11

And then there were eight…

Hey everyone. Just filling in for Marcus while he begins his five-day “vacation.” Of course, he went ahead and broke all kinds of rules with a blog post this morning. Just shows his level of dedication. 

Many of you probably saw this Stephen Jackson video yesterday on hoopshype.com, where he basically said that it’s time to ”shut it down and get (his toe fracture) fixed” and begin the process of getting ready for next season. According to a Warriors’ spokesperson, Jackson is seeing a specialist today. An update on how that appointment went may be forthcoming later on.

Corey Maggette (head contusion) has returned to the Bay Area, joining Andris Biedrins and Marco Belinelli. Brandan Wright (left shoulder pain) will not play against the Nuggets on Saturday. The team also reported Friday morning that Jermareo Davidson had successful surgery to repair the stress fracture in his left foot. He’ll be immobilized for the next month.

In case you’re counting, that leaves eight players available for Saturday’s game (Azubuike, Crawford, Ellis, Kurz, Morrow, Randolph, Turiaf, Watson). Should be a great time.

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.

1

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-

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.”

26

Where is Jax?

In the two biggest games of the year, at San Antonio and Dallas, Jackson was no where to be found.
Not only did he not produce his usual production, but he was awful – on both ends of the court. He was a hindrance with his jump shooting habit, and he failed to make up for his offensive woes in other areas.
True, several Warriors played poorly. Ellis was terrible in San Antonio. He was a little bit better in Dallas, but his trigger-happy ways hurt the Warriors. Al Harrington has been off, but he has his sprained thumb as a cover.
The one guy who did show up, who – say what you will about him – always shows up, was Baron Davis. While everyone else was chucking jumpers, he was forcing himself to the basket 1-on-2 and 1-on-3. (Let that be a lesson for those who say let BD walk and give the team to Monta. He’s doing so well because he’s playing next to Baron.)
The Warriors can afford bad games from Ellis, because they have Kelenna Azubuike (who is ballin’ lately). They can afford bad games from Harrington because they can go with Biedrins or Barnes or Pietrus when he’s healthy.
The Warriors CANNOT afford awful performances from Jackson when the stakes are so high. Maybe he can play a less-than-steller game, or a below-the-averages game. But he can’t be a downright liability on both ends of the court. Not with the playoffs hanging in the balance.
Jackson has to find a way to produce even on bad nights. If his jumper isn’t falling, if he’s not getting the calls, if he’s not feeling well, he still has to find a way to produce. He has to.
The fact that he disappeared is a huge concern, and exposes perhaps the flaw that will keep the Warriors out of the postseason: this team is not as good when Stephen Jackson is the second-best player. Forget his temper, which he’s controlled. Forget his lack of rebounding, or his propensityf or turnovers. Can the Warriors rely on a player who literally lives and dies by the jumper?
Maybe I’m overreacting. I like Jackson, as a person and a player. I think he’s really good. But I think these last two games exposed him.