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NBA: These Warriors have a ray of hope

Published: Tuesday, April 13 2010 11:32 p.m. MDT

To understand how ugly it was the last time the Golden State Warriors lost as many games as they will lose this season, begin with the realization that among the members of that team were Mookie Blaylock, Danny Fortson and Marc Jackson.

Blaylock had been a team captain until he skipped a practice to play golf — after which the designation was stripped by then-coach Dave Cowens.

Fortson, twice suspended by the league for excessive technical fouls, served a one-game benching by then-coach Brian Winters and returned to blast the organization.

Jackson was memorable for a colorful outburst. Upon hearing the team declined to trade him to Phoenix, Jackson fired a barrage of F-bombs toward Garry St. Jean, then serving as general manager, and was suspended by the team.

Quite a crew, eh?

I reference the 2001-02 Warriors because the 2009-10 Warriors are going to walk off the floor after their season finale on Wednesday night in Portland with at least 56 losses, the most since that infamous 2001-02 bunch finished 21-61.

It's not as bad now, at least on the court, as it was then.

Back then, however, Warriors management was committed to taking action, though it tended to be frantic and often unproductive. After an 8-15 start, Cowens was fired in December and Winters was promoted to interim coach. When the team lost 46 of the remaining 59 games, Winters also was dismissed.

Stripping negligent captains, suspending players, firing two head coaches in six months — the Warriors were a franchise on a feverish, but aimless and fruitless, search for legitimacy. Action, I tell you.

Eight years later, the records may be similar, but the response is not.

Don Nelson spent most of his pregame news conference Tuesday declaring his intention to return as coach. He reiterated this several times, saying he has another year on his contract and is obligated to fulfill it. It sounded like a man acting more out of a sense of duty than of sincere desire.

With GM Larry Riley also saying he'd be back, too, suddenly, despite having one of the league's worst records, the Warriors are committed to continuity.

Some of this surely is related to the injuries that punched holes through the roster, especially among the big men. Power forward Brandan Wright, at 6-foot-10, suffered a shoulder injury in training camp, underwent surgery and missed the season. Small forward Anthony Randolph (6-11) suffered an ankle fracture in January and hasn't played since. Center Andris Biedrins (6-11) has missed 47 games and did not undergo surgery (for a sports hernia) until last month.

It obviously is management's belief that the absence of those three players, along with that of 6-5 wing Kelenna Azubuike, whose season ended with a knee injury two weeks after the opener, sabotaged any chance of a respectable season.

That all these players are young points up the major difference between these Warriors and the last group that was so deplorable.

The '01-02 Warriors had young talent, notably Antawn Jamison, Larry Hughes and three intriguing rookies — Jason Richardson, Troy Murphy and Gilbert Arenas — surrounded by a toxic mix of veterans.

The Warriors of today have young talent with a sprinkling of solid veterans such as Corey Maggette and Ronny Turiaf.

But this young talent, if developed appropriately, has more potential than that which strolled through the locker room eight years ago.

Guard Monta Ellis is more electric than was Hughes. Randolph can be a more dynamic producer than Murphy. Wright brings length and a level of energy seen on every competitive team. A healthy Biedrins is an above-average center in today's NBA.

Yet the only player on this roster who should be untouchable is rookie Stephen Curry. Nelson gambled that Curry could play point guard, and the kid has been superb. Though he's a different kind of player than Arenas, Curry can be just as good — and, moreover, the Warriors own his rights for at least three more years.

Curry ranks No. 3 on the franchise Good News list this season, ahead of the useful players (Reggie Williams and Anthony Toliver in particular) pulled from the NBA Development League.

No. 2 is Nelson becoming the league's all-time leader in wins. This gives ownership an out insofar as he seems incompatible with the roster.

No. 1? That's easy. The greatest news to come out of this season is owner Chris Cohan's decision to put the team up for sale.

Maybe he should have done it eight years ago.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company