Posted Dec 13 2010 4:51PM
OAKLAND -- By coincidence, we talked on Dec. 2, the night his former team, the Heat, were in Cleveland for one of the showdown, throw-down games of the season.
Dorell Wright's new team most definitely was not. Golden State-Phoenix may have been the back end of the national-TV doubleheader. But, really, it was just a Thursday night at Oracle Arena, with the Warriors trying to hold on to some early success that has begun to crumble between their fingers.
Yes, Wright had watched a large portion of the LeReturn broadcast before focusing on his own game. Yes, he is hoping Miami and the friends he left behind have a successful season. He's not one to root for a pile of rubble as snickering vindication of his departure after six seasons.
Truth is, he can't avoid the ongoing connection. Years ago Wright requested quarter-by-quarter Heat updates be sent to him via text message and now he can't figure out how to make them stop.
Wright has gone from South Beach to the Bay Area, from limited impact to high visibility, from a face in the crowd who never averaged more than 7.9 points or five rebounds to a prominent voice posting 14.8 points and 6.1 boards. He has instantly gone from follower to leader.
Of course, he has also gone from a playoff regular to a club that will need a big recovery just to get to .500. But that's part of the velocity, too. We're talking complete transition.
"I wanted to come out here and play hard and show everybody why I was in Miami for six years and Pat Riley always stuck with me through the bumps and bruises, through the injuries," Wright said. "Now a lot of people understand why. A lot of people are starting to see the potential I had. I haven't shown a lot more because I'm just getting used to playing heavy minutes, used to picking my spots, and it's a different system. I think I have a lot of room to improve."
Even while shooting 38.9 percent, though 40.7 behind the arc, Wright is clearly making the most of the new life. Just as obvious, he is the upgrade the Warriors hoped for at small forward: a three-point threat with enough accuracy to fit into the offensive plan that former assistant Keith Smart planned to carry over from the Don Nelson days, a veteran with size at 6-foot-7 who would defend well enough to fit into the plan for increased toughness, and a solid rebounder.
What no one could have seen coming was that the Warriors also landed a leader. There was nothing from the Miami file to indicate Wright would step to the forefront like this, not in six years in the same locker room as voices who were louder (Gary Payton, Shaquille O'Neal), more credible and experienced (Pat Riley, Alonzo Mourning, Steve Smith) or just more Dwyane Wade. Who could hear Dorell Wright above all that thunder?
But he arrived in Golden State with a three-year, $11-million free-agent deal, and bam! Teammates listened like he had spent six seasons in a winning program. Coaches encouraged him to be assertive.
"He was a leader from Day 1, when he and David [Lee] came into the building and started training," Smart said. "The guy was here at 7:30 in the morning for a pre-workout before training camp. Some things that he had already developed in his early career, he brought that to the table here. Leaders, you don't have to make them leaders. They become leaders no matter what environment they're in."
The former teammates gave Wright confidence to step forward. They didn't exactly say so. But he didn't need them to. Wright just had them in mind a lot these opening months.
"I'm just a young guy that was around veteran players," he said. "If you look at the teams I played with and the guys that were on my team, you'd expect somebody like me to be listening to everything they said. A Gary Payton, Shaq, D-Wade, Eddie Jones, Steve Smith, Keyon Dooling, Quentin Richardson, Alonzo Mourning -- these guys were very outspoken. I soaked up everything.
"Even if they don't think I was listening, I listened to everything they said. The things I say to these guys are just recycled lines, because I heard and I knew what kind of sense of urgency they had to win games. I'm just telling them the same things they said to me. Like a father tells you something, you pass it on to your kids. Not saying these guys are my kids, but it's something I know. I come from a different situation, where winning is first."
So Mourning is in the Warriors locker room without even knowing it, as is Quentin Richardson, Wade, and others. They are there because Wright is there, far from Miami but not exactly far removed. He has the quarter-by-quarter text messages to prove it.
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