Jerry West/Joe Lacob/Mark Jackson; Jim Harbaugh/Alex Smith; Mike Montgomery/Johnny Dawkins; A's Moves; Eddie DeBartolo/Freddie Solomon
JERRY WEST told writers last week that he’d be taking a more active role in the Warriors. My reading on that: He was just waiting for new owner Joe Lacob, aka Mr. Bluster, to get all the foolishness out of his system, so he’d let the pros do their job.
Lacob came into the ownership convinced that he could make some instant favorable changes in the Warriors; after all, he had been in the NBA as a limited partner with the Boston Celtics and knew how it worked.
Well, maybe not. What Lacob planned as his big game-changer, signing center De Andre Jordan, whose contract with the Los Angeles Clippers had expired, blew up in the Warriors’ face big time.
West was not sold on Jordan as the answer, but he wasn’t consulted. The fallout from the attempt to get him, which failed because the Clippers matched the Warriors’ offer and kept him, was:
--To be able to make that offer, the Warriors had to use their one-time “amnesty” on a contract, which they used on Charlie Bell. If they had saved that, they’d have been in a position to use that on a much bigger contract, such as the one Andris Biedrins has, which would have given them much more flexibility in the future.
--The more important fallout was that the Warriors also had to cut two other players immediately, and one of them has become an NBA sensation, Jeremy Lin. New Warriors coach Mark Jackson said last week that he was looking forward to seeing Lin in practice, but he never got the chance. Lin was cut before he even took a dribble in practice.
(One of my readers (a white man) thought Lin’s problems in finding a team in the NBA were due to a prejudice against Chinese players. Hard to believe that when he was also cut by Houston, which had a great Chinese player in Yao Ming. I’m sure the only bias against Lin was not racial but the fact that he played in the Ivy League, which made it difficult to measure his ability.)
That’s why it’s almost always a mistake for an owner to get involved in the major player decisions. Nobody can say at this point whether the Warriors would have kept Lin if West had been more involved but it’s certain that West would not have advised either taking the “amnesty” on Bell or cutting players to be able to make a deal with Jordan.
Despite Lacob’s missteps – oh, yes, he also proclaimed that Klay Thompson would be the “rookie of the year,” though he wouldn’t be starting – there is reason for the first time in many years to have a limited optimism about the Warriors.
The deeper involvement of West is one major reason. He has an eye for talent which is invaluable. It’s easy to point out mistakes in player evaluation by the Warriors but if you look around the league, there are many clubs which have had serious problems as well. With the league getting so much younger, players entering the draft from high school or with just one year of college ball, the evaluation process is much more difficult than it was before. Having a man who has proven he can judge players accurately is invaluable.
Also, I think Mark Jackson is making his mark as a coach. When he was hired and said he would be emphasizing defense, I thought (and wrote) that it was the same old, same old. Keith Smart had said the same thing but his emphasis on defense made no difference.
But, the players seem to be listening to Jackson, probably because of his success as a player, and this Warriors team is playing defense as no Warriors team has since, well, the mid-70s. That, of course, is when the Warriors won their only NBA championship. Do you see the connection?
They’re also working as a team on offense, moving the ball around, sometimes giving up a shot to pass to a teammate who has a better one. That’s also something we haven’t seen for years.
This team is not going to win a championship. It probably won’t even make the playoffs because it’s in the stronger conference. But progress is being made.
INTERESTING PAIRING at the AT&T at Pebble Beach: Alex Smith was caddying for Jim Harbaugh. Smith also accepted Harbaugh’s trophy as Coach of the Year for him; Harbaugh said his players deserved the award and he would have been embarrassed to accept it as if he were responsible. Knowing Harbaugh, I suspect he just didn’t want to talk to the media. We’re not his favorite people.
At any rate, the fact that Smith has done these things should certainly eliminate any question about his returning. He’s come back under bad circumstances, including last year, so why shouldn’t he return when he and the team have had success?
But please, get him some receivers.
A VERY INTERESTING note came out as Cal beat USC and UCLA back-to-back last week: This is the first time Cal has won all four games against the two LA. teams since 1958-59. That, of course, was the year the Bears won it all in the NCAA tournament.
I don’t expect that to happen this year but I’m pleased at the progress the team has made under Mike Montgomery – and not surprised. When Montgomery was at Stanford, I called him the best college coach I had watched closely since Pete Newell, and I see no reason to change my mind now.
Meanwhile, Stanford has Johnny Dawkins who, as a coach, is a great player. The man simply doesn’t have a clue. He’s recruited well, but that won’t last, either, because players coming up will see how promising players have just kind of disappeared in Dawkins’ program. Every one of Dawkins four seasons has had the same pattern: The Cardinal starts strong against weak teams, then disappears against tough teams in the conference race. And, Dawkins was quoted in a Tom Fitzgerald article in The Chronicle this morning as say he has no idea why this is so. Look in the mirror, coach.
All these thoughts were going through my head as I watched Cal cut up UCLA on Saturday – and also memories of the Ben Braun years. Time after time when Braun was coaching the Bears, especially after he had gotten rid of assistants who understood the offensive game, Cal players would pass the ball endlessly around the perimeter, before launching a desperate, off-balance shot. That never happens under Montgomery. He has carefully designed plays that leave the shooter open for a clear shot, which is why the Bears are shooting at such a high percentage, even against a tough defensive team like UCLA.
With the loss of Richard Solomon to academic ineligibility, the Bears are thin, but they’re still winning. When his big men get into foul trouble early, Montgomery will sit them down, to make certain he’ll have them in the late going, when it’s most important.
Montgomery does what all good coaches do, fitting his system to his players, not vice versa, as Braun always tried to do. At Stanford, he was known as a coach who loved to pound the ball into the middle to his big men, because that’s the type of players he had. At Cal, he doesn’t have an overwhelming post player, like Brook Lopez or the Collins twins, but he has very quick players who can run the break well, so that’s what they do.
Winning the Pac-12 title may be the only way into the NCAA tournament this year because the conference is not highly regarded. Right now, the Bears are tied with Washington but have the tie-breaker because they’ve beaten the Huskies in Seattle. Keep your fingers crossed.
JOHN McENROE: McEnroe was one of the best singles players I’ve seen, with his variety of shots, but he was even better at doubles, the best I’ve ever seen. That was in sharp contrast to Bjorn Borg, who had dominated singles tennis before McEnroe started beating him and sent him into early retirement. Borg didn’t have a clue about doubles. I saw him one time playing for Cleveland in World Team Tennis and it was painful to watch.
McEnroe is still playing doubles, as he is now in the SAP Open in San Jose, and is also clowning around. He’s always had that sense of humor, but many fans didn’t realize it when he was in his prime. I enjoyed McEnroe, and Ilie Nastase, because they shook up the staid tennis establishment of the time.
In 1978, I went to Wimbledon with my wife and then eight-year-old son and we enjoyed the first week immensely, walking around the grounds and watching matches on the outer courts while standing only a few feet from the players. The second week, we watched matches at Centre Court, and, while the tennis was better, the atmosphere was stifling. It was like being in church, except it was quieter. We watched the women’s finals – Chris Evert and Martina Navritalova, of course – and I’d had enough. I gave away our tickets for the men’s final to friends.
In that atmosphere, McEnroe was a breath of fresh air. I remember one time when he was playing at the Cow Palace, he was protesting a point by sitting on the players bench on the sidelines. The umpire gave him two minutes before he’d forfeit the match, but McEnroe sat. . and sat. . . and sat. There were only about 10 seconds left when he walked back to the service line. Barry MacKay, the tournament promoter, was also working on the telecast and, as McEnroe passed him, he winked and said, “Had you worried, didn’t I?”
WHAT’S HAPPENING with the A’s? Earlier this year, general manager Billy Beane admitted they hadn’t been putting enough money into their minor league system to get the good results they’d gotten under previous owners. And, their payroll was so low, they had to re-sign Coco Crisp to avoid a complaint from the Players Association.
But now, the A’s have signed Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year contract for $36 million, stealing him away from teams with much higher revenues and payrolls.
Here’s what I think happened: A’s managing general partner Lew Wolff had a talk with his old fraternity buddy, baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who told him something like this, “Lew, you’re making your attempt to drive down attendance in Oakland too obvious. You closed down most of the popular upper deck seats behind home plate, so you can’t get the 50,000-plus attendances the A’s used to get for the Yankees and Red Sox, you’ve sent out media e-mails before a couple of seasons saying you had no intention of staying in Oakland, you canceled the FanFest celebrations (brought back by Comcast this year), you’ve put a team with no stars on the field. You’re kicking your fans in the teeth. You’ve got to do something to show you’re actually trying to put a good team on the field.”
Of course, this will make the A’s attractive for the first time since Wolff’s first year, when he inherited a good team built under the Steve Schott/Ken Hofmann ownership, and attendance will rise, reminding people that the A’s drew well when they had owners who were trying to win, not move the franchise.
Too bad about that, Lew.
EDDIE AND FREDDIE: When Eddie De Bartolo was ejected from the 49ers ownership by the NFL, he moved to Tampa, which had once been one of the many Florida cities in which his father owned malls. I remember vividly that at one of the Miami Super Bowls, I’m thinking it was the one in which the 49ers won for the third time, De Bartolo Sr. took out a full page ad in the Miami Herald, listing all of those malls. That’s why Eddie was able to spend so lavishly on the 49ers.
In Tampa, Eddie renewed acquaintances with Freddie Solomon, the deep threat receiver on the first two Super Bowl champion 49er teams, and they stayed friends right up to Solomon’s death this week. Solomon had battled colon and liver cancer for nine months, and he knew the end was in sight. Though Eddie was a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he stayed in Tampa for Super Bowl week, helping Solomon plan his memorial service.
I give Eddie high marks for that. In the ‘80s, he bought players’ friendships by overpaying them, with his dad’s money, but there was no money involved here, just a sincere gesture of friendship. Maybe the years have matured him more than I realized.
E-MAIL, TV: If you’re sending me a message, it’s best to use firstname.lastname@example.org, rather than the e-mail address listed on my website. Those messages go through the service of my website provider and often get bundled together, which is confusing.
On another subject, for those of you in the Bay Area, I’ll be a guest tomorrow night on “Chronicle Live” on Comcast, which airs at 5 p.m. with a re-broadcast at 10 p.m.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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