NEW YORK — If you toss aside the triviality that accompanies the Superbowl — and the Raiders participation in it — only one thing should be on the minds of Oaktown: What in the name of Jack London is going on with the Warriors? Basketball’s bottom feeders for the better part of the past 10 years, 19-23 Golden State is marching merrily (a facade, as you’ll soon discover) toward mediocrity.
Following their usual putrid (in this case, 1-6) Gate Getaway, the Warriors at home last night against the Jazz), have captured 10 of 15, including three mighty wins (Timberwolves, Lakers and Nets) of their past four.
In the process, they’ve become the first team in 30 years (’73 Hawks) to whip both previous season finalists on consecutive nights.
While that feat, of course — and its 3-decade drought — is as much of a scheduling quirk as anything, one can’t deny these aren’t your father’s Warriors — unless you’re Brent, Jon, Drew and Scooter Barry.
Golden State entered the weekend (tied with the Lakers) 4 1/2 games behind Houston for the final playoff spot in the West. Not bad for a franchise which hasn’t sniffed the second season in nine years and hasn’t lost less than 61 games in any of the last four full 82-game odysseys.
On the surface, the secret to the Eric Musselman mob’s success is simple. Normally a dreadful shooting team (23rd in FG pct), they’re now hitting their (Rodney White) heaves. In beating the lukewarm Lakers at the office supply center, the Warriors shot 55 percent, then negated the Nets with nearly equally (51.4) accurate marksmanship.
This just in: I’m no longer scoffing uncontrollably at the Vince Carter-Antawn Jamison draft day trade. What has made Jamison (23.3 ppg, ninth overall) even more effective is the emergence of a supporting cast, including Troy Murphy (league’s most improved?) and Calvin Murphy’s body double, Earl Boykins.
All Boykins has accomplished in the last three wins is score 67 points (24-41 FG), 15-16 FT) with 18 assists and just four turnovers in 89 minutes, 33 percent OF ‘EM IN THE FOURTH QUARTER, where the 5-5 Duke Of Earl converts into Oscar Robertson.
That’s the good news. But, as veteran readers of this compass know, there are always three sides to every story: What’s being spoon-fed, my warped mind and reality.
According to those monitoring the situation full time, Musselman is basking in temporal glory, as well as the crunch time Cavalier reunion of Boykins and Bob Sura. They claim that recent victories are only masking actuality, that the Warriors are festering like the fertilizer in Oklahoma City and are one ugly incident or demoralizing loss away from exploding into smithereens.
Let’s start with Friday’s practice, which Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas failed to attend, and work backward. The official excuse given the team by agent Dan Fagan for their absence is stomach and groin problem, respectively. Not coincidentally, Arenas played a season low 15 minutes (sat out the final 21) against the Nets, while Richardson squatted for the entire second quarter and all but three minutes in the fourth.
Unofficially, the diminished daylight of the starting backcourt is only a symptom (who can seriously say Boykins hasn’t earned the spotlight?) of the simmering crisis; it is not the disease.
“The issue is trust,” swears someone in the know. “Eric was brought in here to develop young talent. Instead, he has alienated the team’s top draft picks (Mike Dunleavy and Jeri Welsh) by telling people they can’t play.”
(Editors note: Due to extreme pressure on Musselman from above, the draft’s No. 3 pick is beginning to see consistent, though certainly not deep daylight and Dunleavy is producing — nine points on 4-4 FG in 15 minutes vs. Jersey — accordingly)
“What Eric has done to Dunleavy is dead wrong,” scolds someone on the ball who’s neither his father nor his agent. “What he’s doing to Richardson and Arenas is just as unkind and uncalled for; he’s undermining them by complaining about their deficiencies to outsiders. Sure, they have deficiencies; they’re only in the second year in the NBA. What Eric doesn’t understand is that a coach is supposed to be a custodian of his players’ reputations.
“Eric has aborted his mission,” continues my forward observer. “Yes, he can coach. Yes, he has strengths. But this recent winning has gone to his head. Three and half months into his rookie season, the guy invites TNT into his locker room at halftime of the Nets game. Playing to the camera, he gave ’em the whole she bang — video, pep talks, individual stuff. Are you kidding me! That’s not about the team! That’s about the coach!
“The Warriors have been mired in the mud for eight years. They’ve enjoyed short-term blips before. And this short term blip is not necessarily an indication of great team chemistry. They’re very talented, that’s it.
“Eric has to make a decision,” my source maintains. “He has to understand the difference between winning 25 games and winning 35 at the expense of his young nucleus. John Lucas, Scott Skiles and Lon Kruger found out, if you can’t bond with your young nucleus, you won’t be coaching that long. Coaches who identify with young guys and bond built trust. There’s none of that here.”
Peter Vecsey covers the NBA for the New York Post.
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