Golden State proving a worthy rival for laughingstock crown
Posted: Tuesday July 20, 2004 2:25AM; Updated: Tuesday July 20, 2004 1:57PM
Mullin gave Fisher 37 million reasons to smile.
Ladies and gentleman, we could be witnessing something truly unimaginable. Inconceivable, really. Thought by many to be theoretically impossible. I'm talking, of course, about a team becoming a bigger laughingstock than the Clippers.
People constantly poke fun at L.A.'s "other" team, but at this point the Golden State Warriors might be an even bigger joke. Like the Paper Clips, they have a reclusive, unpopular owner in Chris Cohan. As have their "rivals" to the south, they've played a hand in some of the worst trades of recent history -- anybody remember Mitch Richmond for Billy Owens? And it may surprise some to learn that it is the mighty Warriors, and not the Clippers, who have the NBA's longest-running playoff drought at a decade and counting.
Unfortunately, Golden State's moves in the opening days of free agency should ensure that slump continues for several more seasons.
Ironically enough, Warriors fans were breathing a sigh of relief when beleaguered general manager Garry St. Jean was pushed aside after the season in favor of former Golden State star Chris Mullin. But two months into the Crew Cut Era in Oakland, Bay Area hoops fans can only shriek in horror at the destruction he has wrought.
Before taking the helm, Mullin had been groomed for the position for the past two seasons, presumably so he would get enough experience that he wouldn't do anything horribly stupid. Is it too late for re-grooming? This week's twin bouts of insanity -- signing Derek Fisher to a six-year, $37 million deal and reportedly agreeing to sign-and-trade Erick Dampier for a few of the Knicks' leftovers -- put the icing on the cake to one of the most ridiculous offseasons in memory.
Mullin started things off with the questionable decision to axe coach Eric Musselman, who had made the Warriors surprisingly competitive in his two seasons at the helm and nearly won the Coach of the Year award in 2003. He followed that with the baffling decision to hire Mike Montgomery from the college ranks to coach the club, despite the less-than-sterling track record of ex-college coaches and Montgomery's complete lack of pro experience. While the move generally has been blamed on Cohan, based on recent events, we can no longer be sure.
Still, long-suffering Warriors fans were willing to give Mully a mulligan on those moves -- he's a franchise legend, after all -- and when he selected 18-year old Latvian Andris Biedrins in the draft, all appeared to be well. (Seriously, keep an eye on this kid. We talk about the American high schoolers, but Biedrins was in a European pro league at 17 and kicked butt.)
But then free agency started, and Mullin completely lost his mind. Let's review the Warriors' disastrous July maneuvers:
Signed backup center Adonal Foyle for six years and $41 million.
Allowed emerging forward Brian Cardinal to leave for Memphis.
Signed backup point guard Derek Fisher for six years and $37 million -- the same amount Cardinal received from the Grizzlies.
Appeared on the verge of allowing Dampier to leave as free agent, agreeing to sign-and-trade with Knicks for backup center Nazr Mohammed and not-even-good-enough-to-be-a-backup-anymore Othella Harrington. (This deal could still fall apart, but only if Dampier signs with Altanta and leaves the Warriors with even less).
An optimist would say that the Warriors have cornered the markets on backups, and it only cost them $100 million. A more rational look at things underscores what a head-scratching offseason this was. Dampier and Cardinal were the Warriors' two best players last season (sorry J-Rich -- play some D first and we'll talk), which the numbers back up. Their performance on a per-40 minute basis was miles better than the four players Mullin acquired, with the duo combining for about 33 points and 23 rebounds. Cardinal and Dampier were also much more efficient shooters than the other four.
Given all the money he spent on Fisher and Foyle and the contracts of Harrington and Mohammed, Mullin could easily have used the money he spent to retain Dampier and Cardinal. In fact, it would have cost less.
Basically, Mullin gave up two good players to get four mediocre ones. Rumor has it he's also exploring a deal that would exchange two quarters for four nickels. What's more, he'll be lucky if Fisher and Foyle can even hang on to their "mediocre" tag over the life of their respective contracts and not descend into being outright awful. Since Fisher's deal was the more horrendous of the two, let's focus on him.
Fisher is 30 and has six guaranteed years on his contract, which means he'll be 35 in the final season of the deal. Last season only three of the 53 point guards who played at least 1,0000 minutes were that age or older -- Rod Strickland, Darrell Armstrong and Gary Payton -- and none of them were worth anywhere near the kind of money that Fisher will be making. The fact that Payton is one of the three is particularly poignant -- If Fisher couldn't take his job at age 30, than what will he be like at 35?
OK, you might say, but that's the final year of the contract. Won't Fisher provide value for Golden State between now and then?
Unfortunately, probably not. Look even two years ahead and the news becomes grim. In the third year of his contract Fisher will be 32 years old. Only eight point guards of that age were able to play at least 1,000 minutes last year, and they all had one thing in common -- height. All eight of them were at least 6-foot-3. Fisher, however, is just 6-1, and thus much more dependent on speed that will decline rapidly with age.
Additionally, six of the eight had another, perhaps more important thing in common -- they were a heck of a lot better than Fisher. It's one thing if you sign a guy like Sam Cassell or Nick Van Exel to a long-term deal. If a player's getting you 20 points and eight assists a night when he signs, then even if he drops off 20 percent, he's still giving you 16 and 6, and you can win with guys like that. But if a guy like Fisher, who only averaged seven points a game to begin with, loses 20 percent, you're left with practically nothing.
At least Fisher was kind enough to provide some unintended comedy during the press conference announcing his signing. "I wasn't interested in a team that would go for a championship and then in the next year, two years, be broken up," he told reporters.
Derek, I don't think you'll need to worry about that "going for a championship" stuff in Golden State. Mullin's free agent haul has left a team with potentially two backup centers (Foyle and Mohammed) and no deserving starter. He has Harrington, who will spend the year battling "tendinitis." And he has Fisher, who will have trouble beating out Nick Van Exel and Speedy Claxton, but at more than $6 million a year will be the most well-paid third-stringer in basketball this side of Alan Henderson.
What makes the future stat of the Warriors so frustrating is that, as with the Clippers, this team had a chance to be good if they made the right moves. The Warriors finished last season winning 12 of their final 17 games and would have been a playoff team in the East. But by giving up two quality players and getting virtually nothing in return, the Warriors are repeating the familiar pattern of tempting us with near-success and then immediately riddling their feet with bullets -- the same blueprint that cost them Gilbert Arenas a year earlier.
It's rare to see an NBA exec so completely outclassed so early in his tenure, but Mullin's moves so far have been the kind of laugh-out-loud stuff we're used to seeing from the Clippers. While L.A. made an uncharacteristic bid for respectability with their pursuit of Kobe Bryant, the Warriors seem headed in the opposite direction. They'll enter their second decade of playoff penury with an overmatched college coach leading a roster depleted by a comedy of management errors. I never thought I'd say this, but maybe the Clippers have finally met their match.