By Geoff Lepper
OAKLAND -- Despite giving the Warriors everything they reasonably expected from a backup center, DJ Mbenga was sacrificed Sunday on the altar of flexibility.
The team announced it will waive Mbenga, clearing the 7-footer off its books just before the remaining balance of his contract -- roughly $460,000 -- becomes guaranteed.
Perhaps more important, the move opens a roster spot that the Warriors can use in any number of interesting ways.
They can now take part in an unbalanced trade, where they receive one more player than they send out, without having to cut someone loose. They can call for reinforcements from the NBA Development League, something they did last January in the form of guard Kelenna Azubuike. Or they can bring someone in on a 10-day contract to audition for a permanent place.
"It's a possibility, all those different scenarios," Warriors executive vice president Chris Mullin said. "Everything, really, is just to leave open some options."
Mullin said the team was more interested in guards or big men rather than swingmen, so one name that's sure to come up is that of Oakland native Gary Payton. The 39-year-old point guard, who ranks third all-time among NBA players in steals and seventh in assists, is unsigned after spending the last two seasons with Miami and his agent, Aaron Goodwin, has told various media outlets a comeback is possible.
But Mullin isn't certain the Warriors want to go down the path of veteran help again. The two
experienced players the Warriors brought in this season -- point guard Troy Hudson and forward Austin Croshere -- have been bedeviled by injuries.
"We want to stay away from what happened with Troy," Mullin said, "You're looking at him to avoid injury (for the sake of starter Baron Davis), and he gets injured. ... That becomes the decision: A young guy that has the energy and low risk of injury, does that make sense, or does it make sense to get a guy who you know what he can do?"
That being said, Mullin did acknowledge the need for another body behind Davis, who is averaging 39.4 minutes per game, the 13th highest total in the league.
"We've got to get (Davis) some downtime," Mullin said. "Etching out seven (more) minutes (per game) of rest over the haul, I think it means a lot."
Mbenga averaged 1.2 points and 1.9 rebounds in 8.9 minutes during his 16 appearances with the Warriors, and quickly moved past second-year center Patrick O'Bryant on the depth chart. But it wasn't enough.
"DJ was fine," said Warriors coach Don Nelson, who brought Mbenga over from the Congo in 2004. "I was very happy with he way he played; his progress was fine; his knee was sound. It's just one of those unfortunate issues."
Nelson said that with Mbenga's departure, the backup job will fall back to O'Bryant -- who has been practically a ghost since a disastrous appearance against the Los Angeles Lakers in early December, playing just three minutes since then.
"He's been working hard, he's kept a good attitude," Nelson said of O'Bryant. "Even when Mbenga was ahead of him, he kept working hard. I still think he'll make it one day. Whether he's ready or not now, I don't know. He'll get an opportunity once in a while and we'll see how he does."
Additionally, rookie center Kosta Perovic is being recalled from the Warriors' D-League affiliate, the Bakersfield Jam, although Mullin said that's more to get conditioning work in than to serve as a replacement for Mbenga.
Notes: Croshere made it through his first practice in three weeks and, assuming his strained back doesn't react poorly this morning, should be available tonight. "He looked OK to me," Nelson said. "I don't think he's sharp, but he got through a practice." ... Rookie forward Brandan Wright, who earned his first NBA start on Friday against New Orleans, did not practice. He was ill with the flu, although it looked like something worse to Nelson, who reported that Wright had "passed out" in the locker room. "I think Al put something in his coffee," Nelson said. "I think I played him too many minutes (Friday)." According to a team spokesman, Wright was actually following the orders of athletic trainer Tom Abdenour; since there wasn't enough room on the training tables, Abdenour told Wright to get some rest in the locker room instead.
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