The Bay Area, one of the largest markets in the country, is an untapped goldmine for basketball.
Fans saw it in 2007 when Oracle Arena became one of the most hostile places to play during the NBA playoffs, and the Warriors became the media darlings of the league. Rarely has a region responded in a way similar to how the East Bay responded to the success of those Warriors.
And that's exactly why it's a shame today that this market has been "rewarded" with a product that, for the most part, it cannot be proud of.
The 2007 playoff run was the first time in 13 long years that the team has even made the playoffs.
During those 13 seasons, the team went through four 60-loss seasons and two with 50 losses. Despite those lowly finishes, the Warriors could not use high draft picks to turn their franchise around. And on the rare occasions when they did (Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison), those guys were playing elsewhere letting another team enjoy the primes of their careers.
The Bay Area deserves better.
It deserves more than just one playoff run since 1994. And it deserves having a front office that strives to continuously add talent and a coaching staff that can use that talent instead of alienating it.
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has been mentioned as the front-runner to buy the Warriors now that the current ownership, led by Chris Cohan, has decided to finally let go. Cohan has been the owner during the most futile years in franchise history, and it would not be unfair to label him as the face of the franchise's ineptitude since 1994.
If I was Ellison, though, I would be excited. The Bay Area can explode for the Warriors if they continuously put a competitive product out on the court. And this isn't some small market like Indianapolis or Milwaukee or St. Louis—this is one of the top five television markets in the United States, one whose sports market you can control by showing some kind of a commitment to the win-loss record instead of your bottom line.
However, I am not Larry Ellison. I will never own a sports team, and I doubt someone who does will ever come to me for advice. But regardless, after observing some of the events that have gone down in the league recently, this is what I would do if I was Mr. Ellison or someone asked to advise him.
First and foremost, he would have to gain stability in the front office and the coaching staff. Don Nelson's style of basketball will never win a championship, and Nelson's erratic personality has alienated far too many players for the Warriors. If Ellison wants to be a consistent playoff team, Nelson is not his guy.
Ellison should look around the league to find other models which have re-built franchises from the ground up. The first one he should look at is about 10 hours up the Pacific coast in Portland, where the Blazers re-invented themselves from a 60-loss nightmare to a team that used the draft to infuse ample young talent into their team.
When looking at the Blazers as a blueprint, Ellison should also note that non-basketball related circumstances have forced them to create tension in their front office. This could make some of the architects behind Portland's successful rebuilding project available to the Warriors themselves.
The first is Portland's ex-Vice President of Basketball Operations, Tom Penn. Penn has been credited for being instrumental in the Blazers' ability to make numerous draft day deals and acquire talent such as Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Martell Webster, Rudy Fernandez, and Jerryd Bayless—all exclusively through the draft.
Penn was let go from his post last week for undisclosed reasons, although those reasons probably have nothing to do with his ability to acquire talent for a basketball team.
The second is current Portland GM Kevin Pritchard, who was said to have been very close to Penn and has been rumored to be the next in line to go. The dynamics behind this inexplicable upheaval haven't been known to the public, but reports say that it has more to do with the business side of the Blazers' operation than the basketball one.
If your goal is to rebuild a roster with tons of young talent that fits together and can grow cohesively as a unit, then there is no better man for the job out there than Pritchard.
When Pritchard launched his rebuilding project, Zach Randolph and Darius Miles were the cornerstones of the franchise. Now, Roy and company give the Portland faithful something to be proud of both on and off the court.
Golden State's current roster has ample young talent, from Monta Ellis to Stephen Curry to Andris Biedrins to Anthony Randolph. Whatever the reasons are, this core hasn't fit together well enough to produce a successful season. Ellison would have to find a general manager who can find what pieces need to stay and which need to go as well as successfully replacing the ones that are given a one-way ticket out of town.
Another name that Ellison should consider is Cleveland Cavaliers assistant GM Chris Grant. The Cavs have been rumored to promote current General Manager Danny Ferry to President of Basketball Operations to give Grant the GM job in order to keep him with the organization.
Over the last couple of years, the Cavaliers have acquired Mo Williams, Shaquille O'Neal, and Antawn Jamison in blockbuster trades. They have been more active than any other team when it comes to trades, so Grant's experience based on the relationships he has created with other front offices around the league would be quite an asset to have from your new general manager.
Finding the right coach may be even more important than finding the right talent evaluator. The Warriors have plenty of talent with a clueless coach and coaching staff that doesn't know what to do with it.
For years, Don Nelson has seemed to have his own agenda that preceded the fans' best interest of seeing a winning product on the court. Nelson's process of being reckless with young talent started when Chris Webber wanted out of Oakland in 1994 all the way to when Stephen Jackson didn't want to play for Nellie just last November.
Just as Cohan could be the face of Golden State's 16 years of futility, Nelson should be right there with him to form a two-faced Mount Rushmore.
While we are on the Portland model, remember that current Blazers' coach Nate McMillan's contract ends after this year. It would be a heck of a coup if Ellison can swoop up both Pritchard and McMillan and bring them down I-5 to Northern California. Both men enjoy working with each other and have firsthand experience in turning around a once-proud organization into a playoff team.
Regardless of who Ellison chooses as his coach, he has to remember that it must be the right hire. Successful teams from today have had the same head coach for more than several years. Denver has had George Karl as their coach since the middle of the 2004-05 season. Cleveland has had Mike Brown since the start of the 2005-06 campaign. Outside of one "hiccup" year, the Lakers have had Phil Jackson since the 1999-2000 season.
There will be plenty of coaches available. But once Ellison finds the right guy, he must stay committed to him for at least five more years down the road.
The question has never been about talent in Golden State. It has been about leadership since day one—from ownership all the way down to the front office and coaching staff. If Ellison sets the example that Cohan failed to set from the get-go, the rest will follow.
And when it does, it could end up being one of the best investments Ellison has ever made.
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