Singer and songwriter Cat Stevens once said, “I always knew looking back on my tears would bring me laughter, but I never knew looking back on my laughter would make me cry.” Stevens must be a Warriors fan. As the year 2009 comes to a merciful end for fans of the Dubs, looking back on it might induce heart burn. But this is the time of year for retrospectives, so prepare for a few derisive laughs and have a box of Kleenex handy as we look back at the top ten moments of 2009 for your Golden State Warriors.
10. Monta Ellis returns. On January 24, Ellis returns to action after missing more than half of the 2008-2009 season because of an injury sustained while riding a moped. Fans and the front office are still outraged that this costly injury threw the Warriors into the tank, and many are skeptical that Ellis can return to his pre-moped form. Ellis’s return is marked by inconsistency, and he misses a couple of weeks in February as the injury flares up. The front office holds a threat over Ellis’s head to void his contract, and this angers Ellis. However, on April 14, the Warriors announce that they will not void the contract. Ellis ends the season averaging a respectable 19.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, and 3.7 apg.
9. Anthony Morrow scores 47 in the Las Vegas Summer League. After concluding a successful rookie season, in which he leads the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage and sets a record by scoring 37 points in his first start as a rookie, Morrow enjoys a very successful summer league, averaging 24.7 ppg and setting a summer league scoring record with a 47 point performance on July 16, the highest point total in the history of the Las Vegas Summer League.
8. Anthony Randolph wins the Las Vegas Summer League (unofficially). After closing out a tumultuous rookie season (more on this later) with a strong month of March in which he averages 15 points and 10 rebounds a game, Randolph works hard in the summer and then performs impressively at the Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 26.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2.2 steals per game for the Warriors who finish with a first place record of 4 and 1. Though he is edged out by Blake Griffin as the MVP, many observers, including the Las Vegas Sun, consider him the true MVP. (http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2009/jul/19/second-annual-and-winners-are/)
7. Anthony Randolph altercation in practice with Rob Kurz. Though this incident happens behind the closed doors of practice, the ramifications reverberate through the rest of the season. Stephen Jackson called out Randolph when the incident occurred to let him know it was unacceptable to go at a teammate in the manner he did. Tension grows between Randolph and Nelson, reaches a boiling point when Randolph fires his agent in February, the controversy heats up again and fans fear that another Chris Webber debacle is being visited upon the Warriors. Many fans grow disgruntled that Randolph is behind Rob Kurz in the rotation as they see the promising Randolph as one of the team’s best front line players, and a player with superstar potential. The controversy around Randolph has not subsided, as this season Randolph’s minutes have been erratic, he has been asked to play back-up center, and the Warriors as recently as this Month (December) have intimated that Randolph is a tradable asset.
6. Stephen Curry is drafted. On June 25, Stephen Curry becomes the newest Warrior. He is the seventh pick in the 2009 NBA draft, and he wasn’t expected to drop that far. The Warriors are ecstatic to get Curry, as are many Warriors fans. Curry has NBA pedigree being the son of former NBA player, Dell Curry, and he enjoyed a fabled college career at Davidson.
On the night of the draft, rumors circulate that the Warriors are interested in trading Andris Biedrins, Brandan Wright, Marco Belinelli and the rights to their 7th pick for Amar’e Stoudemire. The trade does not go down, and it is purported that the sticking point is the Warriors refusal to include Curry, whom they did not expect to be available at the 7 spot.
5. Stephen Jackson is traded to the Charlotte Bobcats. Thanksgiving comes early for the Warriors and their fans, as Stephen Jackson and Acie Law are traded to Charlotte for Vlad Radmanovic and Raja Bell on November 16. The disgruntled Jackson had publicly expressed his desire to be traded earlier in the summer, and he brazenly affirmed his position at a team press conference at the start of camp. The drama intensifies as Jackson is suspended without pay for two games after an incident that happened in an exhibition game against the Los Angeles Lakers on October 9. In that game, Jackson loses his cool and picks up five fouls and a technical in less than 10 minutes. Jackson feels that Don Nelson did not look out for him and the two get into a heated exchange. Jackson goes to the locker room and never returns. From here on, the situation gets worse and has an obvious impact on team morale. When Jackson is finally traded, rumors spread that Monta Ellis would also like to be traded. Rumors subside after a reported meeting between Ellis’s agent and Robert Rowell never takes place.
Two other trades took place over the summer and impacted the team significantly. Jamal Crawford is traded on June 24 for Acie Law and Speedy Claxton, thus removing a $10.1 million contract for expirings. Marco Belinelli is traded on July 30 for journeyman Devean George and cash considerations. Law has since been traded, and Claxton and George have yet to log a minute of action this season.
4. Brandan Wright and Kelenna Azubuike sustain season-ending injuries. If it weren’t for the drama and dysfunction of the Warrior’s front office and management, injuries would be the top story of 2009. The entire 2008-2009 season was injury-riddled, as key players such as Andris Biedrins, Stephen Jackson, Corey Maggette, Ronnie Turiaf, and Brandan Wright miss large portions of the season due to injuries. That trend continues in the 2009-2010 season as Wright separated his shoulder again this preseason and Kelenna Azubuike tore his patella tendon in November. Making matters worse, Biedrins and Turiaf sustained injuries and missed all of November and most of December. The Warriors can only hope that the law of averages kicks in and they do not have any major injuries for the rest of 2010.
3. Monta Ellis emerges as a star. Back to full health and putting the troubled 2008-2009 season behind him, Ellis has emerged as possibly the first All Star on the Warriors since 1997 when Latrell Sprewell represented the team. Ellis has become one of the league’s elite scorers; he is currently sixth in league in scoring at 25.5 points per game. He has scored 30 plus points in 11 of the last 20 games. Ellis is perhaps the fastest player off the dribble since Allen Iverson, and he shoots a consistent midrange jump shot that is almost impossible to block due to his elevation. Ellis is the Warriors go-to player and team leader. In spite of the team’s poor record, Ellis should be selected for the 2010 All Star game.
2. Warriors fail to make the playoffs for the 14th time in 15 seasons. The record speaks for itself. After being tantalized in 2007 with “We Believe” the Warriors faithful are hammered in 2009 by another losing season and another year without their team in the playoffs. It’s remarkable to consider that in a league where more than half of the teams in NBA make the playoffs each season that the Warriors have made it only once in the last 15 years. If success is measured by playoff appearances, that’s a 6% rate of success. And that ghastly figure brings us to our #1 Warriors moment in 2009.
1. Chris Mullin exits. Technically, Mullin was not fired. On May 12 Robert Rowell announces that Mullin’s contract will not be renewed and that Larry Riley, Don Nelson’s confidant, will replace him. Rowell cites that Mullin is not being asked back because the team has not attained measurable success under his watch. Of course, the local media and fans are quick to point out that the Warriors have had even less measurable success under Rowell and Cohan. Cohan has been the one common denominator through the Warrior’s longstanding futility this past 15 years, and Rowel has been a chief decision-maker in the organization longer than anyone else besides Cohan. Though Mullin made his share of mistakes as a GM, he was maturing and moving the franchise forward. It was he, not Rowell, who was chiefly responsible for putting the pieces together that made the “We Believe” run in ’07.
The way Mullin was let go was almost as egregious as the firing itself. Mullin was neutered over the course of a year. On November 6, 2008 Assistant GM Pete D’Alessandro was fired and replaced by Riley. From there, Mullin was stripped of major decision-making power. Warrior’s fans are familiar with the particulars. (Extending Stephen Jackson, threatening to void Monta’s contract, etc.)
Chris Mullin is an icon in the eyes of Warriors fans, and for many of them, the treatment he received in addition to the mismanagement of the team by the front office and Nelson mark a turning point in their outlook on the organization.