Warriors get back to work, ready to improve roster

By Antonio Gonzalez

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Dec. 1 2011 4:51 p.m. MST

Golden State Warriors General Manager Larry Riley gestures during an NBA basketball news conference in Oakland, Calif., Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011.

Paul Sakuma, Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. — New Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson started to explain his plan for a shortened training camp when general manager Larry Riley's phone rang.

"I hope that's a couple of free agents," Jackson joked.

Riley laughed, placed the phone back in his coat pocket and whispered that it "wasn't easy" to ignore the call. The two finished talking with reporters and, before they could return to the basketball operations offices, the phone started ringing again.

Welcome back.

"All of the other things to building a great franchise have taken place, but we haven't been able to do much with basketball," Riley said. "So now, so to speak, it's time to go."

While the reconstructed Warriors management returned to Oracle Arena on Thursday, most players are not expected at the team's practice facility in downtown Oakland — now open again — until next week. Preparations for their return are already under way.

Riley has been busy fielding calls about potential moves. New assistant general manager and eventual successor Bob Myers took a flight to Los Angeles to talk to agents at his old stomping grounds at the Wasserman Media Group and new executive board member Jerry West stayed in contact with everybody.

Just don't expect any major changes anytime soon.

Although trade talk has surrounded leading scorer Monta Ellis for years, breaking up the point guard tandem with Stephen Curry still seems an unlikely possibility at the moment. Riley said he will do his "due diligence" exploring possibilities with the roster but doesn't anticipate a major overhaul before the season begins Dec. 25.

"What's the likelihood the roster will be near the same with some additions on opening day? Very likely," Riley said.

The statement seemed to indicate Jackson will be working with the same incomplete roster as his predecessor, Keith Smart, ousted after one year as a fill-in coach under the new ownership group headed by Joe Lacob that has promised sweeping changes to the underachieving franchise.

The Warriors have made the playoffs just once since 1994. About the only success the franchise has enjoyed is that long-suffering fans in the basketball-crazy Bay Area still regularly pack the arena and can be as vocal as any in a market saturated with sports teams.

Ellis, Curry and forward David Lee are the core of a Golden State team that finished 36-46 last season, a 10-game improvement from the previous year. While moving one of the three will likely be necessary for any overhaul, doing so under the rushed offseason free agency will be tough.

In time, Riley believes bigger changes will come.

"Now will tomorrow or next week show a lot of change? It could be, because we don't know exactly what we're dealing with and what additions we're making to the team," Riley said. "But this organization has a lot of confidence that our future is good. And I'm not talking about 10 years from now. We're not talking about that. We're talking about short-term future."

Then he turned to Jackson and muttered, "I hope you agree with that."

"Absolutely," Jackson replied. "I wouldn't be sitting here. Somebody else would be sitting here."

The first-time head coach has his own obstacles to overcome.

The only preaching Jackson could do all summer and fall is at his ministry in the Los Angeles area. He held meetings with his new coaching staff in Oakland and a "boot-camp" style one in Southern California one week to overload them with information.

"I think it would've been a nightmare if we didn't have basketball back," Jackson said.

Training camps are scheduled to open Dec. 9, under the parameters that a new collective bargaining agreement will be ratified in time. In the meantime, Jackson and his coaching staff are not permitted to have any contact with players who might be hanging around the facilities.

Jackson is using the time wisely.

He stopped by the San Francisco 49ers headquarters to speak with Jim Harbaugh this week and has another meeting in the works with Oakland Raiders coach Hue Jackson. The first-year NFL head coaches have had remarkable success in turning around the two Bay Area football franchises, and they did so despite a work stoppage that shortened training camp.

Jackson hopes to duplicate the success on the hardwood.

"The reason I wanted to do it is because of the great success both those guys have had in changing the culture. Great leaders. They've turned things around. They've made it the same things that I look forward to making this — team, we, collective, buy in or you're out, having fun," Jackson said.

"Neither one of those coaches used a shortened preparation time as an excuse," he said. "Neither one of those staffs. And we won't either."

Follow Antonio Gonzalez at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP

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