Warriors may be wheeling, dealing
By SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER
-- Few do fresh starts like the Golden State Warriors, who have the benefit of annual practice, except that even they may not be there yet.
The season started anyway with a training camp that was more like a cleansing breath and celebration of Mike Montgomery's departure as coach. Then came Wednesday night at Oracle Arena and the opener filled with new hope, ready or not, and this just in: not.
It was Los Angeles Lakers 110, Warriors 98. It was a lot like every other wincing year.
But for all the attention given to the return of Don Nelson, a coach players can respect as the replacement for one they didn't, and point guard Baron Davis coming to camp slimmer than anytime since college, the genuine intrigue is that the real possibilities are still to come. Few teams begin 2006-07 in better position for a blockbuster trade, putting the Warriors in range of jumping from playoff hopefuls to actual factor in the West.
It just won't happen right away. Chris Mullin, the executive vice president of basketball operations, wants to evaluate his talent under the new coach, a normal process in the aftermath of change but especially since that new coach has a history of unique lineups.
At the same time, the Minnesota Timberwolves need to set a limit on the depth of their freefall before finally deciding they have a better chance at the future by swapping Kevin Garnett, or the Indiana Pacers have to reach for a weapon Stephen Jackson doesn't use and consider dealing Jermaine O'Neal.
Beyond Garnett, O'Neal, possibly Allen Iverson and maybe Paul Pierce, few superstars appear to potentially be in play, and Iverson and Pierce don't hold the same appeal with the Warriors already loaded for small ball.
Others with All-Star credentials will invariably be placed on the market as the season continues and teams concede the need for a bold move.
Golden State can get in almost any conversation because it has several coveted pieces. Maybe not specific players, but certainly situations: young prospects to build for the future, additional chances to build for the future with first-round picks from a team that realistically could be back in the lottery, a choice of big men or small men, and the realization that the Warriors have enough moneyed players to send in return for the required match of contracts.
They could even get to Garnett's $21 million for this season.
The drawback is that they don't have an excess of expiring contracts, an appeal to general managers looking to rebuild, as the Timberwolves would be doing with any Garnett deal. The Warriors also don't have star quality to send back, barring the unexpected of Davis being involved _ meaning Minnesota, for example, would have to sell fans on trading the face of the franchise for a combination of non-All-Stars. That wouldn't be as much of a problem with Larry Bird in Indiana _ he's Larry Bird in Indiana.
The appeal for the Warriors is that they have enough duplicate pieces to make a deal of that magnitude without mortally wounding their team. Not that they haven't already thought the idea through or anything.
"Whether you want to call it depth or multiple guys who can play really well in Nellie's system," Mullin said, "there could be some things out there for sure."
Mullin has stepped up to big moves before, acquiring Davis in trade and regrettably hiring Montgomery away from Stanford, so he has a history of the bold play. Now, he also has a chance, ready or not.