Montgomery: Part of the Warriors Problem
by Glenn Dickey
Mar 01, 2006

WHEN MIKE MONTGOMERY was hired by the Warriors in May, 2004, I wrote in The Chronicle that it was a mistake because Montgomery wouldn't be able to coach pro players. ďThese players donít want to be taught. They think they know everything already.Ē

Montgomery certainly had problems adjusting to the pro game at the start of the 2004-05 season, but he seemed to be making the adjustments late in the season, as the Warriors made a late run, and I wrote approvingly of what he was doing on my website.

Unfortunately, I was right the first time.

Montgomery has regressed in his coaching this season. He simply hasnít been able to make that mental transition; even late last season, he told a group of Stanford people that he had gone from being ďthe manĒ at Stanford to being almost a peripheral figure with the Warriors.

In other words, he had gone from being in total control to coaching in a league run by the players. In the NBA, coaches who are successful are usually ones who were former NBA players, like Phil Jackson and Pat Riley. Players have some respect for coaches who have played in the league, because those coaches understand what they need.

In contrast, the current Warriors have no respect for what Montgomery accomplished at Stanford, where he was as good a college coach as Iíve seen. As far as theyíre concerned, he might as well have been managing a baseball team.

In turn, Montgomery seems to have no respect for his players Ė or for the NBA game in general Ė because players are so often poorly grounded in fundamentals. At Stanford, his teams always were fundamentally sound. If players werenít like that when they came to the school, they didnít play until they learned.

Younger fans may not realize this, but the NBA once was like that, too, when players spent four years in a good college program which emphasized team play. Now, players are coming in out of high school, theyíre from a generation raised on TV highlights Ė which means they donít practice those mundane skills like free throw shooting and 10-foot jump shots, because they donít show up on TV Ė and NBA games are often full of superior athletes who donít have a very good understanding of basketball. Montgomery isnít the only coach whoís driven nuts by that.

Even within that context, Montgomery could do more, but he clings stubbornly to outmoded beliefs. One of those has been obvious recently: His refusal to let players take a foul with a three-point lead. His fear is that a foul in two-point territory would lead to a player making his first free throw, then intentionally missing the second and putting up a field goal for a three-point play. Those of you who have EVER seen that happen (just trying doesnít count) raise your hands. I thought so. On the other hand, NBA players will hit three-point shots in that situation, and thatís been done twice to the Warriors recently. They lost both games.

Montgomery also still teaches defensive methods he used in college. One example: On a pick-and-roll, he insists that his players switch, so a big man is usually caught trying to defend a much quicker smaller man. At Stanford, Montgomery didnít have the quick athletes who could fight through a screen and still cover their man. With the Warriors he does, but he wonít let them do it.

I would also fault him on his inability to get the most out of rookie Ike Diogu. When heís played substantial minutes, Diogu has scored, but itís all been on his own. Montgomery hasnít designed any plays for him, though Diogu is the one player on the roster who can score inside.

MONTGOMERY ISNíT the only problem, by any means. These players have also contributed to the free fall:

--Baron Davis is injured now and itís uncertain when heíll return, but even when heís been healthy, heís been a disappointment this year.

At his best Ė as he was when he was traded here just before the deadline last February Ė Davis is a marvel, slashing to the basket and either taking the ball in himself or creating an opportunity for a teammate.

But Davis hasnít been that kind of player very often this year. Heís reverted to the style of play that has made him a headache for other coaches, throwing up errant three-pointers early in a possession, making bad decisions on fast breaks. How often have you seen Davis trying a lob pass to a teammate on a fast break, instead of taking the almost certain layup or passing off for it? And how often have you seen that lob succeed? Itís a pretty play if it works and certain to make the post-game highlights shows, but itís also a very low percentage play.

Davis should be the leader for this team, as he was in the late stretch last year. But his tendency to think me-first instead of whatís best for the team has been a huge factor in the Warriorsí slide Ė and also a huge factor in Montgomeryís dissatisfaction.

--Mickael Pietrus. I had been calling for more time for Pietrus because his stifling defense and electrifying offensive moves energized the team when he came off the bench. But since heís been in the starting lineup, his play has gone south.

Pietrus hasnít learned from his mistakes. When he gets the ball, itís obvious heís already made up his mind what heís going to do with it. There are times when he has an opening for a drive to the basket, but he launches a three-pointer. There have been times when heís made a move in one direction, freeing himself, but then comes back to where he started, giving his defender a chance to regroup. Montgomery made a comment to reporters late last season that, ďIt doesnít matter if I play him seven minutes or 27. He never learns.Ē Now, we know what he meant.

When young players get a chance to start, they have to step up their game. Pietrus has done just the opposite. Now, itís more than his own game that is affected. His potential trade value has also plummeted. His was one of the names that was part of the conversation when Mullin was talking to Indianapolis about a trade for Ron Artest. It wonít come up again in big trade talks.

--Mike Dunleavy. Actually, itís probably not so much Dunleavyís fault that heís played poorly but the fact that heís miscast on this team, just as Antawn Jamison was earlier.

Dunleavy is a complementary player. On a team with standout players Ė indeed, the Warriors teams with Rick Barry and Nate Thurmond, or the TMC crew on which Mullin played Ė Dunleavy would be thought of as a nice player who can shoot a little, rebound, pass the ball. When Davis was playing in an unselfish mode at this time last season, Dunleavy put on a nice spurt. But heís not going to look good on this team because he has no one outstanding skill. Jason Richardson has his weaknesses, but he also has the ability to score a lot of points. Dunleavy canít do that, nor can he be the top rebounder, an outstanding defensive player or a player who can control the game with his ballhandling skills. Knowing that, he has clearly lost his confidence. Heíd be better off with another trade but, since he just signed a new contract, heíll be very hard to move.

ALL OF THIS puts Mullin in a very bad spot. He has some good players but he doesnít have a cohesive team. Just getting another good player in the draft or in a trade wonít help if the team doesnít come together.

He also doesnít know if he has a coach. One of the big Warrior problems in the post-Don Nelson era has been the almost constant coaching turnover. Montgomery was hired as a solid guy who would stick around, but there are constant rumors that Montgomery will leave Ė or be fired Ė to go back to college basketball.

Mullin and Montgomery seem to have a good relationship. They need to sit down and have a very candid talk about where this season has gone and what can be done to change the chemistry for the future. Thereís no realistic hope the Warriors will make the playoffs, so they need to work out how the situation can be better in the future. Reminding Montgomery that heís coaching in the NBA now and not in college would be a good start.

LETTERS: Despite my promise, I got caught up in other things yesterday and didnít update this. Iíll do it before noon today.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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