this instance, however, it appears to have backfired. The Warriors have had plenty of opportunities to discuss an extension, but by sticking with their usual modus operandi, when Elton Brand opted out with the caveat that he’s returning to the Clippers, the opportunity was there for Davis to go home. And he’s jumping at it. According to multiple sources and several different reports, he will try to head to L.A. as a free agent as soon as possible, with Brand taking a less-than-max deal to make it happen.

“We’re grown-ups, and we understood that it was a possibility,” Nelson said. “We didn’t think it would happen, but it did and we’ll deal with it.”

According to the Washington Post, the Warriors’ first thought in dealing with it was to make a run at Gilbert Arenas, which would be great except — as always when it comes to Agent Zero and this franchise — the salary-cap cards are stacked against the W’s. The Wizards can and are willing, according to the Post, to pay Arenas for one more year than the Warriors can (six versus five), and can give 10.5 percent yearly raises instead of the 8 percent that Golden State can give. The total amounts will depend on the salary cap numbers, since the maximum allowable starting salary is a percentage of the cap.

If Arenas is not an option, where do they go next? Atlanta forward Josh Smith, an RFA, would fill the Warriors’ hole at power forward, but the contract would have to be large enough to make the Hawks give up on matching the deal. And that presumes Monta Ellis is ready to run the team on his own.

– Geoff

30

Baron Davis opts out

UPDATING AT 7:45 p.m. WITH OUR EARLY STORY:

What promised to be a tumultuous offseason for the Warriors was kicked into overdrive Monday when point guard Baron Davis left $17.8 million on the table and opted out of the final year of his contract, becoming an unrestricted free agent and throwing Golden State’s immediate plans into confusion.

Davis has maintained for months that he wants to remain a Warrior, and according to one team source was telling teammates last week that he would not opt out, but with mere hours to spare the man most responsible for breaking Golden State’s 12-season playoff drought reversed course dramatically.

With talks on a contract extension going nowhere, Davis played the last major piece of leverage he had. Although he is unlikely in the short term to recoup that $17.8 million — the final piece of a six-year max deal he signed with the New Orleans Hornets in 2002 — he can now negotiate a long-term deal with another team to try to set up a sign-and-trade situation.

The move leaves the Warriors with some unexpected room under the salary cap, although the exact amount won’t be known until the team sets its 2008-09 figures next week. Golden State currently has only six players currently under contract — starters Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson, plus untested youngsters Marco Belinelli, Kosta Perovic, C.J. Watson and Brandan Wright — although it holds matching rights on three restricted free agents, including young stars Andris Biedrins and Monta Ellis.

Just got confirmation from the Warriors: Baron Davis, the man who led Golden State to its first playoff berth in 13 seasons, has opted out from the final year of his deal, passing up $17.8 million in order to gain his freedom after talks about an extension went pretty much nowhere.

More to come later.

– Geoff

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

7

Draft Prospects: PG Derrick Rose

Comparison: A young, health Baron Davis … Better yet, Monta Ellis with strength and true point guard skills

Strengths: Physically, this dude is amazing. at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, he’s got good size for a one, but his athleticism makes him even bigger. He is strong, quick, fast and can jump. He’s going to be pound-for-pound among the best athletes in the league from the moment he’s drafted. Perhaps nearly as impressive as his physicality is his offensive intangibles. Stuff like body control, ability to shift gears on a dime, instincts to create, timely aggressiveness, competitive drive, ability to finish, willingness to pass, handles with both hands, can improvise with ball in his hands. He does the things you can’t teach. Most players with his build and level of talent have the shooting guard skills down, but need to learn how to play the point guard position. But Rose is a true point guard. He has vision, leadership, basketball IQ, the gamer mentality, the perfect temperment, sacrificial disposition, clutch, team-oriented.

Weakness: His outside shot needs work. He can stroke it some, but not with the consistency and fluidity that will force defenses to play up on him. If he ever gets that, he’ll be unstoppable. As it is now, he’s streaky. His mid-range game is hardly to the level of a Monta Ellis, and his range from NBA 3 is questionable.
He’s coachable, by all accounts, but he is raw. Only one year of college under his belt, he’s going to have growing pains. This is especially evident in a half-court setting. He’s pretty much feasting off of his natural ability, which works wonders in the open court. But the halfcourt game has a cerebral element that he doesn’t have the wisdom for yet. Running stuff like the pick and roll requires quick, smart decisions to be made. He’s no Chris Paul in that department yet. He is somewhat turnover prone because he gets out of control quite a bit. Also, he’s fairly quiet, which is not the best disposition for a point guard.

Fit with the Warriors: In short, he would be perfect. He is superb in transition, can create, physically imposing, and has a very strong skillset. Nellie, or whoever coaches the Warriors, would love a talent like this on the court. He could walk right into the Warriors current system and be effective. Best of all, he can defend. He is described by scouts as a “relentless defender” who takes advantage of his physical attributes on that end of the court. At the college level, he was somewhat of a lock down defender. Most important, he has been known to play hard on that end. And he has the size to defend shooting guards, which is also a prerequisite for playing PG with the Warriors. Plus, because of his size, he is a good rebounder. Guards must rebound in the Warriors’ system.

Chances of ending up a Warrior: No chance. His value is way too high. He’ll likely go No. 1, which means the Warriors would have to give up the farm to Chicago. Bye, bye Monta, Andris, the No. 14 pick and maybe Pietrus. Actually, the Bulls may not want either of those two players anyway, considering they have Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon, and Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas. Adding Monta and/or Andris would be redundant.
Now, if Chicago decides to take Michael Beasley. The Warriors, in the dreamiest of scenarios, could maybe put a deal together to send Baron to Miami. The Heat have to do something to make sure Wade stays with Miami when his opt-out clause comes up in two seasons. The best remedy for that is to win now. Maybe Wade might be convinced that a trio of Baron, Wade and Marion is the trio they need to compete with Boston’s big three, and that waiting for Rose to develop takes too long. Owner Mickey Arison can afford to pay the tax, so maybe he signs off on taking in another big salary.
But that’s just a dream.

Check out some of Derrick’s raw athleticism:

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: Postgame (vs. Nuggets)

You can imagine how melancholy the Warriors locker room was.
I went to the Nuggets locker room first. By the time I arrived in the Warriors locker room, the only player who hadn’t left the locker room or hopped in the shower was Mickael Pietrus. He just sat there, resting on his knees, staring nowhere.
The only smiles flashed came from Baron and Al Harrington when they signed autographs for Allen Iverson’s son. Monta kinda smiled for little A.I. As soon as that meet and greet was over, they all shifted back to somber.
They didn’t sound like they believed.

KEY STATS
Melo and Iverson: 58 points on 24-for-40 shooting (60 percent)
B.D. and Jackson: 38 points on 14-for-41 shooting (34.1 percent)

*The Warriors scored 12 points off Denvers 16 turnovers. Denver scored 21 points off the Warriors 18 turnovers.

Denver: 9-for-19 from 3-point range
Warriors: 6-for-27 from 3-point range

GOT LOST IN THE LOSS
*Baron had a tripple double (20 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds)
*Biedrins had 19 rebounds, six offensivem as the Warriors outrebounded Denver 52-44
*Kelenna Azubuike led the Warriors reserves with 10 minutes, 39 seconds. Pietrus played just 10:09, Barnes 6:22 and Croshere 2:56. Conversely, the Nuggets got 26 minutes from J.R. Smith, 23 from Najera nad 15 from Kleiza.

WHAT THEY SAID
Baron Davis
“It’s tough, but you’ve got to finish strong. You’ve got to finish strong. This was a tough one to swallow, but you’ve got to finish strong. We’ve got to come prepared Saturday night and win the basketball game.”

“We’ve had our moments where we’ve felt fatigued, and fatigue has caught up with us. Despite everything, we have to keep our heads because we are a tough team, one of the top teams in the league. We just have to finish strong, get to 50 wins and see what happens. It’s tough to know that thais game could ultimately end your playoff hopes.”

“I thought we did an excellent job in the first half of getting the ball in the middle of the floor and working the middle of the floor. Every time they made a run or came back, we were able to get a layup or get someone in the paint for an easy shot. The second half, they really covered us and spaced us and we weren’t able to make plays, which we were able to do in the first half.”

Stephen Jackson:
“If me and Baron have bad shooting nights, we’re not going to win.”

“Once we started missing shots, turning the ball over, they became the aggressive team. Their two stars made some shots along with J.R. Smith. Melo hit some big shots and A.I. hit his free throws down the stretch. Their two big players made plays. It was just that they made the plays that we didn’t to win the game.”

“We still have games to play. We are not going to quit because we lost to Denver tonight. We are going to play this season out and see what happens.”

“I don’t think anyone was tired. A game like this, it’s impossible to be tired. It’s impossible to be tired because we have to go out there and play. But we didn’t make the plays. They just made the plays. Their stars stepped up.”

Don Nelson:
“Just a half a step off, playing the way we really needed to win this big game. This was a huge game. I loved the game. I loved every part of it. I just wish we would have played a little bit better.”

“They know this was a game that was probably going to determine who makes the playoffs. It’s not etched in stone yet. I think they still have two tough games, and we have the Phoenix Suns and two games taht we should win. … We won’t know until the last game of the season. So I definitely w ant to win our next two games and see where we are. We know their schedule — the have Houston at home and Utah on the road. Tonight, they’re on top and it looks good for them.”

Allen Iverson:
“It was hard tonight. That is a tough team. They have so many talented players on their team, and it’s even rougher tyring to play that team in front of this home crowd. They ahve one of the best home crowds in the NBA.”

“J.R. Smith played one of the biggest roles tonight. To come in here and beat a team like this, you need everybody. Every guy on the court who is playing, you need the guys not on the court cheering everybody on because we are in here by ourselves. There are 20,000 people in here. Everybody brought it tonight. The thing with the noise in that arena is that you want to shut them up. I know how it is to play at home, an dthat makes the basket that much bigger. It makes it that much easier to get a stop when you have everybody cheering for you, everybody wanting your shots to go in. It is that much harder with everything at stake tonight – and to be able to get a win tonight is great.”

George Karl:
“In the first quarter, we got a hungry team, a fired team that ran by us. We missed a lot of easy shots, some layups during that stretch. They were just getting to the rim on every transition and penetration. Then we went to the zone and I thought A.I. was incredible. His defensive presence in the zone just gave us a confidence to defend them that we didn’t have early.”

“We kind of had a strong hold Baron. It wasn’t a box-and-one (zone), but where ever Barfon was, we wanted to play him tight. He likes to roam in the middle of the zone. I thought Eddie (Najera) was there most of the time always being in his way. They missed some open threes that they make sometimes, too. That was big.”

“I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet. … But if they win all their games the rest of the way, we’ve got to win two.”