Warriors Future, Barry Zito, Barry Bonds,Billy Martin, George Foster/Gary Matthews/Garry Maddox; A's Radio
WARRIORS: The backcourt of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry will remain intact, at least for a year, but coach Keith Smart should start polishing his resume.
That’s what I learned from a meeting of general manager Larry Riley and newly-appointed assistant Bob Myers with writers on Friday at the Warriors facility in downtown Oakland.
To take them in reverse order, Riley said (and owner Joe Lacob confirmed in a conference telephone call) that in about a week from today, they’ll “evaluate” Smart’s coaching during the just completed season. Riley was vague about the evaluation, which is understandable because there’s really nothing new to evaluate. Except for the times when he was out scouting collegiate players, Riley was able to observe Smart’s coaching first hand. My conclusion from what was not said is that he wasn’t impressed.
Lacob will be involved in this decision and all important ones. “That’s the trend in the NBA,” noted Riley. “Do you think there’s ever an important decision that Mark Cuban (Dallas Mavericks owner) isn’t involved in?”
The next coach, whoever he is, will probably face the same problem Smart faced: Lack of a dominant inside presence. “That player won’t be available in the draft,” Riley said, “unless we get very lucky and get into one of the top three spots in the lottery.”
The Ellis-Curry backcourt is a very effective one offensively but their lack of size makes them weak defensively.
In the early ‘50s, the Boston Celtics had a similar problem. They had a dynamic offensive backcourt with Bob Cousy, a great playmaker, and Bill Sharman, a great shooter, but their lack of a big man who could rebound and defend made them a team which couldn’t stop anybody. So, they had to rely on outscoring teams. Sound familiar?
Red Auerbach saw the solution when Bill Russell entered the draft. The St. Louis Hawks didn’t want him because St. Louis was very much a Southern town and didn’t like the “coloreds.” So, Auerbach traded Ed Macauley, a good shooter who was white, for the draft rights to Russell. With Russell in the middle, blocking shots, getting rebounds and delivering quick outlet passes for the fast break, the Celtics became a great team.
Alas, there is no Bill Russell, or even a reasonable facsimile, on the horizon for the Warriors. Rookie Ekpe Udoh showed shot-blocking ability but didn’t score much and wasn’t a great rebounder, either. “We wanted him to take the short jumper but he was reluctant,” said Riley. “Eventually, he’s probably going to be a 4 (power forward).” (Don Nelson has said that he recommended to the Warriors that they play David Lee at center and Udoh at power forward, but they didn’t listen to him.)
The real enigma is Andris Biedrins. In 2008, he seemed to be developing nicely. He was rebounding well, playing strong defense, blocking shots and getting garbage points around the basket.
Then, he started a run of injuries that has absolutely stripped him of his confidence. “He used to have great hands,” said Riley, citing one of the differences. “When Baron Davis threw him a low pass, he’d just go down and scoop it up. Now, he can’t even handle balls thrown right to him because there are so many things going through his mind.”
Riley plans to spend a lot of time talking to Biedrins in the offseason, trying to see if he can bring his confidence back. Biedrins has two more years (and a players option for a third) on a contract that pays him $9 million a year, so he’s basically untradeable.
If Biedrins continues in his funk, the Warriors will continue to need help up front, but frankly, I don’t see how they can get the help they need without breaking up their backcourt, specifically by trading Ellis. Right now, with the threat of a lockout looming in July, there is no free agent market and the Warriors don’t have anybody other than Ellis or Curry who would bring any serious help. In fact, Riley admitted that the Warriors need to get three players in the draft to shore up their weak bench.
Still, he said that teams become playoff teams by building around their core, not by trading one. “Our core is Curry and Ellis,” he said. “We need to add another really good player, not subtract one.”
I get that, but I’ve never believed you can make something out of nothing, which is basically Riley’s job.
Myers was optimistic, too, claiming that the Warriors are like a “volcano”, about to erupt on the league. Don’t hold your breath.
Others have called Myers a “general manager in waiting” but both he and Riley denied that there was anything promising that in the contract he signed. I’m sure that’s right. If he works out and shows that he’s ready to take over, he might very well do that in a couple of years, because Riley is 66. But there’s no need to promise that until he shows what he can do. And, after he sees that the “volcano” is more like a tea pot, he may not want to.
ZITO OUT: Do you get the feeling that the Giants put Barry Zito on the DL with a huge sigh of relief?
Zito squeaked through five innings in his second start, which I witnessed, before collapsing in the sixth inning. It didn’t seem that he was going to last even that long against Phoenix on Sunday, before he went down with a sprained ankle after giving up three earned runs in 1/2/3 innings. That meant a long evening for the Giants bullpen, which had another one in the 12-inning loss Sunday. Just what the team needed going into a three-game series in Denver, although Tim Lincecum helped mightily by nearly throwing a no-hitter and requiring only 1 1/3 innings of relief on Monday night.
Zito’s socalled fast ball was topping out at 82-83 mph. Zito has never been a power pitcher but in his early years with the A’s, he was throwing 88-89, and there have been many lefthanded pitchers, who seem to have more movement on their pitches, who have been successful with that kind of fast ball. But, when you slip to 82-83, it becomes very difficult because hitters will just wait for that pitch because it’s barely faster than what they see in batting practice.
Now, he’s been replaced by Ryan Vogelsong, whose previous claim to fame had been that he was included with Armando Rios in a trade that brought Jason Schmidt from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001. Great for the Giants, not so hot for the Pirates.
Vogelson has pitched some in the majors, with poor results, and had Tommy John surgery in 2008. He was in the minors last year, in the Angels’ system, and he was signed to a minor league contract by the Giants this year, going to the Fresno Grizzlies.
As it happens, I was interviewed by the ESPN station in Fresno yesterday and I asked my interviewer what he thought of Vogelson. “I’ve never had the feeling I’m looking at a major league pitcher,” he said.
Funny, that’s exactly how I feel about Zito.
It’s unlikely that Vogelsong will suddenly become an effective major league starter, which means Zito will return to the rotation when he returns. (His return will apparently be more than 15 days because of the severity of his injury.)
The question is where he’ll be in the rotation. Manager Bruce Bochy has had him spotted at No. 4 but he is clearly the Giants’ fifth best starter, which is why he was left off the postseason roster last October. Madison Bumgarner should be No. 4, and Zito No. 5, so his turn can be skipped when the Giants have a day off. Limiting the damage Zito can do is a good idea.
The Giants’ bad defense has hurt. One problem will be cleared up when Cody Ross returns to play right field, moving Aubrey Huff to left where he’s fine. Another problem will only get worse. It’s painful to watch Miguel Tejada, who was such a great and inspiring player for the A’s, trying to play shortstop. Even this early in the season, he looks bad. Does anyone think he’s going to improve as the season progresses?
BARRY BONDS: I’m a frequent guest on L.A. Batchelor’s blog radio show, sponsored by the Black Athlete network, and I find it very interesting because the discussion is often different than what I’m accustomed to with other broadcasts.
Last Friday, reacting to my Examine column on Bonds, Michael Ingram asked me if I thought Bonds’ behavior was at least partially because of the treatment his dad got when he was a player.
Frankly, I don’t think anybody has the key to Bonds’ personality, but that’s a distinct possibility. Bobby Bonds was not treated well, either by the Giants or the other teams he played for. He was a very nice guy, totally cooperative with the media – obviously, he didn’t pass that gene along – and a very good player, combing speed and power. In 1973, he nearly reached the 40-40 mark with 39 homers and 43 stolen bases.
But, Bobby had a drinking problem, which is all too common in baseball. When the Giants traded him, it was believed that was why, a bit ironic in light of the fact that Giants owner Horace Stoneham was a legendary drunk. Of course it was a bad trade; that was the only kind the Giants made in those days. They got Bobby Murcer whose two seasons were notable chiefly for his complaints about Candlestick Park. He wasn’t as good as Bobby Bonds and he was much less fun. Fans and media alike were happy when he was traded.
BILLY MARTIN: Ron Kroichick’s piece in The Chronicle this morning brought back memories of the truly magical 1981 season for the Oakland A’s.
For a short period of time, Martin may have been the best manager who ever lived. He could win with any kind of team. He got the 1972 Detroit Tigers, a team of slow-footed slugges, to the postseason against the A’s and did the same with the ’81 A’s, who had great speed but little power.
But, as everybody knows, Martin was totally self-destructive. His drinking and brawling cost him job after job, including the one in Oakland. A’s management loved him and would have kept him but when he did things like destroying his own office in a drunken rage, he had to go.
He also destroyed starting pitchers by overworking them. In 1980, his starters – Mike Norris, Rick Langford, Steve McCatty, Matt Keough and Brian Kingman – threw 98 complete games. The next year, a midseason strike cut the season to 109 games, but the starters had 60 complete games.
“It ended our careers, all of us,” Norris said. “I was a shell of myself when I came back (after the ’81 strike)…But if I had a chance to do it again, I’d do it the same way. It was an honor to do that. It wasn’t Billy’s fault.”
Norris is being charitable, possibly because Martin is long gone, having died in an automobile crash in 1989. But the fact is that Martin’s lasting legacy is not his managing success but the way he ruined pitchers. That’s probably kept him out of the baseball Hall of Fame.
GIANTS OUTFIELDERS: In Sunday’s Chronicle, John Shea had an interesting piece about the top outfielders the Giants traded in the ‘70s, such as Garry Maddox, George Foster, Gary Mathews, Dave Kingman. All went on to have success elsewhere. “We supplied the whole National League with outfielders,” Bill Rigney told me one time, only slightly exaggerating.
The Foster trade was the one I remember most because I was in the Giants dressing room the morning the trade (for reserve shortstop Frank Duffy and mediocre starting pitcher Vern Geishert) was announced. Players were visibly upset. Some were even crying. They were fond of Foster, but most of all, they knew he had a bright future. Duffy and Geishart had neither a bright future or present.
That was one of a series of bad trades the Giants made in the ‘70s. It wasn’t just outfielders. They also traded Gaylord Perry for Sam McDowell, who had lost his fastball.
There were several factors in this change from an earlier period when they had made trades which won for them, such as the trade for Johnny Antonelli which led to their last World Series win in New York in 1954 and the Bill White for Sad Sam Jones trade which nearly won the 1959 pennant in San Francisco.
The biggest change was probably that Chub Feeney left the Giants to become National League president in 1970, so, more and more, owner Horace Stoneham leaned on his old – emphasis on old – cronies who had lost their judgment. Stoneham was also running out of money, which would eventually force him to sell the club.
When Bob Lurie (and Bud Herseth) bought the club, Lurie signed S[ec Richardson to be his general manager. Lurie told me he’d done that because, when he talked to baseball people throughout the league, they recommended Spec. Well, of course. They knew the Giants wouldn’t be a problem to them with Richardson on board. In SPORT magazine, Dick Schaap wrote that Richardson was the second dumbest man in baseball. Lurie was the dumbest for hiring him.
Richardson made one good trade. When free agency came in, Charlie Finley signed Vida Blue to a new contract and immediately traded him to the Yankees. When baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn negated the trade, Finley then traded Blue to the Giants for a group of low-priced mediocrities, which gave the Giants the impetus for a nice run in 1978.
But before that, Spec had made a disastrous move. The Giants had had possibly the best group of scouts in baseball, signing Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and the Alou brothers, among many. Richardson decided it would be cheaper to dissolve the scouting staff and sign up with the Major League Scouting Bureau. Penny wise and pound foolish. The Giants wouldn’t win another pennant until 1989, when Al Rosen and Roger Craig were in charge.
A’S RADIO: I confess when I first heard that the A’s were going to an FM station, 95.7, I thought, oh, no, they’ve screwed up again. But, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Now, the station has gone to an all-sports format, anchored by the A’s and the Sharks, starting next season. It’s trying to put together programming, not just for the local station but nationally. Ken Beck, who was at KGO radio in the ‘80s, is in charge of the programming, including the local station.
In re to the A’s broadcasts, I’ve already heard from Contra Costa County residents who had problems picking up the A’s broadcasts in recent years, who have been able to get the signal.
For me, though, the more exciting news is that the station will be an all-sports one, challenging KNBR.
I’ve often felt that the Bay Area is underrated as a sports area. There’s one big difference between this area and areas like New York, Boston and Chicago: When the teams don’t win, fans don’t buy tickets. But, they still listen on radio, watch on TV and read newspaper/Internet stories about their teams. So, why should it bother broadcast entities if people aren’t buying game tickets. Their audience is still intact.
I first came across this phenomenon in the ‘70s, when Matt Levine was doing studies for Giants owner Bob Lurie and found thousands of people who called themselves Giants fans but weren’t coming to the games because the team wasn’t winning. He told Lurie that the fans were there if the team would start winning. In 1978, they did – and attendance jumped more than a million from the year before.
Comcast has challenged this concept of the Bay Area being a bad market, televising about 90 per cent of the A’s and Giants as well as Warriors and Sharks games, running a daily sports news/commentary show, “Chronicle Live,” on which I’ll be appearing again on Friday, and a variety of other sports programming.
Now, the FM station which has changed its name from “The Wolf” to “Action Sports” is trying the same thing. I’m rooting for it!
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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