24 September 2008

This... Is... Nellieball!!

Apparently, if you're a Golden State Warriors fan, you should be angry right now. Well, maybe not angry, but at least worried. Your team lost its heart and soul (and its best player) when Baron Davis (incoming pun) jumped ship to set sail with the Clippers, his heir apparent is going to be rehabbing a (potentially stupid) injury through the start of the season, despite winning more games than they did in their Cinderella-story season, last year's Warriors team actually accomplished less than the team of two seasons ago, you failed to make a big splash in the free agent market, and the architects of your brief renaissance, VP of Basketball Operations Chris Mullin and Coach Don Nelson, are both in the last year of their respective contracts. Expectations for this year are justifiably low; the Warriors' brief turn in the national spotlight may turn out to be even shorter than anyone could have expected.

Take heart, Warriors fans, and fans of entertaining basketball in general, for I come bearing a trident, pointed with news that should re-energize you and fill your hearts with hope once again (if only temporarily)!


Do you know how many of your players are 25 or younger? Do you, really? 14 of them. 14 of them, each an extraordinary athlete in his own right. In a situation like this, the only real virtue that can be espoused is patience. Look at a team like the Hornets: mostly young, with a couple of good veterans, a good coach, and a supremely talented young player as the focal point, whose potential is practically limitless. Sound like anyone else you know?

Look at how much Biedrins' game has improved from season to season (3.8 PPG 05-06, 9.5 PPG 06-07, 10.5 PPG 07-08), or Ronny Turiaf's (6.6 PPG on 18.7 minutes in 07-8 – his minutes tripled from what they were his rookie year, and his points followed suit)... if the rookies can follow their lead, we could well be seeing the start of the true Warriors renaissance this year, with the past two seasons just a preview of things to come.

Of course, I'm preaching patience here, which is especially important when you consider that the fellow to whom I just compared Chris Paul – Monta Ellis – is going to be unavailable through, in all likelihood, the end of November (and yes, I'm well aware it's his own stupid fault). We're all familiar with the spurts and fits that define the Warriors seasons, but this one might be more taxing than most. It's worth considering, though, that the more time Monta has to get used to the fact that he's now the man, the better off the team will be.

Right Right Now

This pretty much does everything it can to contradict everything that I wrote above, but the fact that it's really two points folded into one should cut me a little slack, right? As before, both Mullin and Nelson are in the final year of their respective contracts. If they want their jobs to continue past this season, or if they want this second go-around to count as something more than a victory lap, they're faced with the same choice: win, or lose. Prove you deserve to keep your job, or make it clear that you didn't really care about this to begin with. Their legacy was pretty much unimpeachable before they came back, but so was Michael Jordan's, and don't you think he'd like it if everyone had some fond memories of his second shot at glory? The motivation's there, and the tools are there.

Now, let's be realistic for a second. It took nearly 10 years for the Warriors to become competitive again after the Webber-Sprewell-Nelson torture trifecta. In this “What've you done lately?” world that we live in, people didn't remember Run TMC; when people thought of the Warriors in the late 90's and early 00's, they thought of either the team that bypassed Kobe Bryant for Todd Fuller, or Latrell Sprewell choking P.J. Carlesimo. Almost anything's better than that, right? Especially, say, falling just an inch or two short of the playoffs (not everyone can be the Boston Celtics, and that's really okay. )? What I'm advocating here is an accentuating of the positive, as Bing Crosby might've sung, and putting of things in perspective; even if things wind up not that great, they could still be ridiculously worse. Talk to a Nuggets fan; they'll understand.

Coach Don Nelson

Is there another coach in the NBA today that could inspire his players by telling them to just go out on the court and play basketball? In apparent stark contrast to the hyper-prepared, overly-cerebreal head coach that's the order of the day in the 21st century, Nelson looks like he drags himself out of bed with a hangover on gameday morning and works out his starting lineup over a pot or two of coffee. The last two years of Warriors' games have lent credence to that fear, but that's really just had as much to do with the making-lemonade-(or at least lemon juice)-out-of-lemons philosophy that Nelson's pioneered ever since he got his first coaching job with the Bucks. Former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld may have put it best when he said, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” Nellie understands; after all, he's a fellow Don.

The point is, no matter how worried you might be about your team, how afeared you might be that Baron really was the glue holding the soapbox derby racer that is the Golden State Warriors together, that his departure will mean that the Warriors'll fall apart just short of the finish line, like the Simpsons' “Lil' Lightning,” just remember, that already happened last year. This year can't get much worse than that.

Wait, that doesn't help... What does help is that Nellie will always, always make his team competitive (seriously, Davis, Jackson, Barnes, Biedrins, and Harrington? If Avery Johnson didn't see that coming, who did?). He'll find a way to give the opposition fits, to make his team catch fire (even if he has to literally do it himself), to fit a beluga whale into a square hole. Then, he'll talk about it while drinking his Bud Light after the game.

See, don't you feel better? Aren't you excited for the limitless possibilities that the 2008-09 season holds? No? Really? Well, buck up, and don't even consider buying that #1 Clippers jersey. If at any point in the season you start asking yourself, “How could it get any worse?” just remember this: at least you're not a Hawks fan.

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