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: 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

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.”

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.

10

Quick hits from practice Sunday:

** Stephen Jackson expects to play Tuesday. Jackson didn’t practice, but did undergo a fairly rigorous shooting workout with assistant coach Rico Hines, and proclaimed his sprained left ankle to be at 90 percent, which is more than good enough. He will most likely open with the defensive assignment of Seattle rookie Kevin Durant.

** Al Harrington said the team is definitely engaging in scoreboard watching, even with a third of the season remaining. “Yeah, every day,” Harrington said. “You’ve got to when you’re on the outside looking in. We realize that we’re in a position where we’ve got to win now.”

** Andris Biedrins did not practice and wasn’t around when the media was allowed in, but he did make it in for the team photo session. The team has still not released an official timetable on Biedrins’ return, so it’s not clear if he’ll follow the typical rehabilitation profile for pro athletes, which is roughly two weeks out of action, or if things are more complicated.

– Geoff

24

Standing Pat a Good Move

Let MP walk at the end of the year.
Bite your tongue and pass on Mike Miller.
Pass on Charlie Villanueva.
Walk away from the Jermain O’Neal sweepstakes.
Reaching the other end of the trade deadline without making a move won’t be a bad deal at all. In fact, it may be the best deal available. Any person of value will have a catch, usually some worthless player with a bloated contra chained to their ankle. It’s not worth it to take on a bad contract. It’s not worth it to burn the trade exception now unless it is on a no-brainer.
Two reasons: a) it won’t help the Warriors over the Lakers/Dallas/Phoenix/Spurs hump; b) there will be plenty options in the offseason.

Seriously, who out there is going to help the Warriors win the Pacific, ensuring them a top-four seed? Who out there that is available can hit the ground running over the next 28 games and propel the Warriors into the playoffs, then be good enough to make Nellie’s eight-man playoff rotation? The choices are slim.
This offseason, there will be plenty more options. The same players will be available, plus the restricted free agent market, plus the free agents to be. The Warriors won’t be stuck trying to make moves with greedy GMs looking to capitalize on deadline pressure. Mullin & Co. will have the leverage in the form of options.

With an owner that has regard for the luxury tax, Mullin has to be careful about every move. It would be much smarter to make moves for a championship than to get a round further into the playoffs.
The pattern is clear. In today’s NBA, you have to have three great players to win a title. The Warriors have one great player and two really good ones (Ellis and Jackson). By next year, Ellis will be closer to great. All the Warriors will need is one more great player. They have a better chance of getting that during the offseason then now.

1

Jackson hyperextends knee…

Quick note from The Q: While harried beat writers were trying to chronicle the last frantic minutes of the Warriors’ come-from-behind, lose-from-ahead 100-95 defeat to New Jersey on Saturday, Stephen Jackson hyperextended his right knee. Jackson said he suffered the injury trying to slide to his right while tracking New Jersey guard Richard Jefferson, taking a mis-step as he tried to get over someone else’s foot.
Although he finished the game, Jackson was hurt badly enough that his presence in uniform tonight was in question until he finished his pre-game warm-ups. He said he will play and is expected to shoulder the heavy duty of guarding Cleveland star LeBron James.
“It just feels real weak,” said Jackson, who was trying out a sleeve on his knee as the media’s pregame session in the locker room came to a close. “I just don’t want to hurt it worse than it is.”
Jackson was asked the natural follow-up: So, can it get worse if you play on it?
“They basically put it in my hands, so I’m going to give it a shot,” Jackson said.

– Geoff Lepper