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News » Warriors have playoff chance, but only if ...

Warriors have playoff chance, but only if ...

Warriors have playoff chance, but only if ... The Warriors are in an unusual position as they open their season tonight. They need to convince their two most influential players, Stephen Jackson and Monta Ellis, that the team has playoff potential. Should that happen - and everyone knows it's a longshot - they actually have a chance to get there. That's how uncertain things look in this year's Western Conference.

This isn't the powerhouse assemblage we've seen in recent years. The Lakers have a clear edge on the field, with rebuilt San Antonio an obvious No. 2. There are potential chemistry issues in Portland and Utah, but they'll be in the mix. Denver, due for a fall, still has the talent to qualify and the deep, resurgent Dallas Mavericks will land somewhere among the top six.

After that, Golden State fans, it's wide open. Rule out Memphis, Sacramento and Minnesota, and you've got a six-team race for the final two spots.

Addressing the local issues first: Jackson has promised we've heard the last of his outrage, that he's ready to be a tough-minded leader, take big shots and handle the toughest defensive assignments. Sounds plausible enough; that's how he makes his living, and he needs to show his next team - whenever that trade comes down - that his floor play speaks for itself.

On the set of "Chronicle Live" last week, former Warriors coach Eric Musselman predicted that Jackson will be with the Warriors all year, that his burdensome contract will scare off all interested parties. You have to wonder about that, especially if the Warriors go into the tank, Jackson sees an impossibly grim situation and starts making some noise before the trading deadline. But give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

Ellis, a man too easily offended, needs to accept whatever is handed to Stephen Curry: the point-guard spot, favoritism from Don Nelson, abundant playing time, whatever. Curry's a special kid, and there can't be any jealousy involved. Whether Ellis buys into Nelson's system or privately covets a trade, he needs to play the kind of fearless, explosive Basketball that has earned him admirers throughout the league. So what if Curry is the golden boy? Few players on any team can light up a building like Ellis, and that's where the truth is told.

It's more than mere speculation that Jackson and Ellis aren't on the same page with management. For all we know, Nelson and Larry Riley will try to work deals for both players at the first sign of trouble. But you play the cards you're dealt in the NBA; no pouting or dreaming allowed. For the sake of this argument, say the Warriors start fast the schedule allows that possibility and the team pulls together with a cause.

About those other five contenders:

New Orleans: The magic has evaporated from 2007, and nobody realizes it more than the wondrous point guard, Chris Paul. This team has financial and attendance issues, coach Byron Scott is on the hot seat, and teammates are already skeptical about new addition Emeka Okafor's commitment. The Hornets could take a fall.

Phoenix: There's a lot of optimism now, in a Shaq-free world, but don't forget the age factor Steve Nash, Grant Hill, the team's utter lack of a big man, and the fact that Amare Stoudemire, as good as he feels about his recovery from eye surgery, is just playing out the string until he hits the 2010 free-agent market. He wasn't ever coming to the Warriors , as much as Jackson wanted to see it happen, because there's no way he would have signed a long-term deal here. He's out of Phoenix, too - in his mind - and that will become apparent around the first of the year.

Houston: We'll get a look at this fractured team tonight, missing the departed Ron Artest and the injured Yao Ming out for the year and Tracy McGrady possible mid-season return from knee injury. Matched up against the Warriors , they present huge matchup problems with Shane Battier and Trevor Ariza. Against the league, this team is gravely overmatched. It won't be long before Ariza - a role player, not a superstar - realizes that leaving the Lakers was a terrible mistake.

Oklahoma City: Probably too young to make a significant dent in the standings, but potentially sublime with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green and rookie 2-guard James Harden. Their future looks brighter than Golden State's, but this won't be their breakthrough season.

L.A. Clippers: That Blake Griffin injury is vintage Clippers: a seriously depressing development at the worst possible time. In a way, though, this will bring clarity to Baron Davis' alleged comeback. Overweight, disinterested and at odds with coach Mike Dunleavy, Davis simply quit on everybody last year. Bailed out like he was a passenger on the Titanic. If he's really back, as he claims - both physically and mentally - he'll take charge right now and prevent a total collapse while Griffin is out.

A Fabulous Five, that ain't.

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Author: Fox Sports
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Added: October 28, 2009


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