Halfway through the season, and the currents in the Bay are as unpredictable as ever. Just ask reporters at the San Jose Mercury News (who reported that Ellis would never play in a Warriors jersey again). The weather forecast: Foggy, with occasional bright spots. Ellis being one of them.
The Warriors are too deep in the hole to resurrect the We Believe 3.0 movement, and that puts them at the veritable 405 of crossroads. They're hitting traffic from every direction, and only one exit will lead them to success.
Fortunately for the Warriors, they have a little momentum going into the second half, and they will have a lot more home games. It's no secret that the Warriors' schedule in the first half of the season was brutal enough without the spate of injuries that plagued them, and the inconsistencies that come with fostering team chemistry.
I'll address the Warriors needs in a bit, but first, let's take a look at the transitional components that will ultimately influence, if not define the course of their development.
First and foremost, the thing on everyone's mind is the impending return of the franchise player, Monta Ellis. No one is exactly sure which day Ellis will return, but team doctors are being especially careful not to rush him. There is also one other important factor that plays into the closure of this drama.
Monday, January 19, Ellis' agent, Jeff Fried was supposed to meet with team officials to discuss Monta's return, and among other things, the grievance filed with the league. The grievance concerning the early termination clause in Ellis' punishment.
Given the Warriors' practically nonexistent chances of making the playoffs, the consistently packed Oracle & Co. could face a potential PR and season ticket sales fallout next season. The blame game continues to rage on, but any way you look at it the fans' expectations for what was supposed to be an exciting season have slowly trickled away like grains of sand through an hourglass.
So will the Warriors make a run for the lottery, and try to draft their way out of trouble? The simple answer is no. Cohan and Rowell can't afford to continually disappoint their most loyal fans with so much money tied up into big contracts. It was more or less understood after Ellis' injury that the real playoff push was supposed to come in 2009-10.
There is only so much potential revenue that can be tapped from the casual fan, and the hordes of We Believe zombies are not nearly as deep as they once were. Rowell needs Ellis back ASAP to avoid further PR woes.
In addition to Ellis' medical and political balancing act, there is one other personnel drama that will play out in the second half of the season. Jamal Crawford can opt out of his contract at the end of the season if for whatever reason he decides it would be better to skip town. For what it is worth Crawford stated that his first priority is to stay with the Warriors, "as long as they want me."
That most likely depends on how well Crawford can play alongside Ellis, possibly coming off the bench at times like Maggette.
On that note, Maggette coming off the bench has actually turned out to be a very positive change in the running of things. It gives Randolph his chance to develop, but it also gives Nelson and Maggette a chance to scout the best mismatches.
With those components in perspective, I've made a list of the things that the Warriors need to have happen in the second half of the season to make a healthy transition into the off season and beyond. In no particular order:
1. The return of Monta Ellis must occur without re-injury, and he must become the pseudo-point guard that Nelson loves so much. Crawford and Ellis will have to play well together while creating for others.
Drama between Rowell and Ellis needs to be settled without question or condition, once and for all.
2. Cause an upset in the playoff contention. The Warriors are notorious for being the monkey wrench, and it would give the players the perfect confidence boost with the playoffs out of the picture.
3. Rebounding and second chance points. The Warriors have been better in these categories the last couple games, but they need to maintain a consistently high level of hustle.
This one holds especially true if the Warriors intend to continue playing small. Specifically, Randolph and Wright will have to get the dirty work done before they'll be consistent offensive options.
4. Get healthy. Stay healthy. The Warriors have some serious offensive firepower coming off their bench. In fact, they have the best three-point shooting bench in the league between Watson, Azubuike, Belinelli, and league leader Morrow.
Nelson needs to be able to tap that resource in order to offset any off-nights by one of his starting guards.
5. Move the ball. Stagnant ball movement has been one of the major reasons that the Warriors' average points per game fell almost 10 points compared to last season. Now that players seem to be on the same page, the Run-'N-Gun offense of elder lore needs to be slowly reinstalled.
6. A graceful conclusion to the Mullin affair. In a perfect world, Rowell would get the ax, and Mullin would get to continue scheming with Nelson or go about his way (most likely to the Knicks).
Either way, I think that Mullin will be ushered out promptly following the conclusion of his contract, and as quietly as possible. The drama all started with Rowell's smear campaign of Mullin during what was supposed to be the announcement of Ellis' punishment. A significant PR misfire that might have been part of a larger strategy to restructure the front office with the pair of Larrys, Harris and Riley that is.
7. If a trade happens it should be with respect to Jamal Crawford's upcoming choice at the end of the season. The Warriors need to maximize the minimal amount of cap space they'll have at season's end, and they can't afford to logjam the pecking order with new people and false promises. The last thing the Warriors need is for a player to pull their Harrington.
While that concludes the list of somewhat realistic goals I wish to add a few additional items of a more absurd nature. Without delay:
8. The minority owners must buy out Chris Cohan, or sue him for control of the team (that would be ironic). I have no qualms saying that the man is a disgrace to the NBA, and is without question one of the worst owners in the league.
9. Treat the fans as intelligent, critical, sentient beings. Often I feel that because the Warriors' marketing department targets younger, casual fans they often make the mistake of explaining their personnel and business decisions in idiotic, see through, shallow, or otherwise insulting terms.
It usually manifests itself in the form of patronizing "corporate speak," and this approach towards the media will only hurt the organization in the long run by alienating fans.
10. "DEFENSE!" I'm only kidding. Compared to earlier this season, individual Warriors are making visible improvements every game. Just because they have one of the worst defenses in the league doesn't mean it won't be the key to success in the second half of the season.
Keith Smart has them defending in transition better, and hustling for more rebounds. I Just wanted to round out with a list of 10 items.
So begins the long march to the end of the season. It's not that the Warriors are going nowhere, but they need to nurture their youth and wisely execute their short term goals to turn it around next season.
It is all going to start with how the Warriors finish this season. Golden State needs momentum heading into the offseason. Not just for the fans, but for the players, and for the coaches.
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