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

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

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.