In 2006-2007, the Golden State Warriors surprised the NBA nation, and snuck in and beat the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Playoffs, then the No. 1 team in the Western Conference. They almost advanced to the Western Conference Finals before falling to the Utah Jazz. In 2007-2008, Golden State was stuck in a numbers game, and won nearly 50 games and still failed to advance to the playoffs. In 2008-2009, head coach Don Nelson, the same man who inspired belief in the new Warriors of the present and the very same man who even made nice with Chris Webber in his brief comeback with his original team, this same man became a primary reason for the pathetic results of the team by the bay.
With front office bickering between the owners and executives, which has fed rumors of Chris Mullin’s intent to leave the team since being stripped of the ability to make the decisions which led the Warriors to be a re-emerging winner, Golden State began to suffer in-house indignities. One setback was Baron Davis leaving for the Los Angeles Clippers, and then Monta Ellis received a large contract–it was followed by a major ligament tear in the medial side of his foot and ankle, with threats from the front office that Ellis’ contract could be voided, and it got worse. Al Harrington demanded, and received, a trade to the New York Knicks after Nelson berated his play and his character. Stephen Jackson, the team’s captain, then played a near full-season on an injured toe. Talented shooting guard Jamal Crawford was demanded by Nelson to opt out of his contract or be traded in a questionably hostile fashion for seemingly no reason whatsoever (besides his hefty contract). What made matters worse was that one of the few truly bright spots on the team, 2008 lottery pick Anthony Randolph, has dazzled with his inspired, energetic play, while Nelson continued to bury his minutes as the team continually lost and Randolph sulked on the bench out of frustration…but all was not lost.
Kelenna Azibuike and C.J. Watson have been consistent contributors at guard; Brandan Wright, though sequestered in a similar fashion to Randolph has grown considerably as an emerging young forward; Corey Maggette, whose $50 million contract was seen as a bold mistake made by the Warriors organization, has been especially effective as a scorer/defender on both the perimeter and as a surprise post player, despite his guard pedigree; center/forwards Andris Biedrins and Ronny Turiaf have provided great consistency in the paint, while undrafted rookie Anthony Morrow has been the most effective three-point shooter in the NBA.
With all said, the Warriors have the personnel to do well, even in the wild, wild West. The problem seems to be the threat of Don Nelson stunting the growth of the play of his players, while Mullin is continually antagonized by his own co-workers for no reason whatsoever, beyond the corporate fight for power in a Fortune 500-calibur company. The 2008-2009 season has ended poorly for Golden State, and only with a concise, positive direction will the Warriors merit a place among the NBA elite in future years.
Don Nelson may not be the one to lead them to that place.