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Najera adds more flavor
- Jorge L. Ortiz, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Eduardo Najera deftly handled questions from the Bay Area media in English and Spanish on Tuesday, further confirming the internationalization of the Warriors.

The Mexican-born forward, acquired in the Aug. 24 sign-and-trade that sent Erick Dampier to Dallas, joins a club that already includes Frenchman Mickael Pietrus and Latvian rookie Andris Biedrins, in addition to Adonal Foyle, a native of Canouan in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

This blend provides the Warriors a nice chance to market players to different communities, especially Najera, who is moving to a region with 1.4 million Latinos.

More significantly, though, the international infusion might help the team overcome a talent disparity in comparison with the rest of the Western Conference, much like U.S. opponents did in repeatedly beating a team of NBA stars in the recently concluded Olympics.

Puerto Rico, Lithuania and gold-medal-winner Argentina defeated the Americans with staples of the international game : better passing, moving without the ball and 3-point shooting.

"You no longer need to be the strongest or the quickest, but rather play smarter,'' said Najera, who did TV commentary from Athens during the Games. "I think that's what those teams showed, in comparison to the U.S. team, which always tries to win with strength and quickness.''

That's also the formula typically employed in the NBA, in which the lane is narrower and the 3-point distance longer than in international competition. That approach also relies on one-on-one standouts, who are scarce on the Golden State roster.

The Warriors figure to go into next season with a young nucleus that will feature Jason Richardson, Mike Dunleavy, Speedy Claxton, Pietrus and Troy Murphy -- all with three years of experience or less -- along with a supporting cast that includes Foyle, Dale Davis, Derek Fisher and Najera.

With the possible exception of Richardson, none seems to have the makings of a future All-Star. Najera believes that's all the more reason to go with the balanced style commonly seen in international play, which he's convinced can work in the NBA.

"Absolutely,'' said Najera, who played on the Mexican national squad that upset Argentina in last year's Olympic qualifying tournament.

"You saw how the Detroit Pistons won (the NBA Finals) even though the Lakers seemed to be stronger because they had Shaquille O'Neal, and quicker because they had Kobe (Bryant). But Detroit won the championship by playing better as a team, so now all the teams want to change and play more like the Pistons.''

Najera, who has averaged 4.9 points and 3.9 rebounds in four seasons, would have fit in well with the defensive-minded Pistons. Despite scoring better than 18 points a game as a senior at Oklahoma, he has carved an NBA career largely through hustle and grit.

As a second-round pick in 2000, Najera found his niche by playing tough defense and banging in the lane with bigger guys, even O'Neal, becoming an inspirational force for the Mavs. Though he's listed as 6-foot-8, Najera confesses to being only 6-61/2.

His high-energy playing style and community involvement -- which included participating in reading programs and basketball clinics for kids -- made him hugely popular in Dallas.

"I'm not the typical 6-10 or 7-footer,'' said Najera, 28, "so the way I try to motivate them is by saying, if I can make it, anybody can make it.''

E-mail Jorge L. Ortiz at jortiz@sfchronicle.com.

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