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.”


Barnes to Phoenix

Matt Barnes told me tonight he is signing with the Suns, a one-year deal for the league minimum ($926,678) .
This ends the deteriorated relationship between Barnes and the Warriors. Just two seasons ago, he was the man, the key role player in their success. He played defense, rebounded, committed the hard fouls, knocked down shots, played with energy — everything the Warriors needed. He was nearly as important to the Warriors’ postseason success in 2007 as Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson.
He certainly didn’t play the same last season, and for good reason (the death of his mother, disappointment from not getting a contract, Nellie constantly on his case). Still, I would’ve liked to see him stay. Not only for my benefit (Barnes is one of the most down-to-earth athletes I’ve ever met). But I think he could’ve helped the Warriors. He knows the system. He fits the style. He’s experienced. He would’ve been cheap, much cheaper than the $3-plus million he got last year. He also would’ve been hungry, coming off a disappointing year.
The reality is, though, I don’t think Nellie wants him around. Nellie had a thing against Barnes. His turnovers burned Nellie more. For some reason, his bad shots really infuriated Nellie. Which is wierd, considering how many bad shots the Warriors take. Barnes knew it.
Based on every conversation we’ve had, Barnes would stay with the Warriors if they made him an offer. He loved it here. He’s a Bay Area guy. The system fits his game. He’s tight with his teammates. And it’s not like he’s getting more money elsewhere. The Warriors can afford to pay him the minimum. Which leads me to believe they didn’t make him an offer.


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


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:


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.


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+


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