Posted Oct 7 2009 3:53PM
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Warriors coach Don Nelson enters from the door stage right, walks 10 feet and settles into a chair behind the head table for his regular pre-game news conference.
"What would you like to talk about?" he opens, innocently enough.
One of the best players on the team, and one of its emotional leaders, Stephen Jackson, doesn't want to be here. That's a good place to start. He went public with a trade demand late in the summer, hijacking what was supposed to be a feel-good rally in New York to promote a line of affordable sneakers, and hasn't backed off. Yet he remains a team captain.
Another captain, Monta Ellis, ripped management for drafting Stephen Curry, noting the 2009 lottery pick duplicates Ellis as a small combo guard and that opponents will tear through an undersized backcourt.
Of course, opponents did that last season, when Curry was in college. But it's different now. In Curry, Ellis also will have someone who will cut into his shots. The front office would like to build public support after Larry Riley replaced the popular Chris Mullin as personnel boss -- amid a fan sentiment that Nelson is pulling the strings anyway -- and Ellis has not helped.
Meanwhile, Brandan Wright, off to a much-needed good start following two underwhelming seasons, suffered a shoulder injury that will require surgery and probably sideline him a minimum of four months. At least he isn't a captain.
You know, the usual player-wants-trade, player-rips-GM, player-injured stuff, all before the first exhibition game.
We can always talk about that.
"There's been some disappointments by a lot of people," Nelson said. "But we've kept it out of our workouts and practices. We've just gone about our business."
Will you have to pay attention to make sure the, uh, disappointments don't carry over to the court?
"Yeah," he said. "I'm not going to let that happen."
"I'll address it if it happens. I don't think it'll happen. It won't be allowed to happen."
There went the "innocently enough" part.
No team wants the walls closing in so soon, but it's the last thing the Warriors, in particular, need. They went from 48 wins to 29 last season. Ellis got six years and $66 million in the summer of 2008 and a year later told the team he hurt his ankle in a pickup game, when it was actually while riding a moped in violation of his contract. Jackson got three years and $28 million in November 2008 and 10 months later he torpedoed them. Finally, Mullin's ouster was poorly handled. It was one PR nightmare after another. The Warriors desperately needed an uneventful preseason.
They got this one instead.
"Has there been a lot said? Yes," Riley said. "But I think these guys are professional enough. They're looking at each other and they're beginning to get the sense that this team might have a chance to be a pretty good team at some point. And I think that's taking over as much as anything I've seen."
There wasn't a team more relieved to get to the first exhibition game. These games are meaningless affairs most everywhere else, but around Oracle Arena on Sunday night it was the chance to force feed actual basketball amid the early distractions. Anthony Randolph played for the first time since he starred in Summer League and, in a telling statement of his sudden rise, went from not getting any vote for the All-Rookie team to being invited to the USA Basketball mini-camp. Curry played in Oakland for the first time since the Draft.
Wright was there, too. With his left arm in a sling and surgery to repair the shoulder and determine the extent of the injury pending, his encouraging preseason was ruined (though he's still likely to have his 2010-11 contract option picked up by the Oct. 31 deadline).
Ellis was there, this time playing alongside only Kelenna Azubuike in the backcourt in 12 minutes of work. Jackson was there, too, even if he didn't want to be.
Question: Can you play all season here?
Answer: "If I have to, I will. If I have to."
"The mood is a little better than before training camp," Jackson said. "I think guys feel a bit more confident about what we have here. But things won't be right until the proof is in the pudding, and that's being in the playoffs. That's winning now. We've got to get off to a good start, to have a good feel about this team. We can't start off 9-6. We've got to get a better start than that. That's the only way the confidence and the good feel about this team is going to continue. If we start off on a bad note, it's not going to look good."
He meant a bad note to start the regular season. They've already taken care of not looking good to start the preseason.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here.
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