11

Is Keith Smart Still the Best Choice?

It’s been widely understood, and more than intimated by head coach Don Nelson, that Keith Smart will be the Warriors next head coach. But Nelson’s possible departure and the recent shake-up in the coaching ranks has brought up an interesting question.
Should the Warriors stick to their plans of annointing Smart as the successor? Or should they go out and get one of the names that are available?
Honestly, it’s a tough call. The names are enticing. Avery Johnson, who was introduced as coach of the year just two years ago. Mike D’Antonio, who is reportedly but unofficially out in Phoenix, has mastered the system similar to the one the Warriors play. Sam Mitchell, who may get fired in Toronto, was last season’s coach of the year and one of the young talents in the league. Flip Saunders may be on his way out, too.
These are all winning coaches. Avery and D’Antoni (if he becomes available) Playoff coaches. Avery has been to the Finals. D’Antoni has been to the West Finals. They couldn’t get their team to a championship, which is why they are (likely) out, but they have gotten their team to the playoffs regularly, which is the next step for the Warriors.
If you are Chris Mullin, do you go out and get a proven coach who can take this team to the next level? Or do you stick with the groomed assistant who knows the system, the organization and COULD be one of the next young coaching talents?
As tempting as it is to go nab one of those vets, it may be more beneficial to go with the guy who is familiar to the franchise. A new guy would have to a spend a year or two getting accustomed to the team, to the franchise, to the media, to the fans. There’s a whole feeling out period that needs to go on, which could cost the Warriors a season of progress. True, it may be a necessary price to get to the ultimate goal, but that may not be the best thing coming off missing the postseason. True, it may take Smart as much or more time to get used to being the head man. But he may just be able to smoothly step in, as did Avery.
Another reason I’d say go with Smart is the cost. Smart is cheaper than Avery or D’Antoni (should he become available), and could turn out to be just as good. Remember, Avery and D’Antoni were young, unknown commodities when they first took over. They stepped into to great situations and thrived. If Smart can do the same, and it’s set up for him to do so, they Warriors will get the same results for much cheaper. That money is better served going towards the luxury tax they’ll have to pay to bring in some help.
As tempting as it is to get the proven commodity, I’d say stick to the plan. Stick with Smart.

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

12

Webber a Hall of Famer?

His numbers stack up among some of the best. He certainly had Hall of Fame talent. His impact on the game – changing the way we look at power forwards in this era – is rare.
But Webber is not a Hall of Famer. Sorry. He was a great player. But I find it hard to place him among that elite group. There very specific reasons he doesn’t belong.

*He never won. Never even played in an NBA Final
*He had a reputation as a diva, a coach killer. True or not, that’s how Hall of Fame voters will view him. He won’t ever pass the Hall of Fame citizenship test.
*Michigan scandal. Remember, it is the Basketball Hall of Fame, not the NBA Hall of Fame. His NCAA violations, which cost Michigan their Fab Five records, factor into play. That’s a stain that is too hard to hide.

Webber was an innovative player. He was a productive and special talent. But, based on his success as a player, he could almost be considered an underachiever. Someone with the tools he had should have rings, MVPs, etc. He was only a five-time All-Star. He made All-NBA once.
That’s not enough, to me. What do you think?

9

Knee problem for Webber

I commented to Tim Kawakami in the Oracle Arena media room Sunday afternoon that my one concern with writing about the improvements in Chris Webber’s game was the fact that things might turn 180 degrees at any moment.

Oops.

After a first half Sunday night in which he clearly struggled, Webber did not come out after intermission because of soreness in his left knee, the same one that gave way in 2003, eventually requiring microfracture surgery.

The team didn’t have much in the way of details — “sore left knee” was as much as we got in the locker room — but Webber said he wants to get an MRI as soon as possible. It’s not clear if the team can get that done before its scheduled departure at 10 a.m. Monday, or if Webber might stay behind to see the doctors and catch up with the team later.

With Andris Biedrins already out, if Webber is unavailable in Atlanta, Don Nelson will have few options in the middle: go small with Al Harrington or Austin Croshere, or go big with oft-inactive Patrick O’Bryant or Kosta Perovic. I’d expect the former rather than the latter, which should insure that Brandan Wright will continue to start for the foreseeable future at power forward.

I’ve been skeptical of the notion that the Warriors, with 15 guaranteed contracts, would sign another player, since many of the guys available are not clearcut improvements over what Golden State already has. But if Webber’s pain is a significant injury, I think they have to give further serious consideration to that idea.

As for Sunday’s game, the thing that stood out the most for me was the fact that seven players scored in the fourth quarter. I can’t remember the last time Golden State had that kind of diversity down the stretch of a game where the outcome was still in doubt.

– Geoff

18

Time for Wright is Now

It’s kind of hard to go against Nellie, though I think he makes a lot of questionable decisions, dare I say some bad decisions. Still, the dude knows what he’s doing, and there have been a lot of times where he’s dead on, so there is reason for reserve when questioning his moves. Though I may not always agree with his reasoning, he usually has a pretty logical reason.
This, though, I can’t get past. I’ve tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it just doesn’t make any sense. Nellie: PLAY BRANDAN WRIGHT.
With Andris out, with the Webber experiment yawning along, there is no excuse for Wright not to play. I’m not even on the “play the youngsters” kick, as I’d be perfectly fine with not seeing Belinelli and Kosta on the court this year (though I don’t understand why C.J. isn’t play. He does well almost every time he’s in). But Wright, he’s different. He can be a factor now. And he’s not as much of a liability as the other youngsters.
Wright has the athleticism, the motor and the skills to contribute something the Warriors need right now. Why is his mistakes less tolerable than Stephen Jackson’s telegraphed crossover or Matt Barnes’ failed Magic Johnson imitations or Mickael Pietrus tap dancing on the out-of-bounds line? If you can bring Webber along, you can certainly bring Wright along, because he has way more life in his legs.
I’m not saying run Wright out there for 30 minutes. But he’s good enough to play 15 to 20. I’d settle for 10. And not with four other hardly used reserves, either.
Whne you think about it, the Warriors have talent on the bench. Half of them have had their confidence sapped by Nellie’s whimsical rotation. But for the most part, some of these dudes can play. Azubuike was a starter. He can play. Pietrus and Barnes can play (when they’re under control). Wright can play.
Even Patrick O’Bryant can play. Kinda. He’s slow. He’s soft. But he has offensive skills. In the right situation, such as last night against the bigger Hawks, he can give you something inside. At the very least, he could put Josh Childress in his place with a bony elbow to the chest. You might as well milk POB for what you can. He’s going to leave town in two months having made nearly $5 million off the Warriors.
All they need is the removal of the fear that one mistake will end their stint. Look how comfortable Wright was last night knowing that he was going to play. With his length and athleticism and skill set, he can’t help but make an impact. All he needs his mental under control, and he’s going to give you something — without causing you to lose.
Since the Warriors didn’t pull off a trade, they can still make a move that adds to the team. They can potentially get that spark they need, that boost past Denver and/or Houston.
Nellie: PLAY BRANDAN WRIGHT.

19

It’s done: Chris Webber returns

After a 14-year hiatus, Chris Webber is going to be a Warrior again.

A team source said that Webber, who arrived in Oakland as the No. 1 overall pick from the 1993 NBA draft but left the following year after a vicious falling-out with coach Don Nelson, is expected to sign a one-year contract with Golden State either tonight or Tuesday. Another source confirmed the team has put in for waivers on injured guard Troy Hudson, clearing the way for Webber, a five-time All-Star, to join the club.

An official announcement is not expected until Tuesday, and Webber most likely won’t join the team until Thursday, when it returns from a two-day road trip to Houston and New Orleans.

Webber, who has not played this season, also had interest from the Lakers, but went with Golden State after Los Angeles reportedly asked him to work on a tryout basis under two 10-day contracts before getting a season-long deal.

Webber’s deal is expected to be worth approximately $550,000, although the Warriors will be reimbursed roughly $200,000 from the league under salary cap rules meant to encourage the signing of veteran free agents.

A Warriors spokesman, citing team policy, declined to comment on the impending deal, which will reunite Webber and Nelson for the first time since 1993-94. The pair helped Golden State win 50 games that season and earned a playoff berth, but cracks in the relationship started to become public in January and February, and after the season, Webber exercised an opt-out clause in his 15-year, $74 million contract.

Webber held out until November 1994, when Golden State worked out a sign-and-trade deal with the Washington Bullets, shipping out Webber in exchange for Tom Gugliotta and three first-round selections. Nelson stepped down as the club’s general manager and coach in February 1995. The franchise didn’t garner another playoff berth — or even a winning record, for that matter — until Nelson returned last season.

The Warriors’ interest in Webber came to light last week, although it may have been going on for significantly longer than that. Sources said that Nelson and Webber have talked through any residual enmity, and Nelson said he has no fears of a repeat performance.

“I look back on it . . . and we were both pretty stubborn,” Nelson said. “I was maybe too tough and he was too young to see the positives that I was trying to bring to the table. But anyway, I think I’ve learned and I think he has too. Hey, I’m an old man and he’s an old player. There’s a lot of common sense to it.”

And a lot of media craziness, too. Let the circus commence.

– Geoff