Dave Twardzik/Garry St. Jean/Larry Riley/Andrew Bogut/Joe Lacob; Billie Jean King/Brian Boitano; Colin Kaepernick/Michael Crabtree/Antwan Boldin
ONE REASON for optimism about the Warriors future: The organization is solid once again.
In the late ‘90s, after Don Nelson left, the Warriors made consistently bad decisions. I still remember Dave Twardzik, who had been the personnel man before being promoted to general manager, telling me that Kobe Bryant wouldn’t be much of a player in the NBA, when Kobe declared for the draft after his high school career was over. The Warriors had no chance for him because, with the help of his dad, Joe, who had played in the NBA – the Warriors were among his teams – Kobe was orchestrating a plan that would get him to the Lakers. Still, that kind of misjudgment is startling, especially when Twardzik’s first round pick that year was Todd Fuller. I wrote at the time that Fuller had the look of a player who would never be more than a backup center. My judgment was better than Twardzik’s.
Garry St. Jean followed Twardzik and was an improvement – who wouldn’t have been? – and he had some good drafts, including picking Jason Richardson and Antwan Jamison, but St. Jean was always trading, trading, trading, so the team never had a chance to come together.
And, of course, the team never had a dominating center. It seemed the Warriors were cursed with decisions going back to J. B. Carroll. At that time, basketball people thought that Carroll would be a big star in the NBA but they didn’t understand that he had no heart. Another earlier mistake: Chris Washburn, who was probably the dumbest athlete I ever interviewed. Because he had grown to 6-11 and had considerable athletic skills, he had been recruited to play college basketball but he seemed to have no interest in the game.
Finally, they have the center they need in Andrew Bogut because of a gamble Warriors owner Joe Lacob was willing to take. Bogut and Stephen Jackson were traded for Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown in March, 2012. The trade was unpopular with Warriors fans, who loved Ellis. It didn’t help that Bogut was sidelined by injury at the time of the trade and didn’t really play until a year ago. But now, I doubt that anybody misses Ellis, because Bogut has plugged the middle, rebounded, blocked shots and made outlet passes for the fast break.
The Warriors have been well served by the last two general managers, Larry Riley and Bob Myers. Riley scouted and drafted Stephan Curry. (Those who have written that Don Nelson had a hand in that decision are wrong; Nelson was spending the offseason in Maui, as he had for years.) Riley was convinced that Curry would be a superstar, and he’s been proven right. He also showed why the old axiom – draft the best player, not for need – is absolutely right. The Warriors need at the time was for a power forward and Jordan Hill seemed to be the answer, but the Warriors passed on him to take Curry. Hill went to the New York Knicks with the next pick. He has played with three different NBA teams, now with the Lakers, but he has been a backup much more frequently than a starter.
Myers, who had been a player’s agent and has great contacts, spent a year learning the business as Riley’s assistant. Since he’s been promoted – with Riley in a subordinate role – he’s been very thorough and a very hard worker. He’s constantly looking for ways to improve the team, even if just with a backup player.
Nobody ever talks about Jerry West – and West himself insists he’s a minor player – but I’m sure that, at the very least, Myers asks his opinion before making a move. After all, if you’ve got the person pictured on the NBA logo as your advisor….
The team is a solid one, capable of playing well at both ends of the court, but there have been too many games where they didn’t play tough defense. The headlines always go to the scorers; Carmelo Anthony got a lot of attention for scoring the most points ever at a game at Madison Square Garden with a 62-point outburst, but when has an Anthony team ever been a big winner in the playoffs? It takes tight defense to win consistently in the regular season and also in the playoffs. Coach Mark Jackson makes that point all the time but, as I’ve said repeatedly, NBA players don’t always listen.
It’s especially critical for the Warriors now because they’re playing in the Western Conference, which is by far the stronger of the two conferences. If they just sneak in as the sixth team, they’ll face a quick exit.
They also have to develop more consistency. Usually, that means a more consistent defense but their offense went cold last night in an inexplicable loss to the Washington Wizards.
Their schedule should help because they’ll have a majority of home games after playing so many on the road in the first half of the season.
CHOOSING THE right venues for the huge events can be very important, and two huge mistakes are looming this month.
The first is the winter Olympics which will take place in Sochi, in the midst of a Russian nation which is only marginally better than the old Soviet-run oligarchy. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is the former head of the KGB and he doesn’t seem to have softened his attitude since. His anti-gay attitude is especially troubling. President Barack Obama sent an in-your-face message to Putin with a U.S. delegation that did not include any member of his administration and which is headed up by Billie Jean King and Brian Boitano, who recently announced that he was gay, the worst kept secret in sports. Meanwhile, the mayor of Sochi says there are no gays in his city. That’s unlikely, but they are very deep in the closet.
The second huge mistake is playing the Super Bowl in an outdoors stadium in New Jersey. Fortunately, the game wasn’t played last Sunday, when crews were shoveling snow off the field, but it’s quite likely that temperatures will be well below freezing. And, the game will be played at night because Fox wants to keep other networks from airing new shows. Mission accomplished, except for “Downton Abbey.” PBS doesn’t pay any attention to football schedules.
And now, other cities in the frozen north have hope they can host a Super Bowl. A bad idea gets worse.
ON A RELATED SUBJECT, football players at Northwestern today announced plans to form a union for players, calling the NCAA a dictatorship and saying colleges are making billions off the players while only allowing them to have scholarships which often don’t even cover their basic expenses.
In the past, I’ve opposed paying players but that position is indefensible now, with college football so overblown. Of the colleges playing at the top level, only Stanford and Vanderbilt (recently) have maintained high academic standards while fielding top teams. My alma mater, Cal, has managed to sacrifice academic standards while fielding a historically bad football team. I can’t tell you how proud I am of that effort.
For years, the NFL has used the colleges as a farm system, without having to pay anything. It’s past time the NFL establish its own farm system, as baseball and basketball, to a lesser extent, have done for years. Let those athletes who look at college only as a means of vaulting to a pro career, drop the pretense that they’re students and just go into an established NFL system. We can’t pretend these athletes are actually getting an education.
READERS HAVE consistently made two points to me about the end of the NFC Championship game:
--The 49ers should have called time out to collect themselves before they decided what to do when they had the ball on Seattle’s 18.
In fact, that’s a misunderstanding of how NFL players approach these situations. In the 49ers case, they’d been preparing for exactly this kind of scenario, and they were neither frightened nor hurried. They were trying to run the clock down so the Seahawks couldn’t retaliate if they scored – even with a 49ers touchdown, the Seahawks could have won with a field goal, so calling a time out would have been counterproductive. Their plan was to throw to the end zone four times if necessary. They weren’t going to run the ball because, except for Colin Kaepernick, no 49er had run the ball successfully all game – and the Seahawks had changed their defense to stop Kaepernick.
--Why did Greg Roman call a play targeting Richard Sherman?
In fact, though the offensive coordinator sends in plays, the quarterback can always change them. In this case, Kaepernick said that he saw Michael Crabtree would have single coverage, so he was going to go to him. I don’t know what Roman called, but it wasn’t that play. And if a quarterback tries that play, he has to put the ball on the back pylon, so it’s either a Crabtree reception or an incomplete pass. Don’t put it where Sherman can get a hand on it. But, of course, that’s just what Kaepernick did.
A CHRONICLE columnist, trying to defend Kaepernick, wrote that it took Joe Montana and John Unitas some time to learn how to play quarterback in the NFL.
Not really. Unitas never got a chance with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who cut him without even giving him a snap in the preseason. He went to work in a steel mill and played for a semi-pro team. Signed by the Baltimore Colts, he was a backup until George Shaw was injured. In his first full season in 1957, he was named the league’s Most Valuable Player by NEA, and he never looked back.
Montana was a backup to Steve Berg for nine of the first 12 games in 1980 but Bill Walsh gave him the starting job for the last four games and the 49ers won two of them, one a spectacular comeback for an overtime win over the Saints. Walsh drafted for defense in the next draft and, though the Niners had no real running threat, Montana took them to their first Super Bowl win.
Kaepernick was put in charge of a team with a great defense and an outstanding runner in Frank Gore but his bonehead decisions near game’s end meant the 49ers lost in the Super Bowl last year and the NFC championship game this year. Does anybody out there believe Montana would have made those decisions? Hint: Joe threw zero interceptions in his four Super Bowl triumphs.
That’s the problem I see with Kaepernick. On a lower level, he could get away with bad decisions because the opposing players weren’t very good. He doesn’t have that luxury in the NFL but he doesn’t seem to have realized that.
And, yes, he’s still young and new to the league but as colleges go more and more to wide open offenses featuring passing, more young quarterbacks have become stars early. How they fare after that depends largely on their personalities. Andrew Luck, for instance, took over a 1-15 team and has taken it to the playoffs two straight years. He threw four interceptions in his last playoff game because he was desperately trying to make something happen but at that point, he was really the only positive for the Colts. Cam Newton had a great rookie year but has seemingly lost his confidence and regressed. He has the ability to be great but if he doesn’t get his confidence back, he won’t get back to his rookie year brilliance. RG Griffin had a great rookie season but got injured and is still feeling the effects of that. Of course, he’s playing for a team with the worst owner in the league who keeps shuffling coaches in and out without looking in the mirror to see the team’s real problem.
The 49ers also have a decision to make: whether to sign Kaepernick to a new contract which will pay him much more money. If they do, it will mean losing some other players to free agency, the most likely being Antwan Boldin, whose incredible catches of off-line passes often saved Kaepernick this year.
OH, MY: Apparently I jinxed the Cal basketball team when I praised Mike Montgomery because the Bears did a total floperoo in Los Angeles last week. Losing to UCLA was understandable because the Bruins have great talent. But, USC? As I’ve said before, college basketball is more entertaining to me than the NBA because it’s more unpredictable. But I didn’t want it to be that unpredictable.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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