By Sean Deveney - SportingNews
Warm evenings in March are rare on the shores of the Great Lakes, and Jason Richardson, a native of Michigan, knows it. As he hunkered down on a balmy (i.e., 55-degree) night in the lobby bar of the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee the night before a game against the Bucks -- sweatshirt instead of parka, Yankees hat instead of stocking cap, headphones instead of earmuffs -- Richardson counted himself and his Warriors teammates lucky. "Things must be going our way," he said.
Indeed, few teams have more going their way than the Warriors, and few players have as much cause for excitement as Richardson. Golden State won't make the playoffs, but in the seven weeks since acquiring point guard Baron Davis, the team has been reborn. The Warriors are running. They are defending. They are cutting and finishing layups. They are bringing in fans -- the 10th-largest crowd (20,043) in Oakland Arena history showed up last Friday to watch the Warriors beat Phoenix. After that game, they were 15-7 with Davis and had won 11 of 12 games.
What matters most is that Richardson and Davis are creating chemistry, a strange development for a pairing that figured to mix like oil and water when Davis arrived in February. Richardson needs the ball and has taken on double-teams himself all season. Davis is a ball-dominating point guard. You see the problem -- two players, one ball.
"That hasn't even been an issue," Richardson says. "He is a willing passer. Before he came, I was pretty much going against double-teams and triple-teams almost every time I touched the ball. Now, I have to learn to keep cutting to the basket for easy shots. Before, we did not have guys who could get you the ball when you cut. Baron does."
Although the Warriors are brimming with young talent, it is Richardson's development and his on-floor relationship with Davis that are the keys to the team's future.
Richardson carries a slight reputation for selfishness, which he acknowledges, but that developed because the Warriors have been in constant turmoil. Richardson already has played for four coaches in four years. Last season, coach Eric Musselman was on his way out, and several players were unhappy. Richardson, who was eligible for and received a contract extension, handled the one thing he could control: himself.
"Guys knew what was happening," Richardson says. "(Musselman) knew what was happening. Everyone knew he was not coming back. In that situation, the only thing you can do is just focus on yourself. That's a sad part of it, but it is true. It becomes me first, team second."
But when rumors began surfacing that the Warriors might trade for Davis, Richardson called general manager Chris Mullin and urged him to make the deal. Richardson happily has ceded some responsibility -- his scoring has dipped since Davis arrived, but Richardson is happy to have a teammate who can share the load.
"Jason is still learning about himself and his abilities," says Warriors coach Mike Montgomery. "I think Baron can help him with that. He feels a little less pressure now to have to score every time. You see him pass up a shot or not wanting the ball if he doesn't feel real comfortable. That has taken pressure off him."
The Warriors have fans excited, but there are caveats. Davis broke down physically and mentally with the Hornets, and the same could happen with the Warriors. Davis still reverts to 3-point gunning too often. The Warriors lack a low-post scorer. In general, it's foolish to give too much credit to teams that play well in meaningless games. (Remember ex-Hawks coach Lon Kruger's playoff promise?)
For now, though, Davis has seized leadership of the team, and Richardson's development has accelerated. No team is itching for the start of next season more than this one.
"It has been a frustrating few years," Richardson says. "Everyone has been focused on losing. We have been so used to losing around here, we are ready for some winning."
SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS
For the Warriors to succeed, Mike Montgomery will have to break the college coach curse. NBA coaches who have been hired straight from college, be it Jerry Tarkanian, P.J. Carlesimo or John Calipari, have not done very well.
Part of the problem is NBA teams have struggled to draw top college coaches (Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, Tubby Smith), and the college guys the NBA has picked simply aren't great coaches. Plus, they often have been given bad teams. The three NCAA-to-NBA coaches before Montgomery, who coached at Montana and Stanford from 1978 to 2004, all struggled mightily. What went wrong:
Tim Floyd, Bulls (1998-2001), 49-190 -- Stuck in the ruins of the Bulls dynasty, he was forced to play teenagers who weren't ready.
Leonard Hamilton, Wizards (2000-01), 19-63 -- You try coaching Rod Strickland and Juwan Howard.
Lon Kruger, Hawks (2000-03), 69-122 -- Management put together ego-driven pieces that did not fit.
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