By: Rick Blaine & Rasheed Malek
The All Star Break was supposed to be a quiet week for the Warriors. They had no players representing the West in the game, and in the eyes of the casual fan, this 14-37 team is regressing like a Weight Watchers client in a Hometown Buffet. Their eyes don’t lie. And for those of us who still care—those who bear what I call “my childhood curse”—it’s a wonder that we can stand to visage this Gorgon of a franchise and not turn to stone. And yet, surprisingly, the news cycle of last week turned out to be very interesting and entertaining for Warriors fans. Some intriguing stories and subplots have emerged that have kept the diehards engaged. And many Bay Area sports writers have written some great pieces on the issues. Let’s review and analyze.
Curry’s Triple Double vs. the Clippers and the Referendum on Monta Ellis
The Warriors entered Wednesday’s game against the Clippers with a nine game losing streak and with their top two scorers unavailable due to injury. The fans who decided to show up were treated to a 132-102 demolition of the lowly Clippers. Though it was only the Clippers, this was not a team that the shorthanded Warriors had any business beating, let alone dominating. Stephen Curry had his best game as a pro, scoring 36 points, dealing out 13 dimes, and grabbing 10 rebounds, the last of which providentially dropped into his hands as time expired. If you haven’t figured it out, the basketballs gods smile on Stephen Curry.
The significance of the game came not in the victory (though a few casual fans in attendance probably left delighted with the win and the free Jack in the Box burger). Rather, the real story was Stephen Curry, who became the first rookie since Kevin Johnson to have at least 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in a game. As Marcus Thompson has pointed out, Curry is only the sixth rookie to ever post at least 35, 10, and 10, sharing hallowed company with Kidd, Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Oscar Roberston, and Elgin Baylor.
Even more important than the triple double was the way Curry involved his teammates and how the ball moved freely in the absence of Monta Ellis and Corey Maggette. Many of Curry’s assists were dealt to Anthony Tolliver and Anthony Morrow who scored 29 and 26 points respectively. The entire team was involved and pleased not be mere spectators of the scoring forays of Ellis and Maggette. A lineup of Curry and a few role players blew out their opponent because Curry set up his mates. He didn’t just get HIS; he made his teammates better in the process. The result was entertaining, unselfish basketball. The Warriors accumulated 36 assists, and for the first time in a long time they were not bogged down by isolation plays and one-on-one playground style offense.
Granted, all of this was accomplished against the awful Clippers who were on the tail end of a back-to-back. The Clippers offered little resistance and allowed the Warriors to shoot a ridiculous 62% from the floor. Yet regardless of the opponent, Curry lead his team playing a style of ball that we haven’t seen all season, whether it was against the Lakers, Nets, or any other NBA team.
Observers have taken notice, and, Curry’s performance has begun a referendum on Monta Ellis. Fans and Writers are divided on the issue of trading Ellis, but there is growing consensus that Curry should be the full time point guard.
None of this is intended to diminish Ellis. He is a great scorer, and he is a valuable team asset, but his efficiency has dropped since becoming the first option on the team. Like Stephen Jackson before him, taking the lead role on the team has not translated into victories. Ellis has given Curry the cold shoulder all season, and his approach to sharing the back-court with the rookie has been tantamount to Jackson’s “It ain’t me” attitude. Ellis has not been a cancer by any stretch, but he has not been a great leader, and he has not demonstrated the potential that Curry has of bringing his teammates together on the floor.
To be clear, this is not all Ellis’s fault. The problems we’re seeing with him this season are more symptomatic of a coaching problem than with Ellis’s own attitude. Running the offense through individuals like Ellis has not worked for the Warriors. Don Nelson’s offensive schemes give too much liberation to high scorers and veteran stars. As we have seen with Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson, there is no accountability for gunning, chucking, and turning the ball over. Nelson encourages creativity—not a bad thing in itself—but he sets no limits on it. He spoils his stars, and the bad apples wind up spoiling the whole barrel. In another place and time, Curry and Ellis could flourish together, but I’m skeptical that it could work out now given the present circumstances. And that’s too bad, because Ellis is a fine player in the right system with the right coach. Trading Ellis for another star player is the Warriors best option at this time. Unfortunately, Ellis’s trade value is inherently damaged by the mere fact that he plays for the Warriors. It’s part of that vicious cycle that Warrior’s fans have become accustomed to. Great players are traded for pennies on the dollar and blossom with their new team.
NBA All Star Weekend
Ok, so let’s figure this out. Chris Kaman, Jason Kidd, and Chauncey Billups are selected over Ellis, the league’s sixth leading scorer and a great athlete who would have flourished in the all star exhibition. Stephen Curry is selected over Anthony Morrow in the 3 point shoot out, but Morrow is selected as a replacement in the Rookie Challenge. These selections actually make perfect sense when looking through the image conscious, marketing-driven prism of the NBA, where decisions are made with the sole purpose of advancing the league’s image, popularity, and marketability. Stephen Curry is marketable; he’s a media darling, and has an NBA pedigree and a wholesome image. Though Morrow may be the best three-point shooter in the league, he doesn’t have Curry’s star quality. He’s not the draw that Curry is, so Curry got the nod. As far as Ellis is concerned, leaving him off the team did not make sense. David Stern himself could not offer up a decent explanation as to why he wasn’t added on as a replacement. Ellis is an entertaining athlete who could be a real crowd pleaser in an All Star venue. Regardless of the reasons for the snub, Ellis should reflect on what he can do as a player to get his team more wins and earn his spot on future All Star Teams. If he does, spurning Ellis could be a blessing in disguise for both Ellis and the Warriors.
The Rookie Challenge and the Three Point Shooting Contest
At the Rookie Challenge neither Stephen Curry nor Anthony Morrow did a lot to distinguish themselves. They performed decently, but did not enhance their reputations with great performances. Both played away from the ball and capitalized on most of the opportunities they got, but there were not very many. Tyreke Evans secured MVP honors with a strong performance that will strengthen his chances of winning Rookie of the Year. DeJuan Blair was simply a revelation with his domination in the paint.
Curry faired better at the Three Point Competition. Setting the high score in the first round, he was the prohibitive favorite entering the final round. But he ran into trouble with the rack at the top of the arc, and things went south from there. Nonetheless, a second place showing isn’t bad.
Watching these events on television, it was interesting to observe the respect and esteem that the national media has for Curry. What is it about Curry that elicits that admiration of great ones like Lebron James, Bobby Knight, and Chris Paul? Curry is virtually regarded as basketball royalty by those who know a thing or two about it. I guess being a blue blood helps. Whatever the case, the Warriors seem to have something special in Curry. There is an aura there, and he might turn out to be one of those transcendent stars who changes the fortunes of a franchise.
Trade Winds Blowin’
As the trade deadline approaches (Thursday), it is rumored that Andris Biedrins and Corey Maggette are being shopped in an effort to save money. With the Warriors front office apparently back in full “Salary Protection” mode it is not surprising that Speedy Claxton along with his $5.2 million expiring contract was released before the trading deadline. Larry Riley has stated that Ellis and Curry are not going to be traded. Anyone else, he intimated, is on the table. With many of the Warriors trade chips injured, the Warriors enter the final heated days of the trade season with the same limitation that they enter games. If their goal is merely to shed salaries, Cohan will be facing a stiff challenge come season ticket renewal time.
If the Warriors have a plan for moving the franchise forward and beyond salary protection, they have a funny way of showing it. By the looks of things they are a rudderless ship drifting off course. Perhaps Larry Ellison can give the Warriors a hand. He knows a thing or two about boats. Now that he’s won the America’s Cup, he can focus on his next order of business. Recent reports by ESPN NBA writer Ric Bucher indicate that Stern would love for Ellison to buy the team, and that a sale could come as early as this summer. Pardon the pun, but if a sale comes to pass, fans who have endured the turbulent waters of the past 15 years are in for smooth sailing in the years to come.
The Don Nelson Situation
Over the last couple of weeks many in the media have speculated that Don Nelson won’t be around next season, even if he doesn’t get the record for most wins by a coach. Chris Cohan is in a pickle on this one. On the one hand he doesn’t appear to be in a financial position to buy out another coach, especially at the hefty price of $6 million. On the other hand, Nelson has not been effective since the “We Believe” season and once fiercely loyal fans are pulling up stakes. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen this many empty seats at the Oracle. Fan support for Nelson has evaporated, and Cohan must know that he can’t afford to lose his season ticket holder base. He must make changes. Cohan is in a no win situation here. If he is intent on keeping the team, his only option is to let go of Nelson at the end of the season. If he wants to retain Nelson’s services so that he doesn’t have to eat all of the remaining $6 million, he can always announce to fans in May that he is moving Nelson upstairs for the 2010-2011 season.
Whatever Cohan decides to do, it’s become self-evident that Nelson is not a good fit for this team. Nelson doesn’t work well with young players, especially young post players, and that is one of his biggest problems. In a Contra Costa Times article published on Monday morning, Nelson was quoted as saying, “When you get old and have a lot of knowledge, it’s easier to coach a good team where you can use it. When you coach a team like this one, you can use maybe only 10 or 15 percent of that knowledge. You can’t make it too complicated because they’re too young. You can’t do the things with average players that you can do with really good players.” Self-serving comments like this have not helped Nelson’s cause. They alienate him from his team, which is one reason he has depended on assistant coaches to communicate with the players and take on roles normally reserved for the head coach. Nelson’s inability to get out of young players what he wants has clearly been an insurmountable obstacle for him and a detriment to the future development of the team. And while it’s certainly true that Nelson has not had great players here, that is not something that a coach should ever declare publicly. Isn’t it expected that a coach will get the most out of the team, regardless of its talent threshold? No one is expecting instant championships. Warriors fans, who have been patient and supportive, want to see measured, steady growth. They want to see the pieces that are being collected develop over time into a winner. Over the last two years little progress has been made in that regard.
For the team to get back to a positive trajectory, it will need a coach who can nurture and develop young players, demand defense and rebounding, incorporate a post game, and stress team play and ball movement. Nelson’s obsession with small ball, his uneven system of discipline that gives veteran stars free reign and unlimited playing time, his disdain for conventional post play, and his eschewal of defense and rebounding have proven ineffective. Nelson is an accomplished coach, and he has given much to the game. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. But his tenure with the Warriors should come to end soon. It is time for a change.
Where Do We Go From Here?
For a team on a seemingly endless downward spiral, it would seem that the only possible direction they can take is up. To borrow from the title of an old Richard Pryor film, “Which way is up?” A lot depends on an ownership change, of course. But if we can only gauge the future using current variables, we are most likely in for bear market expectations. Lowell Cohn makes the following assessment of the Warriors in his recent editorial, Warriors Running on no Cylinders:
- “Here is a bottom-line fact you must admit: the Warriors are as bad as they ever have been. This Warriors team is a billion miles from being good. And face it, with the Warriors there is no plan and no hope. If there is a plan, please tell me. And don’t say it’s developing the young players — we’ve heard that before and it never happens.”
In this piece, Cohn is really railing against the triumvirate of Cohan, Rowell, and Nelson—with special attention to Nelson. Certainly many of the decisions that have been made over the past two years have not inspired hope. But taking out the management and ownership factor, I don’t think that the Warriors are as bad off as Cohn asserts. And I would disagree with his premise that we can’t place hope in the team’s young players.
Stephen Curry has come along quite nicely. And in spite of Nelson’s punitive treatment, Anthony Randolph and Brandan Wright have proven that when they get significant, consistent minutes they are productive and effective.
Moving forward, the team still has a very attractive core of young players in Curry, Randolph, Wright, and Anthony Morrow. The young veterans who include Ellis, Anrdis Biedrins, Kelenna Azubuike, and Ronny Turiaf are all good NBA players. Next season when the players come back healthy, and another high end lottery player is added to the mix, the team should be markedly improved, though not necessarily a playoff team. To Larry Riley’s credit, the Warriors have shed the bad contracts of Stephen Jackson (once deemed by many as untradeable) and Jamal Crawford. Whether or not they can pawn off Corey Maggette will determine how much salary cap flexibility the team carries into next season.
There is actually a pretty nice core of young players to work with, and by next season, many of them will be one more year older and one more year experienced.
Of course the elephant in the room here is Chris Cohan. The team could be a billion miles from being good, as Cohn puts it, or they can be a mere 1 mile away, but without ownership and leadership that is visionary, bold, and fully invested in winning, the team will never achieve sustained competitiveness.
WarriorsWorld TV Special Announcement
WarriorsWorld TV feat. Marcus Thompson
Stephen, Stephen, Stephen
Mr.Big Shot himself speaks on the Baby Faced Assassin
Stephen shows off his trick shots
Stephen and Anthony Morrow Rookie/Sophomore game highlights
3 Point Shootout footage
Make sure to follow the following people on Twitter.
Rasheed Malek – Twitter.com/warriorsworld
Lucena Herrera- Twitter.com/Lucena21
Sonia Tydingco– Twitter.com/MissSoniaT