Contra Costa Times
Article Launched: 03/03/2008 03:00:17 AM PST
To a man, the youngsters on the Warriors' squad -- especially the rookies -- will tell you they envisioned this season going a bit differently. Not that they would be logging 30 minutes a night, but they at least expected to be semi-regular contributors.
It hasn't happened, certainly not consistently, and for some not at all.
Yep, life is rough as an NBA young buck under coach Don Nelson, where there is no benefit of the doubt, very little patience and lashes from a fiery tongue. Second-year shooting guard Kelenna Azubuike, rookie forward Brandan Wright, rookie guard Marco Belinelli, and second-year center Patrick O'Bryant all discovered first-hand why Nelson has the reputation for not liking young players.
It's a relatively difficult existence, especially when you consider the extreme confidence NBA players boast. But the Warriors' crew of youngsters have built a bond by weathering the storm together.
"There's not that many minutes, so you just have to be ready," said Azubuike, who was signed out of the NBA Development League in January 2007. "We support each other. We talk about it. The older guys explain to us how that's just coach and to be ready. We realize that's just Coach's style. Anything can happen on any given night, so our overall attitude is just to stay ready and go 100 percent while we get in there."
Nelson has some worthy reasons to ride with his veterans. Ask yourself, how many of the league's best teams play rookies? Very few. Partly
because they don't get good enough rookies because they draft so low. Mostly because if a team needs inexperienced players, chances are it isn't very good.
What's more, Nelson's system -- which is one of the main reasons for the Warriors' success -- is predicated on athleticism, skill and at least an average basketball IQ. Many young players lack at least one of those three ingredients, the latter of which is primarily a product of experience. And Nelson, ever the competitor, isn't going to lose games so youngsters can acquire them.
"I have the benefit of seeing these guys every day in practice," Nelson said. "You guys (the media and fans) only see what happens in games. You see something missing on the court and think, 'try that guy.' But I know what he can do and what he can't do."
And so they sit. Sometimes frustrated. Occasionally confused. At times disappointed. But always hopeful that the next game is their chance.
"I just keep working hard in practice," said Belinelli, who was drafted No. 18 overall.
To be sure, no youngster should be given time just because. This is the NBA. Minutes are earned. Dues need to be paid, experience attained.
However, some of the players have been fed some false hopes. Belinelli was all but deemed the starter by Nelson before the season began. Azubuike was the starter when the season began. Wright has been told constantly how much he's liked by the organization, but it didn't result in minutes until recently. Rookie point guard C.J. Watson was signed out of the D-League for the purpose of backing up starter Baron Davis, a job Watson has hardly filled since being guaranteed a roster spot for the rest of the season.
One can imagine how such a situation can play tricks on the mind and the confidence of an NBA newcomer. There is even slight cause for concern about whether Nellie's hard-core style will have long-term effects on the Warriors' future core (it certainly had third-year guard Monta Ellis' head all messed up in last season's playoffs).
But, then again, the Warriors probably only want the players who have the fortitude to persevere anyway.
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