Chris Mullin Looks for the Fire
The kind of player he was, in other words.
“When you look at Kobe, Lebron, anybody can see the talent,” he said after a Warriors shoot-around, “but it’s their love of the game that sets them apart. They can handle all the notoriety, all the attention because that’s not what’s important to them. The game is.
“It’s harder now than ever because, for some of the guys, the attention comes when they’re in the eighth grade, with scouts, the media. They have to love the game to keep focused, and how long they can play at the top level depends on how long they can keep their love of the game.”
Does he have the kind of players who have that attitude? “Pretty much,” he said. “If you go through our roster, that’s the kind of players you’ll see.”
In his first year as the man primarily responsible for the player decisions, Mullin has shown an ability to evaluate players and a willingness to pull the trigger on trades.
The most important, obviously, was the trade for point guard Baron Davis. “He helps to hide some of our weaknesses,” Mullin said. “We still have them, but they’re not so obvious when he’s in the lineup.” Though Mullin didn’t spell it out, Warrior fans know what he means: With Davis pushing the ball up the court, the Warriors don’t have to be in a halfcourt offense as much. Because they’re not good shooters as a group, the halfcourt offense doesn’t work well for the Warriors.
To get Baron Davis, Mullin traded center Dale Davis and point guard Speedy Claxton to New Orleans in the trade. Davis wasn’t playing much, and complaining about his lack of minutes, and Claxton isn’t close to as good a point guard as Baron Davis. “We’d been talking off and on for some time,” Mullin said, “but other teams were asking about Baron, too. We knew at some point that Dale Davis would have some value (New Orleans quickly traded him to Indianapolis), so we thought we could make a deal.”
THERE WAS never any question about Baron Davis’s ability, so the trades which really showed Mullin’s ability to evaluate players were the ones which brought Nikoloz Tskiishvii and Zarko Cabarkapa to the Warriors. Neither one was playing much for their former clubs, Denver and Phoenix, respectively, but both have made important contributions to the Warriors and shown they have the potential to be valuable players.
Mullin, who drafted 18-year-old Andris Biedrins with the Warriors No. 1 pick last spring, clearly likes European players. He’s spent considerable time scouting European players, including watching Biedrins in practice as well as games. “They know how to play the game and they understand the team concept,” he said. “The knock on them has been that they’re ‘soft,’ but you don’t really know that until you get them in situations where they have to play tough.”
When Mullin took over for Garry St. Jean – officially, because he was obviously behind most of the big decisions the previous year – he said he wanted to build with a nucleus of good, young players. He soon signed Jason Richardson and Troy Murphy, two important pieces, to contract extensions.
Especially since the addition of Davis, who has four years and a reported $63 million left on his contract, there has been speculation the Warriors would not be able to keep third-year forward Mike Dunleavy, a Mullin favorite. Mullin scoffed at that. “We have things we can do,” he said. “We’re not going to lose any player we want to keep because of the cap.”
TO COACH THE young players, Mullin pulled a startling move by hiring Stanford coach Mike Montgomery. Earlier in the season, I called that a mistake, but that judgment was premature and probably wrong.
When I told Mullin that I was skeptical of the move, though I thought Montgomery had been a great college coach, he said, “I probably had more questions originally than you did, but after talking to Mike, I thought he could do the job.
“When I played, there was a tremendous difference between the pro game and colleges, but I think the college game, pro game and international game are closer today than they’ve ever been.
“I think Mike has done a very good job of bringing our young players along. We had some very tough times early, but I think he handled that well, too.”
The Warriors will be a lottery pick again, and it’s not hard to see that they’d like to get a good, big man. Whether that kind of player will be available is another question. “Everybody’s looking for the same thing,” Mullin said. “It’s no big secret. If we can’t get the type of player we want, we’ll go for the best player available.
“We don’t know at this point even what kind of team we’ll have. Andris is so young, maybe he’ll grow to seven feet or 7-1 and be the big man we need. We think Mickael Pietrus can be an outstanding defender, so maybe our strength will be defense.
“What I do know is that we want to bring the kind of excitement to the Arena that we had in the years I was playing.”
BECAUSE I trust his judgment, Chris Mullin gives me hope that the Warriors will be bringing back that excitement. After years of searching in vain for the light at the end of the tunnel, it seems finally to have arrived.
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