4

All in, or wait for the next hand?

I said it in my All-Star break summation, but it bears repeating: The Warriors haven’t been this close to the No. 1 seed in the West, this late in the season, since 1992. And ’91-’92 was their most successful season since ’75-’76, when they won a franchise-record 59 games.

So this appears to potentially be a once-every-16-years burst of greatness for the Warriors.

But will they make a deal to put themselves over the top before the trade deadline at noon on Thursday?

Now, no one’s banged the drum of “fiscal responsibility” over the last year harder than I have. Ever since the Indiana trade, I’ve said that the Warriors were saving their pennies for this summer, when they have to pay off Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins, and that they weren’t going to screw that up by taking on any deals that go beyond ’07-‘08.

That viewpoint is not just supposition. I’ve listened to Bobby Rowell say that the Warriors are simply not going to watch young talent like Ellis and Biedrins walk away over salary-cap/luxury-tax issues. I’ve had Chris Mullin tell me that if his team didn’t already feature Ellis and Biedrins, they’d be the exact kind of players for which he’d be scouring the league. I know the team won’t seriously consider taking on a contract unless it involves bringing in a player who’s going to push them to the Western Conference Finals or beyond.

I know all of that. But they’re so close to the top. So very close. These are the kind of heights that make men dizzy. And could lead to carefully laid plans getting thrown out the window.

If the Warriors were bumping around .500, lying 10, 11, 12 games off the pace of the No. 1 team, then the level of talent needed from an incoming player to push Golden State to the WCF would be on the order of a Kevin Garnett or Dirk Nowitzki.

Yet by posting the best record in the West since Nov. 15 (i.e., after the Jaxless 0-6 start), the definition of such a “difference-maker” becomes more elastic. Now, a guy like Memphis’ Mike Miller could conceivably be enough to get the job done. Miller, who is due $9 million next season and $9.75 in ’09-’10, is not without flaws (Defense? What is this “defense” of which you speak?). But he would be a pure shooter with unlimited range on a team that currently lacks one of those, yet still takes the most 3-pointers, by far, of any NBA squad.

Miller, however, appears to be one of those guys (like Milwaukee forward Charlie Villanueva, Marcus’ favorite pick) who will be dealt only if the acquiring team is willing to take a bad contract back (in Miller’s case, it’s the $13.05 million owed to Brian Cardinal over the next two seasons; for Villanueva, the tax is Bobby Simmons’ $20.5 million over two years).

I think the Warriors would seriously consider shipping out a package that includes players and/or a No. 1 draft pick in return for a second-tier “difference maker.” I think there’s basically no chance they’re going to take on a contract of the sort that Cardinal and Simmons have in order to get that guy.

Whatever the case, it’ll be fascinating to see how it all shakes out — not just for the Warriors, but the West as a whole.

– Geoff

28

MP time: Almost at an end?

So Mickael Pietrus came right out and said it at practice Tuesday afternoon.

And said it, and said it, and said it…

In seven minutes of talk with the media, Pietrus didn’t go more than 20 seconds, on average, without using either the word “trade” or “move” to describe his fervent desire to play anywhere other than Oracle Arena.

“No matter where I go, I’ll prove myself and I’ll be a great player,” Pietrus said. “That’s all that’s on my mind right now. And I’ll be an All-Star, too.”

MP has popped off about playing time before, but this was hardly one of those situations. It was a clearly calculated attempt to force the hand of the Warriors, although it appears to have had little effect on the organization as a whole.

“I think it’s necessary to do a deal that’s good for the Warriors,” executive vice president Chris Mullin said when asked if the Warriors had no choice but to move MP. “That is necessary. . . . There’s a lot of things I’m willing to do, and I’ve been willing to do. But that does entail somebody else in that scenario.”

The problem remains the same as it’s been for months: Mullin and Pietrus’ agents are at loggerheads over what constitutes a fair deal. Bill McCandless and Happy Walters have flogged a lot of potential trades, but none of them have passed muster with the Warriors, who are looking for a very specific type of player — for the most part, either someone who’s going to take the team to the Western Conference finals or beyond, or someone who’s coming off the books this summer, so the money doesn’t get squeezed for Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins.

(Personally, I’m partial to Miami’s Jason Williams, but I’m not convinced the Warriors would be willing to use their $10 million trade exception on J-Will — nor am I convinced they’re enamored with Williams’ game in general.)

McCandless brought up an interesting point Tuesday: If Pietrus is worth so much to the Warriors when it comes to making a trade, why isn’t he on the floor more?

“(Pietrus) is either a contributor on your team — in which case he plays 25 minutes — or he’s not,” McCandless said. “If he’s not a contributor, why expect to get the same things in return?”

In Kawakami’s absence, here are the Q&A transcripts:

Mickael Pietrus:
I definitely want to be traded to another team that I can help at the 2/3 position. I think that it was good to play the 4/5, but it’s not really my primary spot, it’s not where I’m so efficient. So I want to move on. I think I came here, I worked my ass off for the team, and now it’s good that we have a playoff team and I feel like I need to move on and go somewhere else I can help the team right away.
(What if you’re still here on Feb. 22?)
I want to be traded. I want to be traded. I don’t think about after Feb. 21. I think about now, and I think for me it’s time to move on and go to a team that I can — as a player, you’re always looking to improve yourself and I feel like I need to prove myself and be a better player every day.
(Most players say, “I just want to play for a winning team.” You just called this a playoff team. Why leave?)
Because I feel like the 4/5, if you compare my statistics at the same time last year, before the trade, I was averaging 14, 15 points, and this year, they’re trying to move me to the 4/5, which is not my primary spot. I would like to get back to where I came from, like the 2/3, and play at a high level.
(Nellie says you’re playing better than earlier this season.)
I don’t feel like I’m playing more minutes, but I feel like when I step on the floor, I’m trying to be a professional and do the right thing for the team. I know I’m not going to stay on the floor for 40 minutes, so I’m trying to help the team the best way I can, but I feel like I need to move on and go to a team that wants me and wants to use me at the 2/3.
(You think the Warriors don’t want you?)
I never said they don’t want me. It’s nothing against the organization, it’s just always as a player you want to improve yourself and I feel like I need to move on.
(But doesn’t the fact they only made the one-year qualifying offer speak volumes?)
If you look at the team, the only tradable guy on the team is me, and I won’t mind that.
(What did Nellie say to you?)
Between coach and me, I think it was a private talk. He told me that he only has 10 minutes for me at the 2/3, and I’ve been through a lot this year, a lot of frustration, and when I was to play the 4/5. To me, to play just 10 minutes at the 3, it’s kind of tough. I’m trying to be as professional as I am, try to help the team the best way I can before I move on.
(Nellie said they’re not just going to trade you for the sake of a trade.)
I want to be moved. I want to be moved. I want to be moved. I want to be traded.
(Sad that it’s come to this?)
Since I came here, I’m a vet now, I gave the team a lot. We were a bad team five years ago, and I worked hard to put the team where they are now, and I feel like I’m ready to move on and look forward and get better.
(Happy with where Nelson has played you, or frustrated?)
I feel frustrated, because when you look at my statistics from last year, when I used to play the 2/3, I was averaging a lot of points and a lot of rebounds. But since he moved me to the 4/5, I’m not as efficient as I was. I’m trying to find myself at this point, but this team doesn’t belong to me. I think I’m better at the 2/3 and I can help the team better.
(If you leave, what would you take from Nelson?)
It’s no hard feelings against the Warriors, no hard feelings against anybody, no hard feelings against Chris Mullin. I feel like I want to improve my game from last year to this year, and for me it’s time to thank them and move on.
(If you had it to do over again, would you have stayed out instead of signing the qualifying offer?)
It’s a good qualifying offer. It wasn’t bad. I don’t think it’s a problem with the contract. I think it’s a problem where you give so much to the team last year and I was expecting more this year, and try to help my team and try to play at a high level and try to focus in. But I feel like for me, it’s just time to move on after five years. I gave so much, and I would like to thank everybody and be traded.
(Expecting “more” of what, exactly?)
In terms of playing time. It’s kind of tough when you play 10 minutes and you try to improve as a player. I know that I’m a better player, and I will be a great player.
(Did you try to convince Nelson to play you more at 2/3?)
No, I understand that we have a good vet in front of me in Stephen Jackson. It is no problem. But I feel like there’s more teams out there who would like to use me at the 2/3 and I feel like it’s time for me to move on.
No matter where I go, I’ll prove myself and I’ll be a great player. That’s all that’s on my mind right now. And I’ll be an All-Star, too. I told you before.

Don Nelson:
(What was the upshot of Mickael’s meeting with you?)
Real simple. It was nothing I didn’t know. His agent asked him to see me so he could put the quote in the paper that he did. Anyway, he did.
(Problems with guys playing for contracts?)
No, actually, it was getting better (with Pietrus).
(How so?)
Well, at least he’s playing know, playing hard, playing the best he’s played all year right now. That hasn’t transformed to the games, but he’s working hard in practice, those kind of things.
(Was he pouting earlier this season?)
I wouldn’t say that. You call it what you want. I don’t really know. He has not had a good year.
(What did you tell him?)
I told him exactly what you would think I would tell him: That we’re not just going to trade him because he wants to be traded, and if we can get a player for him, we’ll trade him, and if we can’t, he’s gonna stay here. Real simple. It has to be somebody that we like, somebody that can help us. He’s an NBA player. I have to get an NBA player back for him that I like. I like Pietrus. When he’s playing, I like him. He played 26 minutes a game last year. Why are his minutes cut down? Because of his production. No other reason. I had him penciled in for at least 26, 28 minutes. Losing JR, you assume that he and Matt have to really step up for us to play well. Matt is just now starting to play, and so is Pietrus. I’m shocked we’ve don as well as we’ve done without those guys being major contributors. I think Monta, Baron, Jack, Pietrus, guys that are playing a majority of the minutes have done a really good job.
(What kind of problem will it be if he’s here Feb. 22?)
It would be no problem for me. I think it’d probably be a positive for him too, one way or the other, once the trade deadline has passed, and he’s either gonna be here for the year or he’s not. It’s gonna help him as well.
(Was the meeting the reason behind putting him at the 3?)
No. That’s a mental thing. He feels if he’s a 3, he can play better, so I made him a 3. There’s not a lot of minutes there, however; Jack plays 40 minutes at the 3.
(He played some 4 last year.)
It didn’t change. It’s just in his mind. I don’t know.

– Geoff

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

18

So … It Wasn’t Just Ribs!

Apparently, the Warriors are “seriously interested” in C-Webb. We’re running an article in Saturday’s paper that the Warriors are in talks with Webber, confirmed by team sources.
One of them thinks the two parties are even close to reaching an agreement.
Webber’s top choice is perhaps the Pistons, as he wants to contend for a title and Detroit has the best chances of reaching the Finals of the teams interested. But my colleague Chris McCoskey of the Detroit News, wrote on his blog that Joe Dumars refuses to buy out one of his current players to make room for Webber. The only way Webber gets on the squad is if Dumars trades Flip Murray or Primoz Brezec.
Plus, word on the street is that Dumars isn’t too convinced Webber hasn’t changed his ways. Webber was not the consumate locker room guy when his playing time wasn’t what he wanted.
With Detroit unlikely, Webber’s options are narrowed to the West (maybe Boston gets in the mix).
The Lakers, another team considered a serious contender, have an open roster spot and have also reportedly offered Webber a one-year contract for the veteran minimum. Supposedly Denver has interest in Webber, too. So the Warriors have some competition.
The Warriors have a full complement of 15 players, so to make room for Webber on the roster, they might need to rid of someone. The only one non-guaranteed player, rookie guard C.J. Watson, whose second 10-day deal expires on Monday, perhaps has been too impressive to cut.
“We’re feeling good about him,” Mullin said Thursday. So the odd man out may be guard Troy Hudson, who’s out for the season after hip surgery.
The Times also learned that Webber and Nellie have talked it out, trying to put their past feud behind them. No word yet on whether they’ve hugged it out.
Asked Thursday if he and Webber would be able co-exist if they worked together again, Nelson wouldn’t answer directly.
“Let’s talk about that not in anticipation of something happening or not, let’s talk about it after the fact,” Nelson said. “After it happens, that will be a good question.”

13

Ribs yes, Webber no

So shootaround was spent chasing down the latest Chris Webber-returning-to-the-Warriors rumor, which was spawned by Marty McNeal’s report in the Sacramento Bee that Don Nelson had been spotted chowing down at C-Webb’s restaurant.

Nelson copped to noshing at Webber’s place — he pulled in with assistant Larry Riley when a Warriors contingent went up to Sacramento to scout the Memphis Grizzlies, who played the Kings on Jan. 10 and the Warriors the following night. But he wouldn’t comment on any theoretical reunion with Webber, who won the 1993-94 NBA Rookie of the Year award before falling out with Nelson and eventually being dealt to the Washington Bullets.

“You need to talk to Mully about those situations,” Nelson said. “You can talk to me about the ribs. Best in Northern California. Unbelievable, juicy. I got the barbecue and a baked potato and a couple of beers. Or it could have been scotches.”

Was Webber at the grill?

“No, he wasn’t there,” Nelson said. “That’s the other funny thing.”

Heeding Nelson’s instructions, executive vice president Chris Mullin was next. Just before signing point guard C.J. Watson, Mullin said that he was keeping his eyes open in the short-term for a guard and a big man. With Watson working out nicely, that leaves room for a center, no?

“We’re going to look at a lot of different things,” Mullin said. “A big guy with skill, yeah, that’s something we could use.”

At 34 years old and having been out of the league for eight months, does Webber still fit that bill?

“That’s debatable,” Mullin said. “I can’t say what he’s got left. I couldn’t elaborate on that.”

Last January, when Webber was bought out by the Philadelphia 76ers, Nelson said it would probably be a bad idea to have him re-team with the five-time All-Star.

It’s not any better of an idea now. I can’t imagine Webber would be able to keep up with this team’s pace, and he certainly doesn’t want to be stuck in the low post, which is where the Warriors could use the most help from any new big man. I don’t doubt that the Warriors have kicked around Webber’s name in discussing what players might help them, but as shown by Watson signing, the team is more likely to bring in a younger guy on the way up than a veteran with a high probability of getting hurt.

In short, if you want a Nellie/C-Webb reunion, by a Run-TMC DVD.

– Geoff

22

Warriors to sign CJ Watson

We’ll have a story with more details up on the Web in a few minutes, but in the meantime . . .

Chris Mullin and Don Nelson are getting serious about giving Baron Davis some time off. Mullin told the Times at this morning’s shootaround that the team will be signing rookie point guard C.J. Watson today to a 10-day contract, with the hopes of lowering Davis’ average of 39.4 minutes per game.

“We’ll give him a look,” Mullin said of the 6-foot-2 product of Tennessee. “He could be a good backup for us. That’s why he’s coming here, to figure that out.”

Watson, who has been tearing up the NBA Development League this season with averages of 26.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, is scheduled to arrive tonight but isn’t expected to play against the Spurs. After a practice tomorrow, he should be available to suit up against the Trail Blazers in Portland on Wednesday.

“He’s playing very well in the D-League,” Nelson said, “and we need some help.”

5

DJ Mbenga, a Warrior no longer

The DJ Mbenga experiment ended after 16 games when the Warriors waived the 7-foot center Sunday, beating the deadline before his deal would have become guaranteed and saving themselves roughly $500,000 in salary costs.

Executive vice president Chris Mullin had said previously that the deadline “probably will just come and go” for Mbenga; instead, the Warriors reversed course, coming to a different decision over the weekend in the interest of greater flexibility. Both Mullin and coach Don Nelson stressed that Mbenga did nothing wrong from an on-court standpoint.

The move opens up a roster spot that the Warriors could potentially fill with an unbalanced trade, or by signing a player from the NBA Development League — something they did last January with Kelenna Azubuike — or by signing someone to a 10-day contract as an audition.

In the meantime, rookie center Kosta Perovic will be recalled from the Warriors’ D-League affiliate, the Bakersfield Jam.