Robert Rowell in the Spotlight: Will He Burn the Golden State Warriors Down?

Joel CreagerCorrespondent INovember 3, 2008

Depending on whom you are asking, the war for power at the top of the Warriors’ totem pole began anytime between three months or five years ago. 

Tim Kawakami’s superficial analysis of the Warriors’ annual press releases over several years provides, at a minimum, an outline of Robert Rowell’s rise within the Warriors. 

Despite being rather shallow and speculative in nature, the article calls into question the parallelism of Rowell’s increasingly important status and the sudden emphasis of business over basketball within the Warriors’ front office.   We may never know what inner forces influence the organization of the yearly press releases, but that doesn’t mean they don’t speak for themselves.  In a sense they set the stage for the drama we see unfolding today.

More immediately the conflict between Robert Rowell and Chris Mullin all began with a broken promise.  According to Baron Davis, Mullin had a verbal agreement with the Warriors to take a three-year, $39 million extension.  That agreement was nixed by Robert Rowell. 

Rowell then tried to deny the accusations, but a lack of consensus from other players and faculty left him shouting into a credibility vacuum.   He expounded in an interview that he doesn’t take the popularity of his decisions into account.  Yikes! Fans beware.  Rowell’s only redeeming quality here is that losing Baron could be a blessing in disguise, but something tells me he wasn’t getting visions from the future.

It doesn’t stop there.    There is also the moped accident that earned Monta Ellis a 30-game suspension.  Upon announcement of Ellis’ punishment, Rowell took the opportunity to take a few obvious cheap shots at Chris Mullin.  We thought we were going to watch Ellis receive his punishment, but here Rowell was ripping into Mullin.  Talk about awkward.

The 30-game suspension, effectively worth about $3 million dollars, was not necessarily deemed unfair by Ellis, but an addendum to his punishment leaves the status of his contract in perpetual limbo.  This addendum effectively makes Ellis the potential subject of double jeopardy, a position with which Ellis does not agree.  Rowell’s choice of punishment tests the very limits of player contracts in a way that will have future consequences throughout the league. 

You can image how popular Rowell is with the players on the team.  I personally agree with Ellis’ suspension, but I think that double jeopardy is going a little too far.  If some other team wants to set that standard for behavior, then let them do it.  I would rather not gamble with my own team.  

Now it is out that Monta Ellis could use the option to have his contract voided as leverage to demand a trade or that his contract be voided altogether so he can play somewhere more comfortable.  Essentially Robert Rowell has made Monta Ellis the "Under the table contract offer" prize of the season.  Ellis may settle for a shorter, lesser contract somewhere else if he sees immediate success.

That would be devastating to the Warriors, and the fans, but could you blame Ellis?  Rowell played hardball with Ellis first; is it Ellis' fault if he has to step up to the plate?  No.  Sure the fans would be crushed by Ellis' choice, but not nearly as furious as they would be with Rowell and the owners.  Besides, no one wants to work for a brutally vindictive, politically driven boss.

This is, after all, the Warriors’ future we are talking about here, and I don’t want to wait another 13 years just to have a chance at getting into the playoffs.   

Then again, maybe a more respectable front office (*Cough* Radmanovic!) might not risk alienating every player in the league. 

Does Rowell stop there?  Certainly not.

It came out earlier this week that the Warriors have entered arbitration with former coach Mike Montgomery for what amounts to about $1,000,000 in unpaid salary.  Rowell claims that Montgomery could have taken the UC job the summer before, and opted out of his contract.  However, Montgomery claims that the checks ceased coming up to four months before he ever took the job at Cal. 

Once again, it is Rowell at the helm of this litigious expedition.   So where does it all end?

We already know that Jackson was expecting an extension, and now even that has been put on hold.  Will that be the next big issue to blow up, or will we have to wait until the decision on Mullin?  Can the Warriors’ front office even handle a trade of Harrington right now, or would it implode under the weight of Rowell’s ego?  

Right now, it seems like the Warriors have a lot of non-basketball related issues on their plate, and none of them include drunken incidents at clubs or other moments of failure more commonly associated with their oblong balled neighbors in black.

To put it nicely, Rowell now enters the same sphere of public opinion as Al Davis.  With each of his decisions, the eyebrows on the fans rise a little higher, and the chance for redemption gets further and further out of reach.  Now that he has stepped squarely into the spotlight, Rowell can no longer hide in the shadows of Cohan and Mullin. 

Since coming out into the public eye, Rowell has been in attack mode on all of the aforementioned issues without the support of his faculty, coaches, players or fans. 

Kawakami puts it best, “Rowell cares about politics.  And politics means money.  Period.”  In a culture dominated by that kind of attitude it is only a matter of time before the truly competitive spirit gets corrupted (*cough* York).

As Cohan’s guard dog, Rowell has shrewdly if not viciously protected the political interests of the Warriors.  Rowell did manage to significantly raise the price of season tickets during times of economic hardship for the fans. You’ve got to give him credit for pulling that one off.  Regardless of his success in becoming the biggest tool in Cohan’s shed, Rowell has drawn blood from the fans and the players. 

Have the North Bay fans been good fans to the Warriors?  No!  They’ve been outstanding, and patient, and you hear about it all around the league.  Warriors’ fans, players and faculty deserve better than to be in fear of Rowell’s litigious agenda. 

When a dog turns on humans, there is only one thing to do.  I know you want me to say “Shoot it in the head.”  However, I try to be a little more humane.  I will say, “Set it free.”  You heard me right.  Set Rowell free. 

I think that the majority of the fans, players, and coaches see the five-year stretch from 2006-2010 as a pivotal turning point for the Warriors—and more importantly, an opportunity for redemption.  Redemption is one thing that is beyond Rowell’s grasp at this point.  Rowell will never be respected by the players again.  More importantly, the fans will never trust him. 

When he finally came out from behind Cohan, all he had to say was that he didn’t care about the “popular” interests of the fans, logically leaving one other option—money. 

Does Rowell want to know the truth?  There are a thousand other bean counters that would love to eat Rowell’s job up, and I bet the majority are more polite and personable than him too (if they even care about the Warriors then that is just a bonus).

At this point the fans are just wondering what Cohan and the rest of the ownership team are thinking by keeping this clown around.   Regardless, the Warriors’ ownership should do something before their own credibility and motivations are called into question.   Either that, or we choke down another decade-long playoff drought.