If you're new to my blog, you'll probably think I'm a blind homer as I list off reasons why I feel the Warriors have a bright future. But if you go back into the archives of Mind of Mullin, you'll see that I've been critical of the organization whenever I feel it's deserved, I don't pull any punches, and let my disappointment be known when they make stupid moves along the way (Jackson extension, Maggette signing, max salary offer to Brand, straight-up trade of Harrington for Crawford, lack of development time for the youngsters, overall off-season grade, etc.) I suggest a lot of moves and targets to go after - some of them are duds but a large majority of my takes end up being spot on. I have a pretty good record for a basketball junkie compiling information from sources all over the place and turning them into recommendations for smart transactions.
In this entry, I'm not just playing the role of contrarian, I actually believe there is great reason to be optimistic. It seems as though a majority of fans and media are pessimistic about the Warriors future. They are taking their lousy record at face value and not taking into account that strategic tanking has been taking place ever since Nelson announced the team had no shot at the playoffs. On the surface, it looks as dysfunctional an organization as ever, but I believe looks can be deceiving and brighter days are just around the corner IF a few simple moves are made (or not made) this off-season.
Here are ten reasons why I think the Warriors are on the right track and are in for a great 2009-10 season:
1. Monta Ellis will return of sound mind and body.
The opting out of Baron Davis was a big blow to the 2008-09 season, but the Ellis 'moped' injury was a season killer. There was legitimate reason to be worried that Ellis would never return to his pre-injury form, but his late season play has proven that he is back. Up until a few days ago, the Warriors front office held the threat of voiding his contract over his head and bad blood between the two parties festered. I hope his absence on Fan Appreciation Night and on the day of the team photo will not an precursor of things to come between the $11M/YR man and the Warriors Organization. Now that Ellis doesn't have to worry about the void issue, hopefully, he'll be much happier and more willing to do whatever it takes to be a team player and be ready to lead the team.
2. Anthony Randolph will have a monstrous sophomore year.
By virtue of being a rookie deemed to be too stupid to make in-game adjustments, Don Nelson proceeded to yank Anthony Randolph out of games and benched for multiple games for any little mistake. Curiously, if other players made the same mistake they wouldn't the same treatment. It was clear from the outset that Randolph was a wild horse waiting to be tamed, but Nelson took the extreme approach and is lucky that relations weren't too strained because of his tactics and we did not have another Chris Webber situation on our hands. Playing Rob Kurz ahead of Randolph early and opting to play Maggette and Azubuike at PF instead of giving a single minute to Randolph was inexcusable. He should have gotten a few minutes every game (more in blowouts) and been yanked on a per game basis. Randolph missed defensive assignments and made silly turnovers, but Nellie's double standard was taken to the extreme and as a result, Randolph was robbed of a Rookie All-Star appearance, a shot at Rookie of the Year, and the fans were treated to 3/4 of a season without the exciting Randolph to enjoy. Nellie wanted to show everyone who was in charge and Randolph got caught in the crossfire. Now that Randolph is not a rookie anymore, look for an improved, more experienced athletic freak to grab the PF role from the outset and not look back. The only person that could stop him is Nellie, but he has already stated that Randolph is penciled in as the starting PF until Wright could wrestle it back away from him.
3. The discovery of Morrow was like stealing another 2009 late-lottery pick.
Whoever was responsible for finding Morrow and signing him to the Summer League roster deserves to stay. It might be Mullin, but we probably won't know until after he exits and IF he spills the beans. If it was him, it would be great if he could be retained as Director of Scouting, but unfortunately, he has too much pride and the Warriors have treated him too poorly for him to do them any favors. Mullin's services and his special ability to relate to the players will be in demand so he won't be away from the NBA for too long.
Regardless of how he ended up here, the important thing is that Anthony Morrow is a Warrior. Touted as perhaps the best shooter in all of college basketball, he went undrafted and under the radar mainly because he put up lack-luster numbers at Georgia Tech. Don't know why, don't care, all I know is that we got him now. He proceeded to score 37 pts in his first NBA start and ended up leading the league in 3 point field goal percentage as a rookie. His stoke is quick and beautiful. His confidence will continue to grow along with other parts of his game (rebounding, defense, driving). Warriors did as well as anyone in last years draft by getting two incredible steals in Randolph (#14 pick) and Morrow (undrafted). Morrow will have a long career in the NBA by virtue of his coveted shooting skills. The Warriors have another valuable asset to do with as they see fit.
4. Don Nelson is in control of the draft.
He'll tell everyone otherwise, but there's no doubt in my mind that he has final say on what goes down on draft day. As much as I dislike Nellie's handling of the rotation, I really admire his eye for talent. Before last year's draft, Nelson's #1 guy was Randolph. He mentioned on KNBR that he was watching film at Maui and a player that hadn't been talked about as a possible #1 pick caught his eye and that he would consider taking him ahead of anyone in this draft. Fortunately, Mullin took his advice and phoned in his name at #14.
Now that Nellie's in charge, there will be no politics with regard to playing anyone on the roster. Everyone new, from here on out, will be a Nellie guy. No more games and questions of accountability.
5. New logo and uniforms? New mascot? New beginning.
Rumor has it that the Warriors are going to finally reveal a new look, new logo, and new uniforms. It's long overdue. For years they've been stuck with an amateurish design centered around a mascot named Thunder. What does he even have to do with being a Warrior? When I think of a Warrior, I think of a gladiator, Native American in full battle gear, or anything evoking the imagery of a soldier going into battle. Thunder doesn't do that for me and carrying that over as the inspiration of the logo and uniforms is just as bad. It's time to make a change and leave behind anything that reminds fans of some of the darkest years of the franchise.
Updating the classic 'City' jerseys would smart. I've read that the new Bay Bridge design will be incorporated - modern, slick, fresh, understated. Hire the best design firm to come up with the vision. If you invest in good design, you will be repaid many times over by Warrior fans and basketball fans in general who buy the merchandise because the result is an aesthetically pleasing one. Couple that with a Michigan St. Spartan type of mascot and the fans would eat the new image up.
6. Internal development from a promising young core will make for a deeper, more talented rotation.
Don Nelson has trust issues when it comes to playing the young guys over the established vets. Every mistake is amplified 10 fold if committed by one of the young players while the same kind of mistake made by the vets would have little consequence. Nelson would let his fear of mistakes blind him of the good each of the young talent brought onto the floor. He would use undrafted / low profile players like Rob Kurz, DeMarcus Nelson, C.J. Watson, and Jamario Davidson as motivational pawns in mind games. There was no margin of error allowed even in a lost season. None of the core youngsters was allowed to learn on the fly and develop while contributing on the court. As a result, Jackson, Maggette, Crawford and other vets would log in heavy minutes in what was supposed to be a year where development was one of the main objectives of the season.
With another year under their belts, Wright, Randolph, Belinelli, and Morrow will shed the inexperience label to some degree and be allowed to contribute more and be part of the rotation. They will come into next season stronger, more mature, and having worked on their weaknesses over the summer. Their talent is undeniable and shouldn't be held back just because they don't have seniority.
PG: Ellis / Crawford / Watson
SG: Jackson / Morrow / Belinelli
SF: Azubuike / Maggette
PF: Randolph / Wright
C: Biedrins / Turiaf
My preference would be:
PG: Ellis / vet PG / Holiday*
SG: Jackson / Belinelli
SF: Randolph / Morrow
PF: Wright / Azubuike / proto PF
C: Biedrins / Turiaf /3rd-string C with range
* 7th pick
out with Maggette and Crawford
This team can go 10 deep, easily (12 if they can't trade either Maggette or Crawford). Obviously, there will be a roster shake-up this off-season. Look for the addition of a true PG and the thinning out of wing players, most likely by attempting to trade Crawford, Maggette, Belinelli, Morrow, and Azubuike. Another back-up center is needed as well as a prototypical big POWER forward to bang with the bigs too much for Randolph and Wright to handle.
7. Don Nelson will claim the all-time wins record.
Don Nelson is only 24 wins away from surpassing Lenny Wilkin's regular season win record of 1332. Nelson's high octane style of play makes our brand of basketball fun to watch, but he is still missing a few types of players that will actually make his style serious challengers in the playoffs. Regardless, barring a catastrophe, Nelson should claim the mark next season. Not only would it be a historical season for Nelson and the Warriors, but it could also mark the transition of Nelson from coach to general manager. He is currently grooming Keith Smart to take over once he retires. Depending on how the season is going, Nelson could make an early exit to the front office after breaking the record and turn over the reigns to the less 'small-ball' obsessed Keith Smart. Smart is excellent in dealing with the players one-on-one, is in the process of improving his x's and o's, and seems to be open to playing the best players on the floor regardless of how tall they may be. Smart is also a defensive-minded coach, so that will also be a plus. Whether he takes over next season or at the start of 2010's, following Nellie's chase for the record should be fun. I know I would love to be at the game in which he finally does it.
8. The Warriors have a surplus of tradeable assets.
There are few teams with as much desirable young talent as the Warriors. They are the youngest team in the league and what they lack in star power they are starting to make up for in talented depth. Players with All-Star potential: Anthony Randolph, Monta Ellis, and Andris Biedrins. Players with high ceilings: Wright, Belinelli, Morrow. Players that could be valuable additions to a contender needing that one player to push them over the top: Azubuike, Turiaf. Watson's late season improvement also opened a few eyes. He has value if he can be retained at a low price.
Randolph is untouchable (well unless another untouchable is offered in return). It would take an established star for me to consider giving up Biedrins - young, smart, coachable, great hands, great work ethic, good passing, developing offensive game, good contract, and great locker-room presence. Ellis is fair game because he is a tweener, could be at risk to re-injure his surgically repaired ankle, and is a below average defender. Unless he can miraculously develop PG skills and revert back to the type of defense he played when he was a rookie, he's far from untouchable.
Crawford could be an excellent piece to an offensively challenged team. His contract lasts for 2 more years, so it's not too much of a commitment to make. He's overpaid, but he's not a trouble maker and on some nights he could be downright unstoppable.
The Warriors have a surplus of fine, young wing players in Belinelli, Azubuike, and Morrow. They are cheap, talented, offer a variety of skill-sets. They should look to trade one and keep the other two.
Brandan Wright is another intriguing asset that many teams around the league could have interest in. If trading him could rid us of the Maggette contract AND bring in another lottery pick to be used on a PG - do it. With Randolph on board, Wright is expendable, but after watching Randolph in April, I see no reason why he couldn't play SF while Wright plays PF. It won't happen on Don Nelson's coaching watch, but perhaps with Smart calling the shots.
9. A roster at full strength is playoff bound.
The injury to the Warriors star player, Monta Ellis caused a chain reaction with regard to many (but not all) of the 'injuries' to the Warriors. Don Nelson raised the white flag early on in the season conceding that the team had no shot at the playoffs. Many of the injuries to the veterans were manufactured to make playing time for the youngsters. Unfortunately, Wright and Belinelli had legitimate injuries at the worst time of the year and were not able to take advantage of the situation to prove themselves and develop with on-court experience.
Depleted rosters were able to hold there own most nights, especially at home. The 'Magnificent Seven' played admirably, even upsetting the Jazz in Utah in a game they desperately needed in order to avoid facing the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. I have high hopes that a full roster with a true PG in the mix will actually be a playoff team next season, especially with the Mavs, Jazz, and Suns getting older and possibly losing some key players along the way. We have youth, speed, and a unique style of play on our side. With Don Nelson approving all additions, his vision has a greater chance of success.
10. Warriors have a high draft pick.
This draft is considered a weak one, but fortunately it's deep enough to net a solid player and perhaps even a player with star potential. Don Nelson stated in a radio interview that #1 on his list is to improve the passing on the team. A team without a true PG is obviously going to struggle when good defensive teams clamp down. And without a true star to make up for the lack of a true PG, playoff basketball will be a one-and-done affair if they are even lucky to qualify in the first place. Point guards are plentiful in this draft and the Warriors should be able to get one of the 3 best ones at around the #7 pick. Blake Griffin is a near consensus #1 pick. If the team with the #2 pick already is set at PG, perhaps the Warriors can put together a package including #7, Wright, Belinelli, cash, etc. to move up and take Ricky Rubio. If they can't move up, they can stand pat and go with a number of PG's depending on who's available:
Brandon Jennings: true PG, tremendous speed and athleticism, can't defend, scorer, star potential
Jrue Holiday: true PG, defends, athletic, good size, played out of position all year, star potential
Tyreke Evans: combo guard, lethal scorer, rebounds, high defensive potential, great size, star potential
Others to consider trading down for: Ty Lawson, Jonny Flynn, Eric Maynor, Patrick Mills, Nick Calathes, Stephen Curry
Like I said. Things are looking up for the Golden State Warriors. Stay tuned because it's going to be another eventful off-season.