Montgomery Was a Mistake
by Glenn Dickey
Mar 01, 2005

HIRING MIKE MONTOMGERY to coach the Warriors was a mistake. Montgomery hasn’t adjusted well to the pro game, and his record this year won’t come close to matching that of Eric Musselman the previous two seasons.

As a college coach, I rank Montgomery with Pete Newell and John Wooden as the best I’ve seen personally, but there’s a vast difference between coaching Stanford and coaching in the NBA.

Montgomery had to prove himself when he first came to Stanford, but after he had some success, everything fell into place. Stanford players listened to him because they knew he’d been successful, and they trusted that, if they did what he told them to do, they’d be successful, too.

His collegiate reputation does Montgomery no good now. The Warriors are typical of NBA players: They want their coach to have had success in the NBA before they’ll really listen.

Even then, it’s problematical. NBA players tend to think that they decide the game, not the coaches. Chris Mullin, who runs basketball operations for the Warriors, said when he brought Montgomery in that he wanted a teacher, but teaching only works with willing students. Montgomery had them at Stanford. He doesn’t have them with the Warriors.

EVERYTHING IS different in the NBA. Montgomery threw away half his playbook before his first practice with the Warriors, and then he learned that he’d have to throw away even more and really simplify his offense. There’s no time to practice. At Stanford, Montgomery would have three full days of practice before two conference games on Thursday and Saturday. In an 82-game NBA schedule, no coach has that luxury.

At Stanford, Montgomery was always in control. Not with the Warriors. Twice in recent games, with the Warriors trailing by three points, he’s signaled his players to foul with more than 30 seconds remaining – forgetting that he’s now working with a 24-second clock, not the 35-second clock in the college game, so his team didn’t have to foul to get the ball back. The players ignored him.

And, the travel. At Stanford, conference games were played in a fairly tight geographical area, with Stanford in the approximate middle of a Pacific-10 conference which stretches from the Washington schools in the north to the Arizona schools in the south.

Now, the Warriors are on one coast, and trans-continental plane trips are roughly four times the longest trip Stanford took in conference play. If he had any doubt about how bad it can be in the NBA, Montgomery is finding out now as the Warriors suffer through a 14-day stretch in which they play eight games and travel more than 7000 air miles, plus a New York-Philadelphia train trip.

Welcome to the NBA, Mike.

MONTGOMERY HAS also had to deal with a changing roster, and that will certainly extend into next season.

One of the changes is a positive one: the deal for Baron Davis last week, in which the Warriors only gave up an unhappy Dale Davis and point guard Speedy Claxtin, a pale imitation of Davis..

There is a risk because of his injury history, but Davis is only 25 and should be in his prime. With his ability to penetrate and either dish out or take the shot himself, he makes the Warriors a more potent offensive unit. He’s the kind of player who makes other players better, and he fits in perfectly with the Warriors style. It’s clear that the Warriors are better when they’re running because they’re not good shooters out of a set offense, and Davis can make the fast break go.

Davis also makes them much more fun to watch. KNBR talk show host Gary Radnich put that in perspective when he talked about switching back and forth from the Warriors game to the Oscars on Sunday night TV. “When Baron Davis was on the floor,” he said, “I watched the Warriors. As soon as he went to the bench, it was back to the Oscars.”

The Warriors also made a good move earlier in signing Jason Richardson and Troy Murphy to long-term contracts. That’s what a team should do: lock up its good young players. Neither Richardson nor Murphy are strong defensively, but Richardson is easily the Warriors’ best scorer and Murphy is a strong rebounder who can also score in double figures.

But big contracts for Adonal Foyle and Derek Fisher, along with the Davis contract, have the Warriors over the salary cap now, which means they’ll be unable to make off-season moves to strengthen the team – and may not be able to re-sign Mike Dunleavy.

The irony is that disagreement over Dunleavy is probably the biggest reason Musselman was fired as coach.

Mullin wanted Dunleavy playing more. Musselman was trying to win games, and he played Dunleavy only when he thought it would help to win a game. Writers joked that Mullin thought Dunleavy was Larry Bird and Musselman thought he was Toni Kukoc.

Musselman’s assessment was more accurate. Dunleavy has skills, as a shooter and ballhandler, but he’s neither quick enough to defend well against the quick forwards nor strong enough against the bigger forwards.

IT WOULD have been better if Mullin had kept Musselman as coach. Musselman knows the pro game, and Montgomery doesn’t. His Stanford success means nothing now, and once again, we’re seeing why college coaches don’t make it in the pros.

E-mail Glenn Dickey at glenndickey@hotmail.com

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