Commentary

Warriors' future on display in Vegas

Originally Published: July 20, 2008
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

Anthony RandolphGarrett W. Ellwood/Getty ImagesWith Anthony Randolph as a 6-10 ball handler, Golden State is moving into its post-Baron Davis phase.

LAS VEGAS -- Every so often in the NBA Summer League, the Golden State Warriors would give the ball to Anthony Randolph at the top of the floor, spread the court and let the 6-foot-10 rookie drive to the hoop.

It served as a way-out-there preview of what the Warriors' future could be: an offense highlighting the ballhandling skills of the tallest player on the roster. A reinvention of the revolution.

Why not go to the extreme? The Warriors as we knew them the past two years were irreversibly altered the moment Baron Davis left to join the Los Angeles Clippers.

"When you lose your No. 1 player, you're probably not going to be as good," coach Don Nelson said. "We'll be different. I don't know how."

With the Warriors, it's not just a matter of how good the assembled pieces will be. It's a question of what overall philosophy they will adopt and which compass bearing they will follow.

Monta Ellis often was the most important player for the Warriors at the end of last season, but is he ready to be The Man on a full-time basis?

The Warriors could bide time, waiting for Ellis to get to the next level and for Randolph, Brandan Wright and Marco Belinelli to develop. They could send some of their youth off in trades and try to strike it rich with a Ron Artest or a Shawn Marion before their contracts expire.

At some point they'll need to find a direction, because when Davis left, he didn't take away just 22 points and eight assists a game. He took away the team's identity.

Yes, the Warriors were about Nelson's crazy lineups and their overall wild shot selection. And they had -- and still have -- Stephen Jackson's push-it-to-the-brink edge and Ellis' quickness. But above all, the Warriors were about Davis' boldness and vivacity -- not to mention his willingness to take over late in games.

"His stay with us was incredible," Warriors general manager Chris Mullin said. "He's had as big an impact on our franchise as any player we've had, I think.

"His talent and personality were somewhat larger than life. He had an incredible presence."

One Warriors fan came up to me and said he went to all but a handful of Golden State home games this season, and the main reason he went was to see Davis.

Makes you wonder why the Warriors didn't see that, why they didn't take the combined $67 million they committed to sign free agents Corey Maggette and Ronny Turiaf and use it on an extension for Davis.

Davis' agent, Todd Ramasar, said, "The organization wasn't committed to Baron Davis long-term. [There was] no effort to retain him."

Even though Davis played all 82 games this season, the Warriors had to be concerned that his body would break down or that he'd become disenchanted, as happened while he was playing under a max contract in New Orleans. The same concerns existed in 2005, but they didn't keep the Warriors from acquiring him while he still was under that max deal.

His value to the team should have only increased after the Warriors won 90 games the past couple of seasons, their highest two-year total since winning 99 in the Run TMC days of 1990-91 and 1991-92.

On the flip side, it seems as if the new NBA trend is the decreasing power of the hometown discount. In many previous cases, players have been so comfortable with their surroundings and enthralled with their team that they'd have taken less money than they could have made elsewhere to stick around. This summer we've seen the reverse from Davis and Elton Brand, two players who expected maximum-type money from their teams and became disenchanted when it didn't happen.

As a result, it seems as if the eras are getting shorter and shorter. Three of the top eight players from the 2006-07 team who captivated hoops fans in its two-round playoff run are gone (Davis, Jason Richardson and Mickael Pietrus). And a fourth, Matt Barnes, saw his production drop off drastically last season and currently is in free-agent limbo.

One of the pleasant surprises of this past season's squad was Kelenna Azubuike, who filled in some of the hole left by the trade of Richardson to Charlotte. But Azubuike won't be back if the Warriors don't match the three-year offer worth an estimated $9 million the Clippers made to the restricted free agent.

We'll probably look back on this brief, thrilling, convention-defying Warriors run the same way we think of Bo Jackson: with fonder memories than the raw numbers warrant. Jackson never averaged more than 86.4 rushing yards per game in the NFL and had only one 30 HR/100 RBI season in baseball. But anyone who saw Jackson won't forget him and would rank him above most of his contemporaries.

At times it already sounds as if the Warriors are drifting back toward the norm.

One of the things Mullin brought up was Maggette's ability to get to the free-throw line (10 times a game last year, third-best in the league), helping a category in which the perimeter-oriented Warriors ranked in the lower half of the NBA last season. Good luck trying to sell season-ticket packages with that premise.

The Turiaf move was just as basic.

"We need big people," Nelson said.

Though the Warriors addressed some deficiencies, it doesn't mean they have to get away from their strengths, one of which was their unpredictability. They uncorked another unexpected move in a Summer League game Saturday, starting Belinelli at point guard when C.J. Watson was injured.

Belinelli did pretty well running the team and finished with eight assists, giving the Warriors an option if they want to explore ways to both get Belinelli on the court and alleviate the team-running duties for Ellis.

"For me, next year is a very important year," Belinelli said. "It's important for me to play. That's it. During the game I can take the ball and play point guard. But I prefer to play shooting guard. But I can do both."

Hopefully Nellie can get past the rookie aversion he showed with Belinelli and Wright last year and give Randolph some run. At power forward or small forward, Randolph could be a matchup problem either way with his combination of height and quickness, as a 6-10 guy who can make defenders fall backward with a crossover dribble.

Right now Randolph still is prone to making young mistakes, as basic as fumbling the ball away for a turnover while trying to inbound after a basket. But he is already showing he deserved to go much higher in the draft than the 14th spot where the Warriors grabbed him. He promised he'll have a chip on his shoulder, and he lit up when asked about playing in Nelson's open system.

"It just puts a smile on my face," Randolph said. "He allows you to play."

The Warriors won't emphasize defense, of course, because that's not the Nelson way. And they'll still be up-tempo.

The challenge for the Warriors is, as Mullin put it, to "maybe accomplish similar things differently.

"Our style's not going to change a whole lot," he said. "We might try to go faster."

Last season, the Warriors were the highest-scoring and most consistently fun team to watch in the league.

And I will say this: They did play the two most enjoyable games during the two full days I spent watching in the desert. The cult of the Warriors was well represented at the Summer League, with blue "The City" and yellow "We Believe" T-shirts popping up regularly in the stands at Cox Pavilion.

They'd be advised to adopt the same philosophy as the front-office execs sitting near them, to not expect too much but be on the lookout for possible discoveries.

Maybe, with the play of a slender rookie forward and an eager Italian guard, the Warriors will have a little something to keep the revolution alive.

J.A. Adande joined ESPN.com as an NBA columnist in August 2007 after 10 years with the Los Angeles Times. Click here to e-mail J.A.