There are four NBA teams in Cali. One is the presumptive favorite to win the Western Conference; the other three are, uh, not as good. (Check out the latest ESPN.Com Power Rankings). In the current issue of ESPN The Magazine, senior writers Ric Bucher and Chris Broussard debate, albeit briefly, on which team is a bigger mess: the Warriors or the Clippers. We wanted to give 'em a chance to flesh out their thoughts a little, lest any Mag readers miss the point. Here now, a deeper discussion on the topic. (These two have done this before.) So seriously, who's in a worse situation: Nellie or Mike Dunleavy?
All right, CB, this is a little bit like arguing over what's worse, a poke in the eye or a shot to the groin, but the Warriors' lot strikes me as worse because no one knows who's running the show or what they're trying to accomplish. Is Chris Mullin in charge? No. Don Nelson? Maybe. Bobby Rowell? Probably, but he's doing a Jim-Buss-from-behind-the-curtain number, and we know how well that went in Lakerland. Are they rebuilding? They should be, but re-upping Nelly and Stephen Jackson is a win-now mentality. Leaving a bunch of young players to get jerked around as Nelly chases Lenny Wilkens' all-time win record. It's all too reminiscent of 15 years ago, which resulted in a toxic spill that had the Warriors wishing they were the Clippers for years.
I feel you. And while I'm saying the Clippers are in worse shape, your boys on the Bay are definitely hurting too. The big problem in Clipperland is that they've committed five years, $65 million to an uncommitted Baron Davis. We all know how great Baron is when motivated, but when he's not motivated he can totally drain a franchise and that's what he's done in LA. Notice that Baron has played more than 67 games just once in the past 7 years, and not surprisngly, that was a contract year ('07-08). He was, ahem, motivated, and it worked because he got the Clips to pony up big bucks. Now that he's got his money, though, dude's just not motivated, especially in his hometown of LA, where he can work toward reaching his goal of becoming a movie producer in Hollywood. Sources say BD doesn't want to practice, watch films or run Mike Dunleavy's plays. I hear his antics are starting to rub off on the youngsters and turn off the vets. If they could trade BD, they'd be okay since they do have talent elsewhere, but with 4 years, $53 millie left on his deal, his age (30 in April), his long history of injuries, and his rep for dogging it, good luck on that front.
Injuries have undercut both squads, but at least Dunleavy has used the setbacks to let his young talent get some valuable experience. If nothing else, Eric Gordon and Al Thornton are raising t heir value, if not proving better days are ahead in Clipperland. The Warriors give DeMarcus Nelson starter's minutes and then cut him. Rob Kurz, a hardworking journeyman who is, at best, a 10th man on a good team, is played ahead of a potential superstar, Anthony Randolph. For what? And if the Clippers decide—as they should—that their pieces don't fit, they've got some tradeable pieces with a surplus of quality big men and the aforementioned improving youngsters. What do the Warriors have? Stephen Jackson, and even his attractiveness has been reduced by the three-year extension he just signed. Monta Ellis, because of base-year compensation, is impossible to move. Minutes for Randolph, Marco Bellinelli and Brandan Wright have been too sketchy to create any serious value. Corey Maggette? Contract too big. Jamal Crawford? Another fat contract with a couple of years left. And I'd still argue that if healthy—a big if—the Clippers have the raw talent to at least be in the hunt for that eighth playoff spot. The Warriors couldn't reach that level with a ski lift.
The Warriors' problem is mainly that Nellie is acting up. Not a small problem, I know, but if he'll straighten up (or quit), the Warriors will be in pretty good shape with Monte Ellis, Anthony Randolph, Brandan Wright, Andris Biedrins and others. Really, both of these teams are struggling with a hard-to-deal with personality who's kind of got their franchises by the short hairs - Nellie and B-Diddy. I just wonder how much longer Clippers owner Donald Sterling will keep his wallet open. He was notoriously stingy with the cash years ago and since he began paying guys a few years ago, he's got nothing to show for it. If he decides to get frugal again, all that young talent—Thornton and Gordon—could be being developed for another team. And hardly any of the Clips vet talent has proven it can win. Baron and Chris Kaman haven't been past the second round. Zach Randolph's never been to the playoffs since he became a big-time scorer/rebounder, and Marcus Camby's last taste of playoff success was on that magic carpet ride in New York in the "truncated" '99 season. So even if Baron was acting like a choirboy, this team would be first-round and out at best, stuck in mediocrity with three big contracts (Baron, Zach, Kaman) running through 2011.
Dude, you're talking about getting to the second round of the playoffs as if that's something to be sneezed at. The Warriors have gotten that far once in the last 20 years, Boom-Dizzle was instrumental in getting them there and the city was ready to throw a parade. Jason Richardson and Al Harrington were part of the winning formula and Nelson had a hand in all three of them going elsewhere. Here's where it gets scary: With $12 million coming his way the next two years, the Warriors are going to be s-s-slow in getting rid of Nelson and he's not leaving that money on the table. So, in light of what's happened already, imagine what might still transpire before he's done. That's my whole point: the Clippers are certainly a mess, but it's hard to see their situation getting worse. The Warriors' meltdown, if history is any indication, is only at jello level. Next stage: puree.