Warriors coach Don Nelson and executive vice president Chris Mullin held back-to-back chats with the press Thursday at team headquarters in Oakland. Much of the conversation centered on guard Monta Ellis, his severe ankle injury and the whole intrigue surrounding Moped-Gate as training camp nears.
No one knows for sure when Ellis will return or if he’ll ever be the player he was before his two-wheeled accident in Mississippi and embarrassing attempts at a cover up. No one yet knows what, if any, financial price he’ll pay for what appears to be a violation of his contract, which bans all forms of dangerous off-court activities.
You know what? I was actually more interested in what Nelson and Mullin had to say about another guard who is definitely gone for good, one Baron Davis.
The Warriors front office received a lot of credit from many quarters for letting Davis leave as a free agent rather than giving him a fat contract extension. I was actually on the other side of that argument. Two seasons ago, in fact, when Davis led the Warriors to the playoffs, I wrote that they should extend his contract and never let him even consider voiding the final season of his deal.
Of course it’s not my money. And I suppose letting Davis walk away was the fiscally responsible move regarding a player with such an extensive medical chart and somewhat checkered past.
But now what are the Warriors going to do without Davis? Even if Ellis hadn’t suffered such a serious injury and had been able to take over Davis’ point guard job, I thought the Warriors were in deep trouble.
Here’s what Nelson had to say about the challenge of replacing Davis.
“Well, that’s impossible,” Nelson said. “I’ve always considered him one of the top 15 players in the league. So I don’t think you replace a top-15 player in the league when you lose him. But somebody will get an opportunity to step in. That’s a tough load. Forget about replacing Monta, who, you know we were going to try to fill that position with as a point guard. And now we have to replace both of them for some period of time.”
Impossible to replace? Wow. That’s got to make Warriors fans feel good about the upcoming season.
Here’s what Mullin said when he was asked how the Warriors could replace Davis, a player they relied on so heavily on both ends of the court and particularly in the final minutes and seconds of tight games.
“That’s a lot,” Mullin said. “You guys know. I’m as big a fan of Baron as anybody. You don’t plug in a guy in that spot. There’s only a few guys like him in the league, top 10, 15 player probably in the league. That’s probably what this month’s all about is figuring out how – we are going to be different – how we’re going to do it. We didn’t rely solely on him, but he was a catalyst for a lot.
“Other guys stepped up and did tremendous things, but a lot because of him, because of the attention he drew, because of his play-making ability. Without that there, I don’t know, that’s going to be probably evident early on. How to go about still getting production out of guys, that’s going to be a tough one. But that’s probably what this month’s all about, doing things a different way and trying to get a better result.
“A lot of times you could just give Baron the ball and just get out of his way. Quite frankly, that’s the way he liked it. And a lot of times he made good things happen. And you mentioned, too, at the end of the game. At the end of games, it’s usually not so much the play you run as the player running it. But again, that’s part of the whole change that has gone on. We’re going to have to do it a little more as a group. I don’t think we really know where that’s going to come from.”
Maybe the Warriors should change their slogan from “We Believe” to “We Have No Good Reason to Believe.”
The top two point guards on the roster are Marcus Williams and C.J. Watson. Talk about under whelming. Mullin might want to keep working the phones until he finds a point guard who is at least Baron-Lite.
Nelson’s teams live and die by the fastbreak. Who’s going to lead the charge? Who’s going to push the pace and either finish or get the ball to someone else for an open shot? I just don’t see that person on the Warriors’ roster.
It wasn’t just that Davis led the Warriors in scoring and assists last year. Or that he was a captain and a leader. But he also gave them the flexibility to let Ellis play shooting guard, despite his lack of size.
“The beauty of that combination we had for the last two years was that Baron always guarded the bigger guy, and so that afforded Monta to guard the smaller guy,” Nelson said. “You’re not always blessed to have a point guard like Baron Davis that has that kind of body and capabilities defensively to guard more than a point guard.”
Even before Ellis was injured, Mullin said he thought the Warriors would have to find more scoring from their bigger players this season, players such as Al Harrington, Stephen Jackson and Corey Maggette, to name three.
Then Ellis was injured.
“So it went probably from a thought to a fact pretty quickly,” Mullin said.
Here’s a thought that’s surely going through your mind: the Warriors, as presently constituted, don’t have a prayer of making the playoffs this season in the ridiculously powerful Western Conference.
Of course neither Nelson nor Mullin would admit that.
“We’re going to have to wait and see, really more now than ever,” Mullin said. “There has been a lot of change. We like a lot of the guys that we have, but how they actually play together, I don’t know. I really don’t.”
Nelson was asked if a playoff berth was an unreasonable expectation right now.
“I don’t know that,” Nelson said. “Probably the consensus around the league would be it probably is. But I always have faith in being able to win a game and going out there and approach them one at a time. I think anytime you go out there you have a chance to win.
“I think if you look at the whole season, you might look at it a little differently. But I’ve always approached it one game at a time. I think if we played tomorrow, we would have a chance to win that game against anybody. And that’s the way I’m going to approach it.”
With Ellis injured and Davis playing for the Los Angeles Clippers, what else can Nelson do?