The 2005 NBA season for the Golden State Warriors started out promising, with an 8-4 record in the first twelve games. Then reality set in, with Coach Mike Montgomery suffering his second consecutive 34-48 season and Golden State fans flocking away from Warriors games toward the end of the season. Owner Chris Cohan and vice president of basketball operations Chris Mullin made the decision to bring in coaching legend Don Nelson to stalk the sidelines again, hoping to ignite a team that was downright lethargic for most of 2005. With talented players at every position, including Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, Jason Richardson, and Baron Davis, Golden State has no excuses for losing in 2006.
While the Warriors filled a need at center by drafting Patrick O’Bryant with their first round pick in 2006, he will not be ready to start immediately in the upcoming NBA season. Instead, look for Nelson to put hard working and low producing center Adonal Foyle in the middle because he can play defense and hustles every play. O’Bryant should get some quality minutes throughout the season and perhaps some spot starts late in the 2006 NBA season when the Warriors are out of playoff contention. At power forward, Andris Biedrins looks like the best option and showed some skills in 2005. Biedrins seems like a concession to the fact that forwards Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy have failed to play consistently in their young NBA careers. Dunleavy and Murphy will duke it out for the small forward position, with Murphy the likely winner.
The back court for the Warriors should be outstanding, with guards Jason Richardson and Baron Davis providing points and leadership for a young Golden State team. While Richardson has stepped up a bit as a leader with his hard-nosed play, Davis has not played hurt, stepped up as a leader, or put up superstar numbers for his large contract. Richardson is a slasher and a game-changing player who could be a perennial All Star if he had a consistent presence at point guard taking pressure off of him. Unfortunately, I don’t see Davis as long for Golden State, to be traded by mid-season to get rid of his contract. Unless they get another point guard in return, expect Nelson to start Monta Ellis, who played well in 2005.
Don Nelson has some unheralded and interesting pieces on his bench in 2006, with the potential for players like Mike Dunleavy and Monta Ellis heading up the reserve group. More than likely, Dunleavy will be dealt traded away, leaving the reserve front court minutes to O’Bryant, Ike Diogu, and Chris Taft. At guard, Ellis will be pushing Davis for more minutes as the season goes along, making for an interesting competition at the point. The reserve shooting guard position seems fairly open, with Mickael Pietrus and Devin Brown competing for minutes behind Jason Richardson.
Chris Mullin, the former Warrior great who is now in the Golden State front office, took a chance at the end of the 2005 NBA season by sticking with Coach Mike Montgomery for another season. Montgomery, the former Stanford coach, had struggled mightily in his first two seasons and his greatest failure was one common to coaches who make the jump from college to the NBA. This failure was his inability to assert himself as a strong presence in the locker room and his failure to find a connection with star players like Baron Davis and Jason Richardson. Mullin and owner Chris Cohan decided to make a bold move before the beginning of training camp, dumping Montgomery for NBA coaching great (and former Warriors head coach) Don Nelson.
Nelson, second in NBA history in coaching wins, has never led a team to the NBA Finals and has had troubles with owner Chris Cohan in the past. As well, Nelson’s health problems and cantankerous personality led him gradually out of Dallas, to be replaced by promising young coach Avery Johnson. However, the traits that have made him a problem for Cohan and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban make him a great leader for the often temperamental and self-centered professional basketball player. Nelson won’t take the same liberties with star players like Baron Davis as Montgomery did and if something isn’t working, Nelson will be sure to make necessary changes. The key to the 2006 NBA season is Nelson’s health. If he stays on the sidelines, the Warriors will see some drastic improvements.
2006 NBA Projection
I am not confident that Nelson will stay on the sidelines for an entire season, leaving one of his assistants to take over the Warriors for much of the 2006 season. As well, if the Warriors fail early on, Cohan will deal away high ticket players like Baron Davis and start rebuilding for 2007. I think they will struggle in the first half, will hit the bottom of the Pacific Division again, and take a step back from 2005 with only 27-29 wins. Nelson will stick around for 2007 but Mullin will be gone.