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Tuesday, March 15th, 2011 at 1:37 pm  |  4 responses

Warriors’ GM on Team’s Past and Future

As season winds down, Golden State looks to continue building.

by Irv Soonachan

An hour before the 65th game of the season, Warriors GM Larry Riley was willing to admit what many of the fans filling Oracle Arena that night still refused to accept.

“We’re not mathematically eliminated (from the Playoffs), but it’s so tough,” he said. “We’d probably have to go 17-1.”

Away from the noise of the Arena in an otherwise vacant meeting room, the 65-year-old basketball lifer was in a reflective mood.

“When this is over, whether it’s one year from now, five years from now, or ten years from now, I want to look back on it and say the decisions I made were solid ones,” he said. “I want to besatisfied that I would do the same things over again. I’d like to be a part of this organization being a playoff team, year after year.

Whether Riley ever gets the chance to take the Warriors that far is one of many open questions heading into the offseason. But so far so good on his decision-making.

Riley overhauled a team that had no direction and little hope for the future, drafting Stephen Curry and Ekpe Udoh, bringing in free agents David Lee and Dorell Wright, and promoting coach Keith Smart. But Riley also knows he is far from done, and this summer will be important.

“I feel we’ve got a core of guys who are pretty good and that we need to add one more (high caliber) player,” he said. “And we need to strengthen our bench. We’re not deep enough. We have to draft the right guy— a guy who is going to stay with us and be a contributor. And we’re going to have to sign another guy (for the bench).”

Riley places blame for the short bench on the doorstep of his predecessors, without naming Chris Mullin or anyone else by name.

Under Mullin, the team had three consecutive top-10 draft choices and didn’t find success with any of them. In 2005 they selected Ike Diogu one spot ahead of Andrew Bynum, in 2006 they drafted current Reno Bighorns center Patrick O’Bryant, and in 2007 they traded Jason Richardson for the No. 7 pick and took Brandan Wright one spot ahead of Joakim Noah.

“We were 0 for 3 on those, and your depth should be increased by at least going 2 for 3,” he said. “If you’ve got guys who are picked in the top 10… we ought to have two of them who can at least be role players.

“The draft is never an exact science. You can miss on a guy, but we’ve missed on too many.”

Though few blame Riley for the lack of bench strength, many fans hold him accountable for the team’s failure to land a quality player at the trade deadline.

Without a lot of depth and missing future draft picks, the team’s main asset was expiring contracts.

“It just came down to the fact that expiring contracts did not have the kind of value they’ve had in years gone by,” Riley said. “I don’t feel there was a trade out there that would have helped us that much to change what our team is right now.”

What he couldn’t say — but has been reported elsewhere — was that Carmelo Anthony didn’t want to come to Golden State and Utah wasn’t eager to trade Deron Williams within the Western Conference, whether or not the Warriors had the goods to acquire him.

The Warriors did make a move that would have been unlikely in years past. They took on the expiring contract of Troy Murphy for two other players with expiring deals, Brandan Wright and Dan Gadzuric, but owed Murphy more salary than they were giving away.

“We basically bought a second round pick for a year in which we were void of one,” Riley explained.

The trade indicated the willingness of new owner Joe Lacob to spend money.

“It’s not like we are going throw money around and be foolish, but money is not something that stands in the way of getting something done,” Riley says. “In the past we would have had to calculate that very closely and calculate the value of that pick. Which we did this time anyway, but it didn’t get in the way as it would have in the past.”

The pick is for 2012, a year in which the Warriors also lack a first round selection — Mullin sent it to New Jersey for current Russian League standout Marcus Williams. (That pick was part of the package sent to Utah for Williams.)

Riley is also responsible for signing David Lee, the power forward with a body that seems poorly built for one-on-one defense but who also scores and rebounds consistently. Some think Lee is overpriced, while others say his contract is right-sized for his production.

As if on cue, Lee surprised everyone shortly after Riley arrived in his suite that night to watch his team’s game against Orlando. Without the body to match up with Dwight Howard, the lefty used his guile to throw Howard off his game.

Late in the first quarter, Howard swung an elbow just past Lee’s head. Not a lunge, but a warning shot. At that point, the Warriors knew Lee had Howard where he wanted him, and Howard’s poor shooting night — coupled with amazing shooting by the Warriors — fueled an upset win.

His body visibly bruised up after the game, Lee said it all came down to using is head — or in this case, risking it — against Howard.

“He gets frustrated easily,” Lee said.

A couple nights later, Lee would use his feet to frustrate Kevin Love, breaking the Minnesota star’s string of consecutive double-doubles by denying him his favorite spots on the floor.

Even as Lee develops, Riley said the team still needs more talent in the paint.

“It would help us to add a big man,” Riley said bluntly. “It just depends on what will be available this summer. We can’t orchestrate something that isn’t there. I am looking for someone to help us up front with rebounding , and some shot blocking would be helpful . We’re not as bad a rebounding team as we were last year, but it’s just not good enough.”

Riley’s comments were like a Howard elbow thrown at center Andris Biedrins, whose inconsistency offensively and difficulty defending the post recently led the team to try rookie Udoh as a starter. Signed by Mullin to a six-year deal, the Warriors owe Biedrins $27 million over the next three seasons. The team has worked hard to help him improve, but sources say they’ve also worked hard to try to trade him.

It remains to be seen whether Riley actually gets to follow through on any of his offseason plans. He and Smart have made visible improvements to the team, but Lacob has expressed a willingness to make splashy moves on and off the court and says he will not consider any personnel matters until after the end of his first season as owner. Riley and Smart may be old-fashioned basketball men, but they are not big names.

Riley’s contract extends past this season; Smart’s does not.

“There can be a decision made on me at the end of the year, just like with Keith,” Riley said. “I’m under contract, but they can change you at any time. There isn’t anything for me to do other than work.”

Game Notes

– Late in the Magic game, Stephen Curry was called for a phantom foul on the 3-point attempt by Jason Richardson. Owner Lacob, sitting in the front row, was seen animatedly addressing Curry moments later. Asked by SLAMonline what he was telling Curry, Lacob responded that he was talking to him about what a bad call it was.

– Riley said that first-round pick Ekpe Udoh will receive more playing time in the season’s final stages.

–Riley also said that barring a lockout, the team will go to a few of its players in the offseason and “challenge them to do even more and to be totally ready for next season.”

– Lacob recently said that Mullin was to blame for signing forward Stephen Jackson to a contract extension that quickly went sour. This was not among Mullin’s errors as a GM — Team President Robert Rowell had briefly wrested control of basketball operations and was publicly credited by Jackson for getting the contract done. It was immediately speculated that Rowell, the former right-hand man of deeply unpopular owner Chris Cohan (but who remains with the team), was working a Rasputin-like spell on Lacob.

– At practice the day after the team’s overtime win against Orlando, a few of the starters — including Monta Ellis, who played all 53 minutes — were only put through a brief on-court workout. Those who played fewer minutes were worked much harder. This included a group of players who participated in an intense 3-on-3 game.

– The Warriors are taking a serious look at former Clippers draft pick Al Thornton. They think the forward has the athleticism to succeed as a reserve, but not the consistency on his jumper or on defense. He is working with assistant Calbert Cheaney on the finer points of playing forward and with shooting coach Mark Price. The team feels the problem with Thornton’s shot is his footwork, not his shooting motion.

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  • http://slamonline BossTerry

    Golden State of Mind Baby!!

    Go WARRIORS!!

  • Damon

    Wow, what revisionist history Riley has! The team is in the shape it is because of the Former owner and moves he made. It’s also nice to hear how he is going off on Mullin’s picks but not his own. We picked a undersized player that at best backs up a highly paid PF we just traded for and passed on Monroe who could have been the center of the future. the best move Riley has done is trading for Lee and even that he over paid Lee. Or is $80 mill ok for a player at a position that we need defense at? Since Riley took over he has shipped out (by trade or waiving) Crawford, Stephen Jackson, Acie Law, Raja Bell, Turiaf, Azubuikie, Randolph, 3 2nd round picks, Brandon Wright, Gadzuric, and Murphy for Acie Law, Speedy Claxton, Raja Bell, Radmonovic, Lee, Troy Murphy, and 2 2nd round picks. That’s a net loss of 4 players and 1 2nd round pick, but it’s Mullin’s fault there is no depth. In every trade save for one Riley gave away the best player in the trade. A creative GM would have tried to take our expiring contracts and gotten more for them. We could have had Wallace, who would have been an expiring contract next year. We missed out on a chance for Kendrick Perkins. We need a GM that will fix the problems and not play the game of my stuff doesn’t stink as bad as my predecessor’s. Imagine the team with the current fan base, the current ownership and the GM for the Thunder?

  • J Fish

    Other moves to reduce depth, C.J Watson (backup point), Anthony Morrow, part starter for NJ, Bellinelli part time starter for NO. Maggette.

    Isn’t it PART of HIS JOB to anticipate the declining value of expiring contracts?

    He announced they weren’t going to sign Murphy, (they don’t need points or rebounds?) and then wondered why it was tough to make a trade for him.

  • Irv Soonachan

    @Damon I think you’re leaving too much blame on Riley. Captain Jack had to go, he was taunting the fans right in the middle of the game. Bell was on an expiring contract and injured the rest of the year. Speedy is pretty much done. And Murphy had no intention of playing for the Warriors again, he was going to make life difficult for them if he had to. That deal was just done to get the pick. He was let go the first time by Mullin, BTW, in the trade that helped set up the Believe team. The only player you listed who I really liked was Crawford. @J Fish I liked Bellinelli and Watson too. But Riley was not allowed to go over the cap during the sale of the team, and besides, why should a rebuilding team sacrifice cap flexibility and the ability to make trades? They really, really could have used CJ this year, though.

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