10

Monta: Unplugged (Kinda)

I’m baaaaaack. For a little while, anyway. Thought I’d get things going again with Monta’s first interview since rejoining the time.


Photo courtesy of Matt Steinmetz

What’s it like to be back with the team?
I see everybody’s progress. I see how they’re practicing, see what we got coming in this season and I’m just excited to be here to support my team.

What’s the toughest thing about not being able to be out there?
It’s kind of hard to explain, but I’m here in spirit and anything I can do to help them, I’m here for it.

You ever been through anything like this?
I have but, you know, whatever it is, it is. You just got to move forward now.

How long did it take you to get used to your new friend there?
Not long. (Laughs)

Did you pick that color?
Nah, he just gave it to me. (Laughs)

Going to put some rims on it?
Nahhh, I’m just going to get some spray paint and spray paint the spokes.

How do you think you’ll recover?
I’m recovering great. Everything’s going good right now and we just have to wait it out.

Can you put any pressure on it yet?
No, not at this moment there isn’t.

What’s going to keep you mentally coming back early and pushing it too hard?
I really do but at the same time it’s a process and we got 82 games and you know, just take it day by day and hopefully I get back out there soon. I’m going to take my time and make sure I’m 100% before I jump back out and then have to sit back out by coming back too quick. So it’s, it’s really just play it by mouth.

What’s your role now while your out? What are you going to bring to the team?
Whatever it is. Leadership, good spirits, lifting players up who are down, just give them what I see being on the sideline.

Did you wanna get back here for media day?
It’s kind of hard, when your trying to get on a plane with a cast and you’re trying to fly from Mississippi and change over so, that’s what it was. I wanted to be he’re but I’m just glad to be back and be my team support ‘em and move forward.

How’s you relationship with the team? How has it grown through this?
It’s been great. Everybody’s being on task, everybody stayed in contact, everybody’s on the same page, everybody wants to get past this. You know, they want me back on the court but at the same time they want me to be 100 percent. So it’s been good. They’ve been supportive and that’s what I needed and that’s why the process is going the way it’s going, so smoothly. They’ve been terrific.

Why not come out and say something?
We’ll address it next week when my agent speak with the team and till then I want to tell you, but you just have to wait it out and see what they say and when it’s time for me to address it then ill address it.

What will you be like after this?
Um, I can’t predict three years from now, but I could say that in three years, it’ll be way beyond 100 percent . That’s all I could say.

Are your doctors telling you that you can fully recover?
It’s going to be 100 percent. It’s just going to be playing it by mouth.

You have a reputation for being a fast healer. Does that make you more confident?
With this type of injury and what I had to go through, it will probably take a little bit longer and really cause you not to come back too son. I’ve never dealt with it but like I said the team, Chris, everybody in the organization, has been with me 100 percent. We all feel good about it and just move forward.

What is the best-case scenario for your return?
I can’t tell you. Who knows? I can’t put a time frame on it. Like I said, it’s something that you’ve got to make sure you’re 100 percent before you come back.

Are you looking forward to taking advantage of the different view of the game?
I’m definitely going to do that. Not just for me, but to make our team better. To give them the input on what I see from the sidelines and what I think we can do to improve and get better as a team.

Any idea what rehab will be like?
We haven’t gotten to that point yet, but whatever I need to do. I know its going to be hard. No one said it was going to be easy. But I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get back 100 percent to help this team win.

You once said you were the fastest guy in the NBA with a ball in your hand …
I’m still gone be the fastest guy in the league with a basketball after all this.

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.

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

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-

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.”

22

Inside: Practice (4/9)

** First, the hard news: Rookie forward Brandan Wright may not be available Thursday. He’s being termed “day-to-day” by the team because of a strained left groin he suffered in the Warriors’ 140-132 win over Sacramento on Tuesday.

Wright couldn’t say when exactly the injury occurred, but he didn’t notice it until he started cooling down after his 6-minute stint in the second quarter.

“It’s probably like a day-to-day thing. Nothing serious, though,” said Wright, who suffered a similar injury during his high school career. “It can linger if you don’t get on top of it, but I’m definitely going to be on it three or four times a day, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Warriors coach Don Nelson said Wright’s absence makes it “triply good” that Mickael Pietrus has returned from his own bout with a strained groin.

** Nelson said that he would be making changes from the game plan that led to a 119-112 defeat in Denver two weeks ago, but his team didn’t meet very long for its shootaround (they won’t be holding one tomorrow because of the early 5 p.m. start time dictated by TNT). So it’s doesn’t seem like there was that much new material to go over.

** The Warriors’ locker room is filled with good guys who are even better quotes, but Pietrus can be on a level all his own sometimes. Take this exchange from today’s Q&A:

How does this run compare with last year’s? Is it more intense? Are there more expectations?
It’s more intense because in the West, there’s no games for free right now, because I think everybody’s going to play until the end. We’ll see. I really want to go to the playoffs. Trust me, I really want to go. It’s fun. Did you come last year in the playoffs?

Oh, yeah.
Did you wear that “We Believe” shirt?

I grabbed one, yeah.
You have to wear it, not grab it. You have to wear it, right? [Here, MP turns to Warriors PR official Raymond Ridder.] Hey, tomorrow we need like 23,000 “We Believe” shirts! [Replies Ridder: "And, we need everybody there at 5 o’clock."] A 5 o’clock game tomorrow. I want to talk to all the fans to get their drink on, get their T-shirt on and let’s ready to war. That’s it. Be there at 5, because it’s going to be a fun party tomorrow. Trust me.

– Geoff

0

Inside: Shootaround (vs. Kings)

The morning practice was fairly eventful. Here were the highlights:

*Nelson walked from the court to the hallway to talk to the media. But before he said a word, he walked back toward the court to shout something to his rookie.
“Belinelli,” he screamed to Marco, “$100 fine for your friend sleeping in shootaround!”
There were several laughs as all the attention pointed to Marco’s peeps, posted in the stands sporting sweats, a red long-sleeve shirt and some aviator sunglasses. He was shocked.
“Bull#@&%!” he retorted in jest through a thick accent. “Bull#@&%!”
Marco’s friend said he wasn’t sleep, he was just relaxing behind his shades.

*Nelson said Mickael Pietrus was playing tonight, his first time since the first Lakers game. Of course, Pietrus wasn’t so sure.
“I feel all right,” MP2 said. “I’mma see tonight.”
When I told Pietrus that Nellie said he was playing, he looked a bit surprised.
“He said that?”
“Yes, he did. Is it not official yet?”
“It’s official when you see my name on the list (lineup).”

*A jewel of honesty from from Nellie on Stephen Jackson’s play of late:
“He’s been awful. He has not been playing well. … We’re looking for him to come out of it. … He’s our emotional leader. No question. … He’s got to rise above that and he understands that as a leader and a captain.”

*The Warriors seemed light and carefree despite what is on the line. As a group of them filed toward the locker room, Al Harrington was playfully interviewing Andris Biedrins.
“Andris,” Harrington said through a grin, mimicking the media types, “How does it feel to get 15 rebounds?” then passed the invisible mic to Biedrins’ lips.
“Andris, how does it feel to be 7 feet and be a good free throw shooter now.”