Nelson, Thomas, Bonds, Cal, 49ers
by Glenn Dickey
Oct 04, 2006

WILL THIS finally be the season the Warriors end their playoff drought? The hiring of Don Nelson as coach gives them one important ingredient because the players respect what he’s done before.

At the Warriors media day on Monday, player after player spoke about Nelson’s “credentials,” and how he’d “laid down the law” in a team meeting just prior to players meeting with the media.

This was in stark contrast to the attitude they had when Mike Montgomery was here. Even Eric Musselman couldn’t command the respect Nelson gets. Almost without exception, successful NBA coaches have to have a background in the league, which Nelson has, both as a player and coach. Montgomery’s impressive college coaching resume meant nothing to Warriors players because he didn’t understand the pro game. In his first training camp, Montgomery was worrying aloud about practice times during the season and had to be told that the 82-game NBA season doesn’t allow much time for practice.

For the most part, players skirted the Montgomery issue, but Mike Dunleavy said bluntly, “I’ve never been used right by coaches here.” Dunleavy may be the single player who benefits most from Nelson’s system, because he’ll be handling the ball much more instead of being used primarily as a shooter. “When I was in college (Duke) and Coach K was asked what position I should play in the NBA, he just said, ‘Mike’s a player,’’ Dunleavy noted. “When I’m just out there shooting 3-pointers, I’m a one-dimensional player.”

As for the season, I’m making only one firm prediction: It will be the most exciting since. . . well, since the last time Nelson coached here.

BETTER THAN EVER? At age 37 and battling injuries, Frank Thomas has homered once in every 11 at-bats over the last two seasons, easily the best in what will probably climax as a Hall of Fame career. In his 40-plus homer seasons in his prime, Thomas averaged no better than one home run per 13 at-bats.

He’s not alone in baseball history. Hank Aaron had his best home run year at 37 and another 40-homer year at 39. Ted Williams had his best home run per at-bat ratio in his final season, at 42.

When good hitters mature, they learn to be more selective about what pitches they can drive for home runs. Barry Bonds was noticeably a much better overall hitter in his big home run years, but the steroids-are-the-end-of-the-world crowd insists it was all about what he was taking. But Thomas has spoken out very strongly against steroids use and said emphatically that he’s not taking them. Steroids weren’t around when Williams and Aaron were playing. It’s not all about steroids.

STRONG CONNECTION: Cal coach Jeff Tedford and Oregon coach Bill Bellotti remain close friends – “I root for Jeff in every game but this one and I’m sure Jeff is the same,” Bellotti said in a conference call on Tuesday.

“I was just impressed with the organization of the program when I was there,” said Tedford, who went from being offensive coordinator at Oregon to head coach at Cal. “Everything from the ticket office to the football program was done right.”

Saturday’s matchup at Memorial Stadium will being together two high-powered offenses; Cal has scored more than 40 points in each of its last four games and Oregon is averaging just a tick above 40 points a game in its 4-0 start. But Tedford discouraged talk of a 45-42 blowout. “If you look at our history since I’ve been here, we’ve had scores in the 20s. I’d expect that on Saturday.”

In the three games between Cal and Oregon in the Tedford era (the Bears and Ducks didn’t meet in Tedford’s first season), Oregon was won two and the point differential is only 10 in Oregon’s favor. “I just want to have one more point at the end of the game,” Tedford said.

K.C. TRAIN WRECK: After the blowout in Kansas City, the biggest margin in a shutout in 49er history, it’s anybody’s guess which way the 49er season is going. I had thought they were making progress after the first three games. They couldn’t draw an easier opponent than the 0-3 Raiders on Sunday. If they don’t bounce back with a win over the Raiders, it’s going to be another dreadful season.

Coach Mike Nolan hinted at possible lineup changes on Monday, but there’s really nothing he can do at this point – though I hope that, when Larry Allen gets back in the lineup, he’ll shift Adam Snyder to right tackle and put Kwame Harris on the bench. Nolan has already made one significant change, using Michael Robinson within the red zone instead of Frank Gore, who has four fumbles in four games.

BONDS RETURN: The Giants don’t need Barry Bonds to draw fans next season because tying season tickets into All-Star game tickets will have those sales moving. If they bring Bonds back, it will be because the fans want that. Barry gets nothing but love at PacBell because fans realize what a treat they’ve gotten with his record homer run.

I understand that because I often walk around the park during games, talking to fans who appreciate the fact that I haven’t been a Bonds-basher. Others don’t seem to get it. A San Francisco columnist last week unleashed an anti-Bonds tirade and urged the Giants to “break the Bonds’ habit.” It was an emotional rant with little logic behind it.

Reader Janice Hough sums up the media reaction with an e-mail which she entitles “If I had a blog.”:

“So, let me see if I can summarize the reasons why Bonds shouldn’t be back next year.

1. He cheated with performance enhancing substancees. Along, if true, with somewhere between many and most players until it became illegal. Including pitchers. Anyone commenting about Gagne’s records these days, for starters? And no one is saying Giambi is disgracing the Yankee pinstripes these days.

2. He set a bad example for children. As opposed to, say, Paul LoDuca, who committed adultery with two 19-year-olds while married to an ex-Playboy model. And no one is saying he shouldn’t be playing for the Mets.

3. He is bad for team chemistry. If that really mattered, A. J. Pierzynski and others would be long out of baseball.

4. He creates a cloud that threatens the sanctity of baseball. As opposed to Bud Selig, who allows television to dictate a playing schedule that keeps children from seeing theeir favorite teams, supports a scheme to decide home field advantage for the World Series with a meaningless exhibition game and supports a system that allows the Yankees to use the rest of MLB as their personal farm system.

5. He really isn’t nice to reporters. Ah, now maybe we are getting somewhere.

TV: I’m a guest on Channel 2’s “49ers Playbook” which will air Sunday morning. Check the TV listings for time.

EXAMINER COLUMN: My Tuesday column can be accessed now through the Search Page link in the three-line item about my Examiner columns near the bottom of my home page. My crystal ball was a little clouded.

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