Team Warriors: Montgomery and Mullin
by Glenn Dickey
Apr 19, 2005

ONE OF THE chief reasons for the rift between Chris Mullin and then coach Eric Musselman in the 2003-2004 season was that Mullin wanted Musselman to play younger players more.

So, did Mullin tell Mike Montgomery he wanted to see more of the younger players when Montgomery was hired before this season? No, says Montgomery.

“We talk all the time about the team and our expectations, for now and the future,” Montgomery said after Sunday’s practice, “but Chris has never told me I have to play this guy or that guy.

“I’m always going to try to win the game,” he said. “I’m never going to give up on a game just to get minutes for a player. I think you lose the team if you do that, because the players always want to win the game, and they want their minutes. You’d think, with all the games in this league, guys would like to get an occasional rest, but they all want to be in there.”

Montgomery gave two specific examples of the difficulty of getting playing time for young players: second-year player Mickael Pietrus and rookie Andris Bidrins.

“Mickael got a tremendous setback when he got injured in the summer league. We had sent him down there with the idea he’d have a chance to develop, and then he got hurt right away and even after the season started, he was behind and it took him some time to catch up.

“He’s got tremendous talent, and he can make some plays nobody else can. We’re just trying to get him to be consistent. Baron Davis has really helped him because he knows now that, if he makes the right move to get open, Baron will get him the ball.”

Pietrus has had a great run at the end of this season, including 25 points in just 26 minutes in the Warriors win over the Lakers last night. There’s no question he’ll be a big star.

Biedrins’ future is less certain because of his youth; he just turned 19 on April 2. He is very unpolished, but he has the potential to be a good NBA player. He’s not Todd Fuller.

“We had trouble getting Andris in the games early because there was a logjam in the middle,” Montgomery said, “but when Cliff Robinson and Dale Davis left, that gave us the chance to get some minutes for Andris.

“With big men, especially when they’re young, you look at their feet and their hands. If they can handle the ball and have quick feet, you always think they can develop into players. That’s why we drafted Andris: He had quick feet and good hands.”

Biedrins doesn’t have a shot, but with his quick feet, quick reactions and size, he should be able to pick up loose balls and put them back up for baskets. Indeed, even with his inexperience, he’s doing that. He’s also a good jumper – in Europe, white players don’t know they’re not supposed to be able to jump – which makes him a good rebounder and defensive player. It’s unlikely he’ll ever be a great center, but that’s a very rare commodity in the NBA these days, anyway. If he can rebound, play defense and score 12-15 points a game, the Warriors will be very happy with him.

FOR MONTGOMERY, this season has been one long – emphasize long – learning experience.

The pro game is so different from the college game that many good college coaches have failed in the pros. From the beginning, though I think Montgomery is a great coach, I thought he would join the list of failures. Early in the season, I wrote that his hiring was a mistake, but the mistake was in my opinion, not the hiring.

But, Montgomery probably had his doubts at first, too. “Everything was new,” he said. “I didn’t know the players, I didn’t know the assistant coaches, I didn’t know the routines.”

Not knowing the players made it difficult to put a game plan together. “I’d draw up plays that looked good on paper but didn’t work because, for instance, a player could only go to his left and the play was designed to go to his right. So, I’d have to draw it up so he always came off the screen on his left.”

Everything is different about the pro game. At Stanford, Montgomery usually had only two games a week and could hold practices on other days; in the NBA, teams have stretches where they’ll play four games in five nights, so practice time often means nothing more than a shoot-around. At Stanford, Montgomery’s teams had to travel no further than Washington or Arizona for conference games; the Warriors played 13 games in the Eastern time zone this year and even played in a foreign country (Canada).

One advantage Montgomery has had, though, is a very good working relationship with Mullin. Last year, it was tense between Musselman and Mullin, and the tension even became public when team president Robert Rowell declared on the radio that the Warriors’ talent level was better than their record, though most observers thought the opposite was true.

“It was pretty awful when I got here,” Montgomery said, “but it’s all calmed down now.”

Mullin inherited Musselman, but Montgomery is his choice, so he’s naturally going to do everything he can to help him. I have great respect for both men. In December, 2003, when it was already clear that Mullin was making the basketball decisions, though Garry St. Jean was nominally in charge, I wrote that Mullin could be like Jerry West and Geoff Petrie, a smart former player who could build the team.

NOW, IT SEEMS it’s starting to come together. If Mullin can keep the important parts of the team together – the question of Mike Dunleavy’s contract is the most obvious problem – this could be a playoff contender next season.

For the first time since Don Nelson was coach, the Warriors seem to have a coach with at least some job security. It’s hard to have consistency if you have constant coach changes, as the Warriors know. “But that’s the way of the NBA.” Montgomery noted.

Hopefully, that won’t happen here, and the Warriors will build a consistency they haven’t had since Nelson was coaching and Mullin was playing.

NOTE TO READERS: The mock NFL draft of the second and third rounds will be posted this afternoon. For Wednesday, I plan to take a look back at the 2002 departure of Jon Gruden and what it has meant for the Raiders.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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