Warriors' Montgomery ready for second season as NBA coach

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» Wed Sep 21, 2005 9:16 pm
By JANIE McCAULEY, AP Sports Writer
September 21, 2005

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Mike Montgomery drops by the office of Golden State general manager Rod Higgins almost daily now just to see what's happening. Are there any trades in the works? Which players are on the Warriors' radar? What else is new?

Montgomery is clearly much more comfortable as an NBA head coach entering his second season in the league. He's ready to bring back winning to this playoff-starved organization, which hasn't reached in the postseason since 1994.

``I don't feel smarter,'' Montgomery said Wednesday. ``I certainly have a much better grasp. It seems more normal to me now. We're way, way ahead from where we were a year ago.''

Golden State has almost its entire roster back, most notably All-Star point guard Baron Davis -- and he will be healthy and around for the entire season after coming to the Warriors in a February trade with the New Orleans Hornets.

There is hype surrounding this team again as the squad kicks off training camp in two weeks in Hawaii, and realistic talk of the Warriors being a playoff contender in the challenging Western Conference. When both Bay Area baseball teams were struggling this summer, many fans were looking ahead to the start of the season for the hard-luck Warriors and how perhaps their fortune would finally change.

Montgomery made the tough decision to leave Stanford after 18 seasons on The Farm to be part of his new team's turnaround.

The Warriors missed the playoffs for the 11th straight season last spring and finished with three fewer wins than the previous year when coach Eric Musselman got fired.

Losing has never sat well with Montgomery, who took Stanford to the second round of the NCAA tournament for 10 straight seasons before bolting for the challenge of the NBA.

Golden State went 18-10 after Davis' arrival, getting eight of those wins against playoff-bound teams and nine away from Oakland Arena. So, there are all kinds of positive signs for the Warriors -- and signs to Golden State's management that Montgomery is the guy to get it done.

``There are a lot of characteristics good coaches have at any level, and Mike has all that,'' said Chris Mullin, vice president of basketball operations. ``Of course when you change leagues ... the game is different and that just takes an adjustment period. I think Mike has handled all that really well. He feels more comfortable.''

Montgomery is no longer working with college kids, but grown men who respond differently to criticism and instruction. He had to rid himself of some old habits in a hurry. That proved to be his biggest challenge as a rookie NBA coach.

``Some of the nuances just took some time,'' Montgomery said. ``As a coach, I've been doing this for a long time. At Stanford, I got used to coaching a certain way with a certain kind of kid. The major adjustment is dealing with different personalities. ... Yet I still have to get them to respond.''

With a rigorous 82-game schedule and travel all over the country, there's less time for practice and perfecting new plays or defensive sets.

When the 58-year-old Montgomery charges in to see Higgins or visit Mullin's office, they can tell the difference a year has made for the coach's comfort level. If Montgomery is in town, it's a sure bet he'll be around.

``I can sense it really well,'' Higgins said. ``He just busts into the office and says, 'What you got for me?' He's feeling real good right now, but that comes from all of us having the opportunity to work together and get to know each other. We communicate very well.''

Montgomery is ready for the increased expectations. Every year at Stanford he felt the pressure to win.

``We're going to hear a lot about playoffs, and that's fair, but it's not a make or break thing,'' said Montgomery, who will be inducted into the Stanford sports Hall of Fame on Sept. 30 and then honored the next day later at the Cardinal's football game against Oregon.

``I would like to think we will be competitive in every game that we play. ... Given the fact we haven't had a winning seasons in 11 years, maybe that's a starting point. Maybe let's talk about winning more than we lose.''

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