Saturday, December 06, 2008

A Golden Mess in Oakland

Okay Nellie. That's it. I'm done with you-- we're done with you.

My beloved Golden State Warriors just lost by 35 points to a cohesive, professional San Antonio team-- their 9th loss in a row. I for one, am out for blood.

We didn't know exactly what to expect this season. We (and by we, I mean us real fans-- sometimes referred to as the "lunatic fringe"), dealt with the sting of missing the playoffs last season despite being the winningest team in history to do so. Okay. I can deal with that-- after all, we are kinda used to disappointment. Then we woke up to the news one morning that our Golden Boy, Baron Davis was leaving us for the smog and malaise of Clipperland.

That was a tough pill to swallow. There have been countless opinion articles I've read about the whole Baron thing. Folks like Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Merc and Ray Ratto of the Chronicle have given plenty of reasons why Baron probably needed to go anyway. I started buying into it, because I felt so damn betrayed. He enjoyed the best stint of his career with us, you know? We had a good nucleus, and he was only a 1 hour private plane flight to the Van Nuys airport away from home. Couldn't our leader and catalyst have just stayed?

Now I see that perhaps Baron had his reasons beyond his childish desire to return home to work on his "film company" and attempt to nail Kate Hudson as she rebounds from another failed relationship with another deeply flawed actor sporting severe emotional problems.

Baron felt disrespected by ownership-- not Nellie or Captain Jack, or the nice lady who tends bar upstairs at Club 200 at Oracle. And what do egotistical prima donna athletes do when they "feel disrespected"? They run to the nearest person waving a blank check. That person could smell like sulfur and have devil horns hidden under a bad toupee, but it's what they're waving, not what they're selling.

"Oh. They respect me!"

And now what, Baron? You're playing in front of an indifferent fanbase in another team's building with a control freak coach who calls 80% of offensive sets and plays from the bench. Baron would have more fun strapping on skates and playing for the LA Kings.

That's the price of disrespect.

Many Warrior fans are unaware of the shadowy bureaucracy and political power-playing going on in the Dubs' front office. I had never heard of President Robert Rowell until he started throwing his weight around this year. I thought GM Chris Mullin reported directly to absentee owner Chris Cohan about all personnel decisions, and Cohan either signed off on them or didn't-- most of the time the former rather than the latter.

That all changed when Cohan gave Bobby Rowell power. He's now like the spoiled power-tripping son of an aging billionaire father-- think Hank Steinbrenner.

Apparently divisions in the front office run deep. Nellie and Mullie used to be on the same side. Mullin knew they types of players Nellie wanted and Nellie had a lot of pull in the draft and in free agency. But somewhere along the line, with Rowell stepping into the picture, things began to get ugly.

That's where the Baron soap opera and the Monta Ellis suspension all tie together... culminating in a ghastly team on a 9 game losing streak on the verge of the luxury tax threshold.

The Baron and Monta debacles were handled the wrong way; they were handled badly. It's a fact that Mullin had an agreement with Boom Dizzle on a contract extension that was quashed by Rowell. The deal would've meant that Baron wouldn't have "opted out" and a 3 year $39 million dollar deal would've been added onto Baron's remaining year. For all intents and purposes, we would've signed Baron to a 4 year $57 million dollar deal.

Unfortunately Bobby Rowell decided that he knew more about basketball players than a former NBA All-Star and Olympic Gold Medalist. Or that there are other factors at play such as a hidden agenda...

Now, in Mullin's early days as GM, he handed out some heinous contracts (Dunleavy, Murphy, Foyle). But lately, he's done a better job, especially with the Turiaf, Azubuike, Ellis, and Biedrins deals. I don't know what role Rowell played in all those contracts other than checking 'yes' or 'no', but I'm giving Mullin credit for them. Two cornerstones and two very helpful role players for market price are good signings in my book.

But the irrational overtures to Gilbert Arenas and Elton Brand after Rowell forced Davis out, followed by the ridiculous knee-jerk revenge signing of Corey Maggette lead me to believe that Mullin is more than just a dead man walking... he's been fried for months.

Mullin didn't have anything to do with these moves. Do I have proof? No. I don't. I don't have press credentials, and I don't have Rowell's office bugged. What I do have is logic and a huge conspiracy theory. (Yeah, that makes sense...)

Knowing what we know now about the way Rowell single handedly overrode Chris Mullin's deal with Baron, and the way the Monta suspension was handed down, I think it's safe to say that winning is not Rowell's agenda.

I also wonder why exactly $57 million for the best basketball player we've had this century was too much, but we were willing to give $50 million to Corey Maggette and throw $105 mil at Arenas and then $90 mil at Brand-- who both were coming off really serious injuries.

Baron played all 82 last year. Go figure.

Then of course there's the matter of Crash Ellis's injury and suspension.

It is well documented that both Nellie and Mullie were not okay with Monta's 30 game suspension for Mopedgate-- Mullin especially. Mullin wanted to move on with it, taking the stance that it was unfortunate, but that mistakes happen. Rowell had other plans. Asked if Nelson and Mullin were involved in the decision, Rowell answered flatly, "No."

Rowell went onto say that, "Chris Mullin made it perfectly clear to both Mr. Cohan and myself that he didn’t think this was a big deal at the beginning. And we happen to think it’s a very big deal."

Rowell also said that Don Nelson is, "...hired to coach our basketball team...and he knows that these decisions need to be made by different people."

If that's not a political power play, then I don't know what is.

What's going on here is an absolutely bizarre high stakes game of divide and conquer within the Warriors organization.

Don't see it yet? Here's another example: Stephen Jackson.

Before Bobby Rowell suspended Ellis, Jackson, at media day, was asked if he thought a fine or suspension was fair. He toed the company line by saying, "My opinions don’t matter so I’m not even going to make one."

Meaning of course that he did have an opinion, but wasn't willing to cross the guy who was handing out bribes and burning bridges-- Rowell. And at the same press conference Jackson was asked about his own contract situation.

"I’m pretty sure I have a good relationship with Bobby, and it’s going to get taken care of." Jackson said.

And sure enough, a couple months later it was; to the tune of three years and $28 million.

Now I love Captain Jack. He's maddening at times with his erratic shooting, but he's the glue and the leader of this team. That's all beside the point.

The point is, the unholy duo of Chris Cohan and Robert Rowell is drawing lines in the sand and is either paying people or jettisoning them based on whether those individuals are compliant.

How about this one? Don Nelson.

Nelson must've known that he was screwed when he lost Baron. Behind the scenes he must've been pleading for them to re-sign him. It's fairly obvious based on their disgusting, discombobulated play thus far that without an above average, complete point guard, the entire Nelson system is useless. He knew that back in Dallas once Steve Nash left for Phoenix. No elite point guard? No Nellie ball.

But Nellie toed the line. He didn't ruffle feathers. There's no doubt in my mind that at some point Rowell called Nellie into his cave/lair/office and said, "You're gonna play ball, or you're out of here."

Sure enough, two days before Halloween. Don Nelson, at age 68, with a floundering roster incapable of stringing four good quarters together was given a 2 year extension worth an inexplicable $6 million per season.

What is that all about exactly?

Money talks more than anything else, and we all know that Don Nelson loves money. But with Rowell well on his way to canning Mullin, what then is the GM situation going to look like? Nelson stated earlier this year that he has no desire or intention to take over for Mullin, and that he wants Mullin back, but that was before Rowell bribed him over to the dark side.

Even more importantly, the team is playing so badly right now that Nelson must be preparing for his exit. Despite Nelson's statements to the contrary, I think he will be the GM sooner rather than later. I believe it was Marc Stein of who suggested that Nelson may develop some sort of "medical problem" that will force him from the bench. That's Nellie talk for "turning the team over to Sidney Moncrief and becoming a front office guy or retiring to Maui just like he did in Dallas."

Even if Nellie isn't going to be a front office guy, he sure is assembling a team of yes men with front office ties. The Warriors just announced last month that they hired former Milwaukee Bucks GM Larry Harris as an assistant coach and that former lead assistant (and Nellie man to the bone) Larry Riley was becoming the Assistant GM.

It looks like Nellie is in charge of some sort of strange transition team full of cronies-- just like Obama is doing right now. Weird.

All of these non-basketball personnel moves are making me a little sick, honestly. Why don't they just fire Mullin and give the man the decency of stabbing him in the chest, instead of the back. I think they at least owe him that much after all the good years he's given the organization.

It's like the Seinfeld episode where his co-workers find out that George isn't really handicapped and they try to force him out by removing all the furniture in his office.

But this is the new way in Oakland. It is the way of Bobby Rowell and the shadowy Cohan.

They've assembled a terribly dysfunctional team with no point guard and too much salary committed to severely flawed players like Jamal Crawford (defense so bad, he's almost like a sixth offensive player for the other team) and Corey Maggette (streaky ball hog who cannot/will not pass). Unless they're able to ship off one or both of those guys for an expiring contract, they'll have very little money to spend this offseason or next to improve this team. This of course is not even mentioning the fact that they traded a now valuable 1st round pick to New Jersey for the currently worthless Marcus Williams.

And before I wrap this up, I want to go on record saying that Monta Ellis, as fabulous a player as he is, is not the answer at point guard. Monta does his best work when he's free to move without the ball, get quick jump shots, and driving to the hoop. He's not a pass first player, and he shouldn't have to be. He'll be a lot like Gilbert Arenas if they put him at the point. He'll score a lot, but just as Washington hasn't, the Warriors won't get out of the first round of the playoffs (if they ever make it back anytime soon).

I just don't get it. Everything went right two years ago when the Dubs upset Dallas in the playoffs, but now...

Well now we've got a strange over-saturated front office of Nelson/Rowell minions, a grossly dysfunctional roster, and little hope for the immediate future.

I began writing this by saying that I want Nellie out of here. I still do. By Rowell diminishing Mullin's role, Nelson is officially responsible for what all his disciples and minions do in terms of personnel. Nelson is also responsible for the nauseating displays on the basketball court that have marred this season thus far. Giving up 130 points is not okay. Losing to Miami at home in overtime is not okay. Not playing Brandan Wright or Rony Turiaf with Biedrins is not okay. And yet, that is exactly what's happening.

This season is a total loss already. Monta will improve the team, but things will not get better until things change for the better.

And as I just painstakingly detailed above, exactly the opposite is happening.

Thank God I'm a Sharks fan too.

Check out Tim Kawakami's Talking Points Blog. He did all the leg work for me, and is the Bay Area's finest sports writer.