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  • Sep

    Parsing the captains: Just because you have an agenda doesn’t mean you’re wrong

    By Geoff Lepper

    OAKLAND — In the aftermath of the conflagration set ablaze by Stephen Jackson and, even more so, Monta Ellis, now is as good a time as any to note this fact: Just because a player has an obvious agenda when talking to the press doesn’t mean that he can’t still be correct while doing so.

    Jackson wanted to use his 20 minutes to reiterate and emphasize his desire not to waste his final NBA years toiling for a team that seems destined for eternal 34-48 damnation. And Ellis took 15 minutes to press the fact that whether or not you want to call him the point guard, he expects to play 35-plus minutes a night and to have the ball in his hands for pretty much every single one of them.

    But in making those points, the Warriors’ captains revealed some deeper truths that the organization doesn’t want to acknowledge: Namely, that they’re on the wrong track. In every sense.

    I understand why the Warriors did what they did. Bobby Rowell wanted to avoid salary-cap strangulation such as the situation that led to Gilbert Arenas being able to walk out the door. Additionally, no president of any organization keeps their job without being in the black, and in nine seasons with Rowell at the helm, the team has cleared (according to Forbes, at least) an average of $4.7 million in profits each year.

    That kind of penny-pinching can extract a cost on the court, however. Jason Richardson was traded primarily because of salary considerations. Matt Barnes, Mickael Pietrus and Baron Davis all left town in the face of what would famously become known as Rowell’s strategy of self-described “salary protection.” The Warriors all but threw away Marco Belinelli, their second-best perimeter defender (it’s a low bar, I know) to avoid having to pick up his option.

    (Harrington, on the other hand, was more the case of a veteran who was sick to death of being the designated whipping boy for the coach, and hence the Warriors took on more money in the form of Crawford — although they successfully dumped that contract this summer on the Hawks.)

    In the meantime, the Warriors brought in Corey Maggette in response (some would say as a panic move) after Davis blew out of Oakland, hamstringing themselves with a contract that is almost as unmanageable as Jackson’s extension. They offloaded Crawford’s awful deal, but in doing so wound up with two more point guards (Acie Law IV and Speedy Claxton) rather than a useful big man in Harrington.

    The only things that could be classified as step forwards in the short term were the addition of Rony Turiaf on a fairly modest contract, and the unearthing of Kelenna Azubuike and Anthony Morrow from the land of undrafted free agents.

    I know it’s easy for folks outside the organization to spend Chris Cohan’s money. But it’s also easy for those same folks — or the players themselves — to notice when the organization’s commitment to profits exceeds its commitment to winning.

    As for Ellis, while his reasons for slamming a partnership with Curry might not be quite so altruistic, the logic behind what he’s saying.

    Ellis cannot defend 2 guards, not with any expectation of effectiveness, at least. Not only does he get posted up and abused by bigger wings who have that weapon in their arsenal (Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant), but he also can’t effectively chase the shooters (Rip Hamilton, Ray Allen) who run him into screens that he can’t get through.

    After a quick perusal of the NBA depth charts over at ESPN.com, here’s a list of “big” shooting guards — defined here as at least 6-5 and 200 pounds — expected to start this season for their teams: Allen (BOS), Bryant (LAL), Carter (ORL), Joe Johnson (ATL), Raja Bell (CHA), John Salmons (CHI), Josh Howard (DAL), J.R. Smith (DEN), Dahntay Jones (IND), Michael Redd (MIL), Damien Wilkins (MIN), Courtney Lee (ORL), Morris Peterson (NOH), Thabo Sefolosha (OKC), Jason Richardson (PHX), Brandon Roy (POR), Roger Mason (SAS), Marco Belinelli (TOR), Ronnie Brewer (UTA) and Mike Miller (WAS).

    That’s 20 shooting guards (out of 29), all of whom are a minimum of 2 inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than Ellis and Curry.

    And it’s not as though the “small” 2 guards are any picnic. There are willowy shooters who likely won’t be bothered by Curry’s presence — Hamilton (DET), Larry Hughes (NYK), Kevin Martin (SAC) — and shorter bruisers with the strength to overpower the rookie — Eric Gordon (LAC), O.J. Mayo (MEM) and Dwyane Wade (MIA).

    About the only teams that the Warriors can legitimately claim to match up with are Cleveland (with the diminutive pairing of Mo Williams and Delonte West), Philadelphia (Willie Green plus either Jrue Holiday or Louis Williams) and potentially Houston, depending on who fills in while Tracy McGrady recovers from microfracture surgery.

    Just can’t. Just can’t.

    Some other tidbits coming out of Media Day:

    ** Ellis deflected the inevitable question about where he thought he would end up — point guard vs. shooting guard — with his stock response: “I just want to play basketball.”

    My belief is that he has a very strong desire to play the 1. Ellis has always thought he can play the point at this level. He made that clear right from the start, even during a rookie season where coach Mike Montgomery openly mocked Ellis’ skills at the position. Outside of using his speed to cherry-pick layups on the break, he works much better as a scorer with the ball in his hands

    So keep all that in mind when Ellis says: “To be honest with you, I don’t feel like my job is in jeopardy at all. I don’t feel that my position, my minutes, nothing is going to be taken, because at the end of the day, I’m still going to be Monta Ellis. I’m still going to be the franchise player, and I’m still going to go out there and give you 20 points a night. I’m not worrying about that. I’m not.”

    The franchise player doth protest too much, methinks.

    Don Nelson may have famously said a couple years back that Ellis could only be a star if he was playing the 1, but the Warriors’ moves have clearly revealed their feelings about Ellis’ ability as a point guard, which is to say that they don’t think he has much ability at all.

    Let’s re-examine the timeline:

    July 2008: Baron Davis opts out of his Warriors deal. Ellis anointed point guard.

    August 2008: Ellis tears up his left ankle in a moped accident.

    November 2008: Jackson serves as emergency point guard until Crawford is acquired for Harrington late in the month.

    January 2009: Ellis returns after recovering from surgery on his ankle, takes over at the point.

    February 2009: Ellis looks terrible at the point and gets moved back to the 2, with Crawford now at the 1. Late in the month, Ellis sprains his ankle and is shelved again.

    March 2009: Ellis returns from his sprained ankle and with the extra three weeks off, looks great, albeit in his old role as an undersized 2 guard.

    April 2009: The Warriors once again say that Ellis is the point guard of the future.

    June 2009: Curry falls into the Warriors’ laps on draft night. Nelson says immediately that he wants to play Curry with Ellis, with Curry at the point, Ellis at the 2 and Jackson at the 3.

    If I’m Ellis, I’m thinking the coach doesn’t want me playing the point either. The fact that he’s marking his territory against encroachment from the guy he sees as his replacement should hardly be considered a surprise.

    ** There were a whole raft of questions from all comers about whether this would be a distraction to the Warriors, and here I have to agree with the consensus, which was a resounding “no.”

    My former partner in print over at the Contra Costa Times, Marcus Thompson II, used the word “colleagues” while asking Jackson about the reaction he’d had from other NBA players around the league to his trade demand. It struck me as an odd way to put it when Marcus said it, but the more I think about it, the most perfect it becomes.

    I’ll never forget during the 2008 playoff push, when Mickael Pietrus was nursing his hamstring injury and plenty of fans — and, more importantly, some in the organization — were grumbling about Pietrus not playing through it for the good of the team. I asked Al Harrington whether guys in the room thought Pietrus should gut it out, and he gave me a flat “no,” pointing out that Pietrus was going to be a free agent and had to look after his own interests. (As Jackson put it Monday: “Just like Bobby wants to look out for the organization, Steve has to look out for Steve.”)

    In other words, even as guys may want desperately to win, there’s very much an overarching us-vs.-management feel from players that extends beyond team rosters. These guys are always cognizant of the fact that the NBA, as a whole, is a very healthy, very profitable enterprise that runs, ultimately, on their sweat equity. David Stern can do all the fancy marketing tricks he wants, but without the unbelievable athleticism of the 450-odd players on NBA rosters, he might as well be running the Arena Football League.

    ** I was the reporter who asked Jackson about what kind of reaction he thinks he’ll get from Warrior fans. And while I understand Jackson’s response, I think he’s crazy if he seriously feels that fans will do anything but boo the hell out of him on Opening Night.

    Jackson tried to spin things against the Warriors by pointing out that the team ratted him out, giving up his new cell phone number to the NBA when Stern wanted to fine Jackson, but that’s pretty weak cover. The fact is that Jackson buddied up to Rowell, drew him in closer and, now that he’s gotten what he wanted (three years, $28 million), dumped him overboard.

    (I would never say that Jackson looks anything like Linda Fiorentino, but the whole situation does remind me of The Last Seduction — except Jackson, unlike Bridget, didn’t quite get away clean.)

    Put it this way: Jackson chased down that money. It didn’t just fall into his lap like some kind of manna from heaven. He wanted to get paid, and he worked hard towards that end. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, because there isn’t; but Jackson was an active participant in that situation, not just some passive recipient of the Warriors’ largesse. To paint it another color is just false — and the ever-savvy Warrior fans, almighty pissed off though they may be about the ineptitude that has brought them another year of crazy, recognize it as such.

    ** Just because it got lost in all the news … I did crack a smile at Jackson’s last response, with the inclusion of Davis’ pet phrase: “We won with Baron Davis and they shipped Baron Davis off. (Fans) should be bitter about that. Ya dig?”

    You could almost hear BD laughing all the way from L.A.

4 Responses to “Parsing the captains: Just because you have an agenda doesn’t mean you’re wrong”

  1. Is Ellis a PG? He’s paid to play like one. Nellie seems to think not. I agree.

    Of the two, Jackson and Ellis, I say Ellis is redundant given Curry and therefore more likely to be traded if the decision was purely skill and need based.

    The expiring contracts and maybe a 1st round pick will help sweeten the pot.

  2. It’s a business works both ways. Want to be traded? Too bad. You’re under contract and you’ll damn well honor it to the letter. If you break any portion of the contract, poof! The extention and money is gone. Either honor the contact and get paid or if you really want you’re freedom, break the contract and the team can pull a Sprewell with you.

    Sounds harsh, but it’s not, it’s. just. business.

    The irony is I totally understand it from JAX’s point of view. Work Bobby, get your money, try to have your cake and eat it too. Jackson might as well have said he played Rowell and he’s smarter than him to boot. If Bobby caves and gives Jackson what he wants, he’ll be confirming Jackson played him like a chump.

  3. No Cash for trash………. Boycott the Warriors until Chris Cohan sells the team!!! NBA league pass

  4. Greatest webpage I’ve ever seen !

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