April 15, 2010

2009-10: A Season Punted

The Warriors' thrilling win in Portland last night capped off a 7-5 finish to the season, easily the year's most successful stretch. It was a fun closing run, with big moments and big performances from a number of guys -- in each of the Warriors' final six wins, a different player led the team in scoring. The players remained enthusiastic and chipper throughout the dying months of the season, something many bad teams, and many Warrior teams, have not done. It's hard to remember a group of players as likeable as the current crop, and you may well be feeling pretty good about them right now.

As the glow of those final games fade, however, you'll again be confronted with the cold realities of the team's ineptitude. In a season that was supposed to represent a bounceback from the moped miseries of the yesteryear, the Warriors regressed by three games. Their 26-56 record was tied for the fourth-worst in the league, was the Warriors' worst record since 2001-02, and was the tenth-worst record in the 64-year history of the franchise. (Actually, tied for tenth-worst: the Dubs also went 26-56 in '94-95,the year Chris Webber, Don Nelson and Jim Fitzgerald cruelly morphed into Donyell Marshall, Bob Lanier and Chris Cohan. Let's hope this year doesn't leave scars as lasting.)

This wasn't simply a bad year. This was a horrible year, a disaster, an unmitigated embarrassment. The Warriors got a hard-working and largely healthy year from Monta Ellis, a fabulous, career-best season from Corey Maggette, and an eye-opening rookie turn from Stephen Curry. They still couldn't reach the "heights" of the '08-'09 squad. Why not?

The franchise's various mouthpieces have already made it clear what they want the narrative to be: injuries, with a splash of ref bias. Poor team health was, indeed, a huge issue, and maybe we can chalk that up to pure bad luck (though that's probably a generous assumption). But even if you account for injuries, the Warriors still underperformed. As we've discussed in the past, injuries, even crippling ones, don't have to nuke a team as quickly and thoroughly as they nuked the '09-'10 Warriors. You could blame a 36-46 season on injuries. When you're 26-56, you've still got a lot of 'splainin' to do. As for ref bias -- the Fitz talking point that if Monta had gotten the star calls he deserved, if the league hadn't cheated the Dubs out of a win in Denver in January, the season might've gone a little differently -- it's an excuse that's too pathetic to even merit a debunking. Let's not be children, here.

Was lack of talent an issue? To be sure... the Warriors' talent level is not particularly high. But it's not particularly low, either, and given the energy and hard work displayed by the majority of the roster, it's hard to figure how you only eke out 26 wins in a season. The Pacers have an overrated star and a crap supporting cast around him, and they still managed 32 wins. The Pacers resolutely refused to tank, but then the Warriors didn't tank, either... the Warriors had more wins in their final twelve games than they'd had in their previous thirty games, and they even cost themselves a draft spot or two with a 5-3 record in April. If they weren't talentless, and they didn't tank, how'd they end up on the short list of the worst teams in Warrior history?

The answer is as familiar as it is depressing: complete and utter organizational apathy. The hands-on stewards of the roster -- Larry Riley, Don Nelson and their ilk -- showed no particular interest in fielding a competitive team, either this season or in the future. They didn't screw up their draft pick, and they were eventually able to dump a malcontent; beyond that, they didn't do anything for the Warriors' present, nor much of anything for the Warriors' future. The number of unaddressed problems and missed opportunities throughout the season simply boggles the mind, and the fact that the fanbase hasn't completely turned on the coach and GM only shows how low Bay Area expectations have sunk.

It wasn't simply that the Warriors were bad... we're all used to that at this point. It was that the team didn't make the slightest effort to avoid being bad. Stephen Jackson demanded a trade over the summer, and the front office's response was a confused shrug... by the time they finally bothered to jettison him, the team was already in a bad way. When Brandan Wright went down, the team was reduced to four total big men, one of whom (Mikki) was incapable of playing NBA-level basketball, two of whom quickly got hurt... it was over a month till this problem was even notionally addressed. Larry Riley didn't bother finding a better use for Devean George's roster spot than Devean George; Don Nelson didn't see fit to give Anthony Randolph as many nightly minutes as Vladimir Radmanovic. Nobody was expecting inspiring work from either Riley or Nellie, but some basic high-school-level competence would've been nice.

Coming into this season, the Warriors were a bad team, with an ill-fitting roster, a tuned-out coach and a burdensome ledger of future salary commitments. Going into next season, the Warriors will be... a bad team, with an ill-fitting roster, a tuned-out coach and a burdensome ledger of future salary commitments. Not a lick of progress was made this season. And if you're counting on a draft pick to turn things around, you'll be waiting a long time. This season saw the arrival of the best Warriors rookie in sixteen years, and he didn't make a damn bit of difference.

Warriors fans want Chris Cohan and Robert Rowell gone, as well they should -- it'll be a happy day when those two set sail. But Cohan and Rowell aren't the guys who most actively prevented the team from competing this year. Riley and Nellie are. And if you're interested in seeing this team compete any time in the near future, you should root for the ouster of the latter pair just as fervently. For this season was a failure, and the failure is theirs most of all. No franchise's braintrust has ever given up on a season so willingly.

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