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Warriors owner gets an earful from fans
The first two years of the Joe Lacob era with the Golden State Warriors have been bumpy, to say the least, but the Warriors owner could have never expected that Monday night’s ceremony in Oakland — one honoring one of the franchise’s all-time greats — would play out like it did.
At halftime of the Warriors’ 97-93 home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team retired Chris Mullin’s No. 17, raising it high into the Oracle Arena rafters. It was supposed to be a touching and well-deserved moment for an all-time great and an all-around good guy.
But then Lacob took the microphone at midcourt to say a few words, and the mood quickly turned sour.
Hell apparently hath no fury like a scorned Warriors fan, and the Golden State faithful were all too eager to unleash their pent-up rage on Lacob, turning their cheers to jeers and mercilessly drowning out the owner with vehement boos as he tried to continue with the proceedings.
The catalyst for the fans’ embarrassing outburst seemed to be Lacob’s decision last week to deal star guard and fan favorite Monta Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks — a trade that brought Milwaukee center Andrew Bogut to the Bay Area.
“Sometimes change is inevitable, and it’s going to work out just fine,” Mullin assured the crowd Monday night, a failed attempt to get the boos to subside. “With your support and patience — and use that passion in the right direction — this thing is going the right way."
But the frustration, in truth, was about far more than trading Ellis. It’s about the fact that things have been going the wrong way for far too long. That unrelenting, vitriolic anger on display Monday was borne over two decades of Warriors incompetence, both on the court and behind the scenes.
And Lacob — who bought the team less than two years ago — was unwittingly placed in the middle of a firestorm waiting to happen, both when he signed on the dotted line in November 2010 and when he stepped out to center court Monday.
The Warriors have made the playoffs just six times since 1977 and once in the past 17 years — a number that will soon grow to 1-in-18, as the 18-25 Warriors, losers of four straight, hurtle toward the bottom of the Western Conference.
Many of Golden State’s struggles, at least since 1995, stem from the decision-making of former owner Chris Cohan, a skinflint who was more than happy to see his team flounder as long as the money — hard-earned money from these same loyal fans — kept rolling in.
In the early days of his tenure, Lacob provided Golden State fans at least a moment of respite from Cohan and came to the Bay Area with unquestioned vigor and high hopes for the team. But it’s that enthusiasm and promise for a better tomorrow — well-meaning as it might be — combined with decades of ineptitude that has Warriors fans so pissed off.
Warriors supporters were furious with Lacob, not only for dealing Ellis, but for making first-rate guarantees on a second-rate product.
Last year, Lacob’s first with the fledgling Warriors, he promised a .500 team with a shot at the playoffs and failed to deliver on both counts. Golden State finished 10 games under .500 when they needed to be 10 games over to reach the postseason, and head coach Keith Smart took the fall.
When Lacob hired new head coach Mark Jackson, a former Warrior, but one with no coaching experience to speak of, the assurances got loftier — “Put it in bold letters,” Jackson proclaimed at his introductory press conference, “the Golden State Warriors to be a playoff team next year” — but the output did not.
And now they’ve traded arguably their best player — or at the very least, one of their most popular — for an oft-sidelined center with no timetable for a return from his most recent injury, a fractured ankle suffered in January.
The move — trading a star guard and lethal scorer for a big man in a walking boot — was a serious gamble on the part of Warriors management, but it was a roll of the dice that the team had no choice but to make.
For starters, Ellis and Golden State guard Stephen Curry playing together was never going to work out. The two players, for all their talent, are too similar, and the chemistry wasn’t there. With Ellis making three times Curry’s salary, the easy decision seemed to be parting ways with Ellis.
Secondly, they got a viable big man in return, which is crucial for any team hoping to make a playoff run. Bogut is certainly no Dwight Howard — whom the Warriors also fruitlessly ogled over — but he can score around the basket, pass out of the post and play tough defense, something neither Andris Biedrins nor Kwame Brown did particularly well.
Finally, the Warriors desperately need to change their basketball identity. Jackson, for all his inexperience as a coach, seems to know what he wants and appears to understand that strong defense is going to be what leads Golden State to success, not a fast-paced offense.
It’s unclear how long it’ll take for the Warriors to get where they want to be, if they get there at all, but it’s clear that they’re at least trying to get headed in the right direction. And next year's nucleus — one made up of Bogut, Curry, David Lee and Klay Thompson — could be formidable, but perhaps not yet threatening to the Western Conference’s more established powers.
The problem is that Lacob has painted the addition of Bogut as the immediate start of something great, likening it to the Boston Celtics’ 2008 championship team and only further magnifying his own unfulfilled promises and reminding fans of the promises of ineffective owners past.
“I was in the Celtics ownership group and the Kevin Garnett deal — I was there for that — that was the transcendent deal,” Lacob said on a recent Warriors TV broadcast. “That really changed everything, and I know there are some fans that aren’t happy with this because Monta was a great guy and all that. But trust me, this is it for us. This is the transcendent deal that’s going to change everything.”
But in truth, it won’t change anything.
Let’s get one thing straight, though. Lacob is not Cohan. Not even close. He’s not a miser with no intentions of ever fielding a winning team. He’s a basketball fan who truly does want to bring a long-overdue expectation of success back to the Bay Area basketball culture. He’s optimistic to a fault.
But simply not being Cohan is no longer going to cut it for Lacob, and at some point, he has to be realistic about his team’s promise and realize that in some cases, immediate improvement is not feasible.
Warriors fans are understandably tired of being told that things are going to get better. That line got old decades ago. They want to see some progress — not just hear about it.
It’s a twofold solution, however.
Lacob needs to learn that you can’t usher in the golden age of Golden State basketball until the golden age has actually arrived. But while Lacob implements a plan of action to rebuild the struggling franchise — and maybe he has already started to do that with the acquisition of Bogut — the fans, frustrating as it might be, have got to give it a chance to work.
Warriors fans need to realize that there is a time and a place for the kind of impassioned outburst they put on display Monday — and in the middle of a ceremony honoring one of the franchise’s all-time greats is not it.
Unfortunately, decades of torment and unfulfilled promises are tough to get over, and if this Bogut deal isn’t the start of something great, a bad situation is only going to get worse in Oakland.
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