S-Jax draining tre’s while shutting down Dirk with thugadocious defense, B-Diddy shitting on Andrei Kirilenko with the posterizing dunk of the century, and to quote one Jim Mora, “Playoffs?!” The Warriors’ epic run through the postseason was one for the ages. However, as we approach the All-Star break less than two seasons removed from their unprecedented burst onto the playoff scene, the Baron-less W’s are back to being a haphazard circus act that sits near the bottom of conference standings with a miserable 17-35 record. Of those 35 thrashings, two came at the hands of the newly relocated Oklahoma City Thunder, with a sprinkling of losses to Memphis, Sacramento, Washington and Minnesota throughout the season. Ouch.
Coming off a promising 2007-08 season that saw the Warriors end up with the best record in NBA history not to make the postseason, it’s confounding to get a handle on what exactly happened with the once-promising boys in blue and gold. The fall from grace started in the offseason. The Dubs locked up rebounding machine Andris Biedrins with a long-term deal and was ready to do the same with a 3-year, $39 million contract on the table between GM Chris Mullin and point guard Baron Davis. Only one problem: President Robert Rowell — likely siding with Head Coach Don Nelson on the issue — nixed the deal, feeling that the Baron wasn’t worth the big bucks. Big mistake, fellas. B-D was the heart and soul of the team, and $13 million a year certainly isn’t too much to ask for a team leader that can both distribute the ball and take over the game when called upon. Sure, Baron was the face of the franchise, but it’s all good ’cause it’s Monta’s team now, right? Wrong.
After taking a tumble from a cruising Moped, the explosive guard’s ankle was mangled, and the first half of the Monta-less 2008-09 season was presumed a failure. Needless to say, the Warriors have done a great job living up to these expectations.
Don Nelson’s once-popular brand of small-ball — which, by the way, has never advanced past the conference finals in almost 30 years of coaching — is looking worse than ever. With former Knick Jamal Crawford and recently returned — mind you, out of shape — Monta Ellis on the floor together, you get two combo guards who would rather score than play the point. Slashing swingman Corey Maggette has power forward duties, while Nelson refuses to put out his young, big men to assist Biedrins in the paint. The haggard head coach resembling an alcoholic Santa Claus looks worse for wear, even appointing Assistant Coach Keith Smart as the “defensive coordinator” of the team after realizing his own ineptitude at coaching on the defensive side of the ball. Worst of all, there’s no end in sight as Nelson holds complete contract leverage in a deal that goes through 2011.
It’s not like the rest of the West is lagging. The perennial powers are still dominant, and promising young teams such as the Nuggets and Trailblazers are on the rise. The Warriors, on the other hand, will be over salary cap for the next two years, boasting five players with salaries in double digit millions.
Even more frightening than Golden State’s future is the prospect of what the Dubs’ front office absolutely shouldn’t, but probably will, do. With Nelson’s stubbornness to play young talent, the W’s are likely to trade away one of their young power forwards, neither of whom has had any chance to prove his worth. Trading Brandan Wright would be ill advised, as the former Tar Heel is essentially a young Biedrins with a midrange game. Even worse would be dealing Anthony Randolph, their 2008 lottery pick that many scouts say will develop into the best big man of a class that included Stanford’s Brook Lopez, UCLA’s Kevin Love and number-two pick Michael Beasley. He might pull some wacky shennanagins out there, but in extremely limited minutes Randolph’s already given fans a glimpse of his freak athleticism.
There are a few moves the W’s can make to weather the storm, bringing them back into the playoffs in the coming years while sending the Bay Area into a frenzy and giving S-Jax a reason to go dummy in the club. First off, trade away one of the big contracts, losing offensive firepower but gaining a defender or two in the process. Jamal’s crossover moves are saucy, but it’s going to be close to impossible for him to coexist with Monta on a winning team. Secondly, play Wright and Randolph, and add a cheap big man that can run the floor to shore up the middle (Chris “The Birdman” Andersen would go wild in Oakland!).
Finally, get a true point guard that can run the show like the Baron of old. Sad to say, we can’t take on the contract the Clips gave him right now, but there are a couple of alternatives. Jason Kidd hits the market at the end of this year, and if the Warriors are one contract lighter, there’s a chance the Cal legend would make an East Bay return even if he has to take a pay cut. More realistically, they could try something new this upcoming draft and trade down to secure one of the many pure point guards that should go late in the first round such as Ty Lawson of UNC or Johnny Flynn of Syracuse if he decides to make the jump. But with a draft history that includes Adonal Foyle over T-Mac and Todd Fuller (who?) ahead of Kobe Bryant, anything – bad, that is — can and will happen.
If Golden State is down to let a UCSB undergrad take the reins, things would get better. Unfortunately, that scenario is far from reality, and with a franchise known for appalling executive decisions, the next few seasons should prove disheartening for us diehard fans. Here’s to hoping that Don Nelson drinks himself into retirement, and Captain Jack shoots up the major players on the Westside.