Wednesday, December 24, 2008

STAY STRONG DIE-HARDS

It's time to let go of the past and let the future rise up.

They suck. As soon as news hit that Ellis suffered a serious ankle injury, anyone with their feet on the ground and head not too high in the clouds could clearly see that this season would test everyone associated with this franchise...from the Owner, to the Front Office, to the Coach, to the Players, and to the Fans. It was going to be a rough year - the bright spots for the team came from the young and underutilized, but they weren't going to save the season - they're not ready yet.

This may be a low point for many Warrior Fans, but this short term pain is necessary for the Warriors to turn this franchise into a perennial playoff contender sooner, rather than later. Face it, the Warriors are not a good playoff team even if all their vets were healthy...not even close. Why spin your wheels to get clobbered in the first round or most likely just miss out on the playoffs when instead, you could land a big missing piece to the puzzle in next year's shallow draft? They are in 'Stealth Tank-Mode', like it or not.

I'm on the record for not wanting to lock in Baron Davis to a 4+ year mega-million deal (anything greater than $10M) and was thrilled and excited about the possibility of starting fresh with some promising young talent to build around. I was hoping for one more year, where Cohan would put all his chips in to make a big run to go deep into the playoffs, but that didn't happen. The Warriors decided not to use the $10M Trade Exception and to break up the 'We Believe' roster so much so, that their leader, Baron Davis, left $17M on the table and headed to the Clippers. With Baron's opt-out, the Warriors proceeded to have one of the WORSE off-seasons in Warrior history - one that can only be salvaged by the drafting of Anthony Randolph and retaining of Ellis and Biedrins. What was most disturbing about the offseason was the type of talent they were trying to bring in to replace their lost star....not young talent like Josh Smith or Andre Iguodala, but aging/injury prone stars like Arenas, Brand, and Maggette. Maggette is a good player when healthy, but they severely overpaid and locked him in for too many years. He's too one-dimensional and past his prime to warrant such a big chunk of the Warriors financial commitment. They would have been much better off keeping the wind-fall of cap flexibility, but the fear of losing bandwagon fans from the whole 'We Believe' phenomenon as well as Nelson's pursuit of the coaching victory record resulted in bad moves that any intelligent basketball fan could see would end up hurting more than helping in the long run.

The Warriors, by all reports, have frozen out Mullin and are now being run by some combination of Rowell and Nelson. So far this duo has failed miserably with the pre-mature extension of Jackson and the cruel political games manifesting themselves in baffling player rotations. Marcus Williams is given less of a chance to succeed than DeMarcus Nelson. Belinelli was buried deep on the bench until he was given longer stints on the court to show what he could do. Rob Kurz has a longer leash than either Wright or Randolph. The Warriors sleeper 2nd rounder, big-time rebounding big man, Richard Hendrix was released to further the 'Bash Mullin's Guys' cause. They decided to keep DeMarcus Nelson even though the Warriors were overloaded with guards and Nelson was not a true PG nor an asset on the offensive end. Fans and the media see through Don Nelson's mind games and back office dealings - it may have worked 15 years ago, but it won't go unchecked or at least unacknowledged this time around. We are watching and hope that politics is set aside and the betterment of the team is put in front of egos and power struggles.

I loved Nelson as a small ball coach with a capable roster (strong PG) and as a talent evaluator, but his determination to run Mullin and his picks into the ground has clouded his judgment. It's clear that Randolph and Wright deserve more consistent minutes. It's also clear that the best true PG, Marcus Williams, is nailed to the bench and sees less time than DeMarcus Nelson, a scrub that will be lucky to stick in the NBA. Williams may turn out to be a bust, but at least afford him the same opportunity to prove himself just as much as Watson and Nelson are given that chance - he can't be much worse. Then again, if Williams succeeds, Nellie looks bad and Mullin looks good. Can't have that, can we?


We know Nellie loves to pull mind games, but we must not let
history repeat itself by letting his actions go unchecked.

This is a train wreak, but there is light at the end of the tunnel if you stick around long enough to chug down the tracks during this trying time. Here are the few positives among the many negatives:
  1. Anthony Randolph looks to be a special player that can contribute today on the boards and on defense, but also has a big upside on the offensive end. He could be the type of player that could carry a franchise into contention if developed properly and coached to his potential. His size, aggressiveness, ball-handling, and work ethic make him a valuable piece for the future. He's shown an aptitude for making nice passes as well as the ability to hit perimeter shots. At only age 19, Randolph is a raw package of potential that cannot be allowed to be dealt the same fate as Webber 15 years ago.
  2. Brandan Wright is pretty good. He seems to have a better offensive game than Biedrins had at this stage of his development, and I believe he'll have an even bigger impact on offense than Biedrins is having right now. He has more moves, a better touch around the rim, and best of all, a jumper. Wright's frame will continue to fill out, he'll improve his post play, his shot will go down with more consistency, and more experience will give him more confidence and savvy on the court. The more Nelson plays him, the faster he will develop into a great starter at PF who is not only an offensive threat, but a shot changer that could wreak havoc in the passing lanes along with Randolph and Biedrins' quick, long arms.
  3. Andris Biedrins is a double-double machine. At only 22 years old, he has already been mentioned as one of the best centers in the league. He's agile, intelligent, works hard, and is well respected by his teammates. He will only get better. Put him next to a true PF that will allow him to deal with less than 1 or 2 opponents at once, then he will thrive. Small ball puts a lot of pressure on him on the defensive end, forcing him out of position and to work twice as hard as he tries to make up for the lack of size in the other frontcourt positions. Warriors are lucky to have locked him up long term at such a good price.
  4. Monta Ellis will be back. His rehabilitation seems to be going well. We know he can be an unstoppable scorer with the ability to put up All-star numbers when he reaches his prime. The ankle injury delayed his PG development, but if he is not rushed back and joins the team on the bench, watches, learns, and takes it all in, he'll be more than fine.
  5. Marco Belinelli is starting to live up to the hype brought about by his big summer league performances and dismantling of Team USA in the World Championships. You could see him improve with every game. His defense is no longer a huge liability, he helps the team by promoting ball movement and unselfish play, has vastly improved his ability to finish at the rim, and with more work and greater confidence, he'll knock down the 3 with more even more regularity. He could be a solid starter if Randolph can evolve into a Lamar Odom type of big giving the Warriors a 3rd distributor, but I envision him as best suited as the 6th man (like Ginobili) that leads the second unit and provides instant offense. Belinelli knows how to play basketball the right way.
  6. The Warriors have several very good role players that could stick around long enough for the team to blossom. Azubuike, Turiaf, Morrow, and Crawford strengthen the bench and provide toughness, change of pace, and complimentary skills. Maggette is starting material, but hopefully, when the Warriors are ready to compete for a title, he will be gone. Jackson has the makings of a good leader, but his 180 degree change in attitude once he signed his over-priced extension leads one to question whether or not he is a player that is worth keeping around as the young core develops. His injury and the losing are understandable sources of frustration, but to hear that he argued with Nelson and would welcome a trade even after the Warriors rewarded him with a big contract is very disappointing. Robert Rowell got played and in the future, should have zero say in ANY basketball related personnel decisions. PERIOD!
  7. A huge positive that could potentially be a franchise fortune changer is the high draft pick the Warriors are on pace to attain in the 2009 Draft. Although this is said to be a weak draft, there are a few players that could push the Warriors back into instant relevance, namely Ricky Rubio, James Harden, and Blake Griffin. PG's Jrue Holiday and Brandon Jennings may have that impact as well. Earl Clark is intriguing, but unless he can play SG (doubtful at the NBA level), he's a redundant piece. Blake Griffin could be an upgrade over Wright, and would enable the Warriors to package Wright along with Maggette or Jackson to regain breathing room in the salary cap department and perhaps replace the pick lost in the Marcus Williams trade.


If Rubio decides to declare for the draft in 2009 and the
Warriors are lucky enough to win the lottery, they will
be well on their way to building a contender.



Assuming we land a top 5 pick, the future lineup could look something like this: Ellis / Harden / Randolph / Wright / Biedrins - Bench: Belinelli, Crawford, Turiaf, Morrow. Harden and Ellis are big time scoring threats in which Ellis excels in mid-range shots and drives to the hoop while Harden hits from 3, defends, and scores in a variety of ways. Both have adequate PG skills. Randolph is the key to the starting 5 that will determine whether or not the Warriors will be able to be thought of as among the top contenders in the NBA. If he can also be a versatile scoring threat to complement Ellis and Harden, he would be a weapon on both ends of the floor, blocking shots, rebounding, defending, deflecting, bringing up the ball, and distributing at the SF position. Biedrins is already well on his way to being one of the top centers. Wright has the potential to follow a similar path as Biedrins with a little more offense, less rebounding, and more blocking. Belinelli, Morrow, and Crawford add more perimeter scoring while Turiaf comes in to defend the occasional big that the starting frontcourt can't handle. It's definitely not the small ball lineup Nellie is obsessed with pushing, but perhaps after Nellie breaks the record, he'll turn over the reins to a more open-minded coach that appreciates defense and starts the best players every night, no matter how tall they may be.

Warriors need to be strong, stay the course, stay positive, and stick to tanking. Do not be tempted to bring back Ellis too early just to win a few meaningless games. If the Warriors are far enough in the standings as to not hurt their lottery chances with a few wins, maybe they bring back Jackson, Maggette, and Ellis to excite the fan base and salvage a few season ticket holder sales. The smart thing to do, however, is to play the young guys as much as possible, hold Ellis out until the very last month of the season insuring that he is 100% healthy, play Marcus Williams to pump up his trade value and so the young guys know what it is like to play with a true PG, do everything in their power to trade Jackson and Maggette, and get the Minority Owners to buy out Chris Cohan.

If the Warriors play their cards right, they can turn this thing around faster than you think. Die-hards will always be around. And for those of you that came on board during the playoff run of 2007, just keep in mind that sticking with this team even at it's lowest moments makes winning even sweeter. See 'We Believe'. Accept that it is gone, brace yourself for a rough 2009, and watch this team get back on track.

Happy Holidays to all!


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