How I Know Joe Lacob Kept the Warriors Out of the Playoffs (Ch. 6) + Thunder v. Nuggets Game 2 Preview

From the Scott Ostler article on Don Nelson in today’s Chronicle:

Nelson says his plan for the 2010-11 season was to play David Lee at center, because he considers Lee a good power forward and an All-Star center.

“I told (management), ‘Look, I want (Anthony) Tolliver. I’m gonna need a power forward who can shoot.’ They wouldn’t give me Tolliver. He was pretty cheap (Tolliver signed with Minnesota for $2.2 million). I didn’t ask for much. That’s when I knew I was gone.”

Thunder v. Nuggets Update and Game 2 Preview:

I won my game 1 bet, getting +5.5.  They’re down to +4.5 in tonight’s game, and Afflalo is still out, but I’m still betting it. The Nuggets want this game.

Hoping for an adjustment on Durant.  Stop letting him go left and shoot over his right shoulder, for pete’s sake!  Nellie knew how to guard him: Push him right, and make him turn left shoulder.

For those looking for me to take back my evaluation of Westbrook, game 1 simply confirmed my opinion of him.  He got more shots for himself than all of his big men COMBINED.  A selfish gunner, with no vision or court sense.  Not a great point guard.

If Westbrook cools off, which his season averages suggest he will, the Thunder will struggle for scoring.  I sincerely doubt at the very least that he continues shooting 75% from three.

But if the Nuggets ever get Aaron Afflalo back healthy in time to make a difference in this series, Mr. Westbrook’s life could get very difficult indeed.

One thing I failed to take into account in this series: How much David Stern and the NBA want Durant to advance and become the new face of the NBA. We may have seen this in that ignored goaltending call late in game 1. (What are the chances that play was missed by 3 officials? What else could they have been looking at?)

I have a rule never to bet against David Stern, which I unwittingly violated with this pick. But in for a penny…

34 Responses to How I Know Joe Lacob Kept the Warriors Out of the Playoffs (Ch. 6) + Thunder v. Nuggets Game 2 Preview

  1. I’m guessing Lacob feared a Lee/Tolliver frontcourt from a defensive standpoint. And for good reason: it would have been atrocious.

    But it was atrocious anyway, with a less effective offense to boot. Whoops!

    It sure seems like Nellie was spot on in his assessment of David Lee. He’s an All-Star center if he has a perimeter 4 that can stretch the floor and give him space to operate. But there simply aren’t any PFs that can shoot from outside, but that are also excellent post defenders, which you’ll need if Lee is on the floor. Catch-22 — either way, you’re not maximizing your roster on both ends.

    Oddly enough, Monta Ellis might be the shooting guard equivalent of David Lee.

  2. This was reported before. Who is “(management)”? Does anyone know the timing of the decision? It was well before the official sale, but Lacob obviously made other decisions before then.

    Note Biedrins would still have been around for something, and maybe if the expectations weren’t so high, he might have filled in well. Also note Nelson’s comment in his Comcast interview, that Biedrins was another reason he was fired–the perception he couldn’t get along with his players, I assume.

  3. I’ve updated this post to include my Thunder v. Nuggets Game 2 preview.

  4. Minnesota signed Tolliver on August 9, which means if Lacob was involved in the Warriors’ decision on Tolliver, his input came in July. At that time, it looked like the Dubs were already going to have a logjam at PF with Lee, Udoh, Amundsen (already on the radar, signed a month later, in September) Brandon Wright and Vlad Rad all with guaranteed contracts. Any bball guy would have chosen to play Tolliver over most of that list, but Lacob/Riley were already looking at an insane salary payout for that one position before committing to Tolliver too. Letting him go had to have been a tough call, but I doubt they felt they could do anything else.

    Back in July it was also widely thought/hoped that Biedrins would return to form in 2010-11. That made him the big-minutes (and big $) center, not Lee, so the only way to get the expensive new star on the floor would have been to play him alongside Biedrins, not at center. If Nelson couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t agree with that plan (as it sounds like), there were going to be problems. Biedrins didn’t work out, of course, but that’s not something we can hang on Lacob. Biedrins used to be a decent player.

    Another point: It sounds like Nelson was lobbying for a smallball team last July. It probably would have been a really good one, as smallball teams go. Imagine the offensive havoc they could have wreaked! But it seems that the last few champions, the huge Lakers and Celtics, are Lacob’s role models. Even if he’s not the bball genius Nelson is, you can’t blame Lacob for that vision of what winning teams look like. They do win.

    It’s pretty certain that Lacob did turn the Warriors away from smallball, and that this season suffered as a result. Nellie’s dream smallball team probably would have made it into the playoffs, and the Dubs didn’t have the horses to win more playing a more conventional style. But you can’t really argue that the Lakers and Celtics aren’t good teams, or that trying to emulate them is a bad decision. And they just don’t play Nellieball.

    And it takes time to completely reshape a team. If Nelson was going to leave after this season anyway – and no one else could run a Nellieball team like Nelson – by keeping Nelson as coach this season the Warriors would have been in far worse shape for next year than they are right now. They would have had to begin learning how to play non-Nellieball starting next fall, not last. I don’t know how far they really came this year – +10 wins ain’t much over last season’s death march – but they got a start.

    At least now the Dubs are in pretty good shape to make some major personnel changes. By running the bench short at the end of this season the team got some room to move plus the time to better assess new talent. As much as you and I hated seeing the team destroy their starters this year with 40+ minutes a night, now the FO has the opportunity to do better than some quick-fix patchwork like you and I were pleading for all season.

    Let’s hope they have the good sense to consult with Nelson on that. He knows a few things about talent.

  5. White Hat,
    Thanks–and I’d better be careful, because it looks like you know what you’re talking about. But if Amundson was on the radar, then it was either him or Tolliver, both with about the same contracts–though Tolliver was only offered one year? I’m not sure Tolliver wouldn’t have proved better on defense. He’s smart on the court. Amundson is not. And his versatility in the roster and his offense would have proved more useful in any scheme.

    How easy is it to assemble “conventional” teams like the Lakers? What are the odds they can get Gaslol+Odom+Bynum, or the equivalent, any time soon–or in many years to come? And could these players be acquired without trading Curry or Ellis, or making other trades that would tear the team apart? I see years of conventional experimentation, with so-so results. Nelson would have shown the offensive possibilities of a very capable squad, plus a few tricks on defense. And he might have given Smart a positive example to follow. Smart did have some excellent games this year, most when he turned the team loose. He also might have freed the team of the Biedrins habit–Biedrins would have gotten minutes, which would have shown what we really saw last year and this. And maybe Nelson realized Biedrins was washed up, what Biedrins himself couldn’t face.

    Now I’m wondering how much a coaching style was forced on Smart.

  6. ivanbe, ellis more resembles a 2-guard version of c.anthony. karl found the means to create more shots for the rest of the team after tossing the playbook (which is pretty much how he described it) based on the anthony-billups dyad, team defense improved, and affalo gained a more prominent role in which he flourished. ellis’ fans and the team’s marketing dept. would resist trading him just as anthony’s would have done, except of course anthony himself declined to re-sign and put one foot out the door. Den’s transformation should be a lesson that trading talent-for-talent is very subjective, and what’s relevant is improving the team, which might mean trading ‘stars’ for ‘role players’.

    rgg, if tolliver only had a one year offer from riley, there was no chance he’d turn away two years guaranteed elsewhere. he made it clear that he loved playing for nelson and the woeyrs but financial security would be the paramount factor in determining his signing. but it’s very likely that riley sought feedback from lacob about trades/signings once the bid for ownership was settled (riley in that time frame without real job security and sensitive to the new boss’ desires), and that they were making a deliberate change to try to boost the team’s defense and boards, not tolliver’s strong suits. to the extent that smart felt there was a coaching style forced on him, he no doubt saw the deficiencies of the roster as the principal limitation, especially in the early going when lee, udoh, amundson were all injured and curry had to miss time with his ankles. he was well aware of his owner’s preferences, but deviating a bit from them wouldn’t matter if he won games. no one forced him to use training camp to install an ill-suited motion offense with a hastily assembled coaching staff to do the teaching — he really seemed to be trying to hard to put his own stamp on the team’s identity.

  7. Wishful thinking, moto. Maybe Smart felt–like everyone else–that the problem the last two years was the coaching, not the personnel. My thought was that maybe a successful year this year under Nelson might have persuaded Smart to try what he might have learned from his head coach and have some confidence in it.

    I mention Smart because I wonder what Lacob is going to do about the head coach. Who else is out there? Will he decide that Smart is still his best option, and that Smart’s coaching decisions were essentially sound if the team makes the roster moves Lacob thinks right?

    We’ll never know what might have been under Nelson because Lacob never considered that option and it was never give a chance. And without evidence, Lacob can keep thinking his decisions and vision are right.

    Who was Lin’s high school coach? Maybe he’ll get a shot.

  8. rgg, I don’t believe this was ever reported before in the press. Perhaps you have in mind my analyis of Nellie’s firing:

    It wasn’t difficult to surmise what happened, but Nellie’s statement to Ostler is proof. What this clearly shows is: 1) Lacob was pulling the personnel strings before he formally took control of the franchise; and 2) Amundson over Tolliver was clearly Lacob’s call.

    It also strongly suggests the strategic constraints that Lacob imposed on Keith Smart this season.

    Thunder v. Nuggets: I was only able to catch glimpses of this game out of the corner of my eye from the poker table. Will watch the replay later. It appears that Denver’s bigs took the game off. Either that, or Ibaka dominated. He is the second best player on the Thunder.

    Chandler is really struggling at off-guard, and Karl appears to have no confidence in JR Smith. The Nuggets badly need to get Afflalo back.

  9. Yeah, Keith Smart doesn’t seem to have Don Nelson’s game-time chops. Especially early in the season sometimes he seemed locked in to a vision of the team play he wanted, and he didn’t seem as flexible and responsive as Nelson to changing game conditions and so on. Sometimes Smart even seemed to use playing time for leverage to communicate coaching points – even at the cost of losing the game. Acie Law in for Curry at crunch time? Nelson would (and did) run Curry until he dropped.

    Some people (like Feltbot, obviously) feel that Nelson was a far superior coach to Smart. In some ways he certainly was. But Nelson teams were frustrating, too. As creative as he was at game planning and matchup strategies, he always floored a team that was incomplete, consistently ranking near the cellar on defense and rebounding. In crunch time, in close games, they weren’t going to get a stop from team D, only from individual effort, if that. And they never seemed to have any actual offensive plays to run, just clear out and let [player-of-the-week] go one-on-five. When a close game devolved to defense and grind-it-out offense, the Warriors were almost guaranteed to lose. In addition, Nelson would run his star players until they dropped, play them at odd positions they had never trained for, and leave them on the floor through incredibly stupid or ineffective play (cap’n Jackup, anyone?) – then yank rookies in a flash for rookie mistakes. Those were all pretty consistent traits of Nelson’s coaching, and sometimes it was just plain sickening to watch.

    Nelson’s attitude about player development also seemed like a handicap to some fans, but that’s debatable. Smart seems to cultivate players more, like his treatment of Andris Biedrins’ meltdown. I suspect Smart’s approach will get slightly better results from the individuals he has, and the extra coaching effort is probably better for team morale. On the other hand, Nelson was such a good judge of talent that it seemed he could reach into the D league at will to acquire the skill sets his team needed, so player development probably seemed like a bad investment of time and energy. And neither Randolph or Biedrins is exactly thriving, coaching or not. And nothing means more for morale than winning. Coaching or not.

    In the end, the “Nelson vs. Smart” debate is irrelevant and we can put it to rest. The real question is “where do we go from here?” I personally favor Smart’s hard-working thoroughgoing approach to the job over Nelson’s casual walk-through of the last couple of years, but I wonder if Smart will ever be better than average as a strategist or game-time tactician. It probably doesn’t matter as much as personnel (Inflexible Phil Jackson has won a whole lot more regularly than Crafty Don Nelson), but game smarts has to make a difference. And despite all Smart’s talk about improving defense, I think the Dubs D rose only from 29th to 28th this year. If that’s all he can get from a team when D is a “coaching emphasis,” well, dammit, fire him now.

    In Smart’s favor, the Warriors record did improve this year (from pitiful to merely subpar) and they accomplished it with a last-minute new coach, some major early-season injuries, a complete mental meltdown from a key player (the first I’ve ever seen where pharmaceuticals weren’t clearly an issue), a nothing bench and near zero management support. Smart took on a difficult job with major obstacles – and, I think, improved the team far more than their record (or stats, or defense) indicates. In addition, MT II reports that most of the players seem to feel that another coaching change right now would itself not be as good for the team as letting Smart continue what he started. That’s a pretty good recommendation.

    If there were a clearly better coach available for the long term (as opposed to someone like Larry Brown), I suppose the Warriors should consider replacing Smart. Otherwise I’d let him carry on. His floor generalship did seem to improve throughout the season, especially after he banished Biedrins. His players support him. The teamwork improved over last year, as evidenced by Ellis’ rise in assists, among other things. And no players are screaming for a trade, in itself a huge improvement over the Nelson reign.

    Besides, if team talent is the real bottom line – as Nelson himself often said – Smart’s smarts won’t have as much impact on the Warriors’ record, plus or minus, as Lacob/Riley/Myers’ personnel work. Smart may not have proven this year that he’s the best coach in the league, but he brought some real positives to the team, including some important intangibles like improved morale and teamwork.

  10. Afflalo playing game 3:

    JR Smith making chemistry killing comments:

    Handicap as you see fit.

  11. FB:
    No, I’m sure I heard that about Tolliver months ago–maybe his KNBR interview? Or maybe it was reported.

    White Hat:
    I’m wondering if Lacob might find Smart his best option simply because others won’t turn up–and fear he’ll put him under another wait-and-see year, as he did this one, with similar results.

  12. @ rgg: Yeah, good thought, it’s a real possibility that well-known winning coaches might hold off until they get a sense for how Lacob operates – how strongly he’ll back a coach, whether he’s a meddler, whether he’ll pay the money to improve the bench, etc. If you think those questions got answered this year, Lacob didn’t score well. If you grant him the first-year excuse, they’re still serious open questions. Why gamble a good career on an unproven owner?

  13. WH–

    No, I meant keep Smart on a wait-and-see basis for another year, simply because the others don’t turn up. Not good for Smart, not good for the team.

  14. Yeah, if they decide to keep Smart, I hope Lacob publicly gets behind him instead of dangling him for further evaluation. It goes without saying that a coaching job is insecure. What’s the point of emphasizing it? It could only undermine Smart’s credibility with the players.

  15. J R Smith not happy.


    Denver’s Smith wants out

    After playing only six minutes in Game 2, J.R. Smith isn’t thrilled with the way he’s being used by George Karl. [Smith] said there’s a “strong possibility” he won’t sign with the Nuggets this summer as a free agent, expressing frustration Thursday after the Nuggets went down 0-2 against Oklahoma City in the playoffs. “There’s a strong possibility as of right now,” Smith said. “It’s not going the way I planned it to go. It’s a tough situation. I want to be here, I love the fans and everything about the city. It’s just maybe not my fit.” The Nuggets had a team meeting on Thursday and Smith said the team didn’t have “a pulse” as they regrouped at Pepsi Center. “Just frustration, just really didn’t have any life in there,” Smith said. “No one was really into it.” (The Denver Post)

  16. While Nelson now states he wanted D.Lee to play center that does not exactly square with Nelson saying at the time that the Warriors had to upgrade the center position, thus indicating he was pleased with Biedrins. He spoke in terms of obtaining another player, not playing D. Lee at Center. A D. Lee-Tolliver frontcourt would have been a disaster defensively.

    If Udoh had started earlier at C, and Tolliver had backed up D.Lee at PF, the Warriors would have had a stronger team. Signing Amundson instead of keeping Tolliver was a stupid decision. One that may effect the Warriors for another year if Amundson exercises his option, which he likely will do.

    I would be greatly surprised if the Warriors were successful in obtaining a decent center in free agency this year, or in the NBA draft.

  17. I don’t blame Westbrook not getting the ball into the The Thunder’s frontcourt of Ubaki and Perkins as they were not hitting their shots given Denver’s frontcourt.

    He gave the Thunder a chance to win. His hitting 60% of his three pointers was impressive.

    Moreover, Westbrook averaged 8 assists during the season and 7 during the first two playoff games against Denver. Hardly, a selfish player. He’s a legit all-star.

  18. Make sure you check out Atma Brother One’s Warriors report card at GSoM:

    Excellent stuff. The breakdown on Curry’s stats alone is enough to make me wish fervently for Smart’s firing. But it’s much bigger than that.

  19. Does anyone have a take on Myers, presumably our next GM? Like Lacob, he’s young, sharp, energetic, ambitious–

    –and has no close experience with the game itself. What does an agent know about assembling a team? What the team still does not have is a basketball mind, or evidence that Lacob wants to have one, rather wants to keep control himself. He’ll make a play for some big player this summer. But I’m wondering if the kind of coach he wants will shake loose, and again, he’ll stick with Smart by default.

  20. WheresMyChippy

    Someone posted this on GSoM.

    Apparently a fan ran into Joe Lacob and talked Warriors for a while.

    “Said they are going to go hard after Nene and will probably have to overpay, but that’s what you have to do because he’s one of the few good bigs available.”

  21. Today’s “NBA Today” podcast on ESPN features Ryen Russillo talking with Larry Riley (at approx the 27 min mark of the show).

  22. Nene would make the Warriors an instant contender. They should pay him max if they have to.

  23. D’Antoni rumblings heating up: Last night on TNT Barkley blurted that the Knicks will have a new coach next year.

  24. I’d love D’A on the Warriors. Anything to keep (return to?) that runnin’, gunnin’ style of play.

  25. If Lacob wants to make a splash, and he does, he’ll have to do more than throw up bucks. He’ll have to attract players with a big name coach, and a big name coach with players.

    Other than Sloan–and Nelson, of course–any chance other head coaches will shake loose this season?

    How would Nene and D’Antoni get along?

  26. Probably better than Stoudemire and D’Antoni. Nene is great in the pick and roll, runs the floor, has a jumper, and does 2 things Stoudemire doesn’t: Pass the ball, and play defense.

  27. Denver, ugh. That was one of the sickest playoff performances I have ever witnessed.

  28. Think about it.

    You’re Joe Lacob and you want to get something going quickly. The physical, skilled, defensive team you want could take years to acquire and you may have to let go of some of the offensive talent to get it. And you don’t have a coach yet. D’Antoni could get this team up and running right off the bat. If you could get that center you covet, Nene (assuming the GSOM report is right), defense and rebounding will improve in just one stroke.

    You’re D’Antoni. You’re looking at shelving your coaching plans so you can work around Melo. Your front office is flakey. But here’s a FO in Oakland who is young, energetic, ambitious, and sane (I’ll give them all of that). And you’ll get a roster that is filled with the kind of offensive players you want, very much team players, very coachable.

    You’re Nene. How are you feeling about the future of Denver tonight? Denver has a lot of odd pieces and questions.

  29. rgg, lacob’s decision on his coach, which we hope will come in the next few weeks, will tell us more about his plans than his bountiful stream of marketing shill in the guise of candor. if he has plans for raiding the staff of one of the top teams after it gets eliminated, the hire would fall close to the draft lottery and the c.b.a. expiration. to the extent lacob has presented his hoops philosophy honestly, d’antoni probably wouldn’t be high on his list.

    the next c.b.a will likely continue to favor the ability for teams to re-sign their own free agents. [assuming nene exercises his option, teams with more budget space below the lux tax limits, yet to be defined, will have an edge over lacob, and Den will probably have a bigger advantage]. the market value for a two way center like nene is unlikely to decrease ; how many are there for 32 teams, is one hand enough to count them all ? of course we don’t know about other factors, how much nene likes karl or spending half the year in the rockies, usw., but i suspect lacob and riley’s talk about premium priced bigs has more to do with marketing than reality. talk cost them nothing and until the next c.b.a. is fixed, there isn’t even an framework.

  30. More wishful thinking, moto.

    Lacob sounds like he really wants to make an impact and is willing to take some risks. It sounds personal, and he has an arsenal at his disposal.

    So you step back and think about what you just saw. On a center-deficient, weak-benched team, you saw tremendous offensive potential, especially when the team was turned loose. Chicago and Orlando, for example. (It amazes me how many commentators don’t appreciate their offense, or good offense in general.) How can you maximize this asset next year and exploit it? Where will the other options take you?

    What matters more to you, the assets in hand or some conception of the game, even a philosophy, that you don’t have the parts for, that might take time to develop? Venture capitalists didn’t get where they are by stalling or following conventional wisdom. Two moves, if you took some risks now and put up some bucks, could get you somewhere quick and steal the march on your competitors.

    It would be a case where I would applaud Lacob’s ego.

    And yes, more wishful thinking.

  31. Your comment that Westbrook is a selfish player was proven so true last night.

  32. Yes, that was an amazingly self-centered performance. Webber and the TNT crew even went off on him.