It’s not an original thought, but it’s a rather relevant one when looking at the NBA’s Western Conference with just 20 regular season games to play: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Phoenix general manager Steve Kerr apparently never learned that lesson, but he’s learning one now as his blockbuster deal that brought The Big Albatross, Shaquille O’Neal, to the desert is blowing up in his face.
Dallas owner Mark Cuban always thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room, so he doesn’t need to learn anything — even though his big brainstorm, trading for All-Star guard Jason Kidd, has busted up his team’s continuity and has them on the verge of missing the playoffs a year after posting the best record in the league.
Golden State GM Chris Mullin, on the other hand, has been learning on the job since taking charge of the Warriors, and it’s about time someone puts a gold star next to his name on the class roster, because he is quickly racing to the head of the class.
With every personnel guy in the conference zipping across the country looking for a hired gun to push his team over the top prior to the trading deadline last month, Mullin had to have been feeling the pressure to keep pace. His team was playing exceptional basketball in the ultra-competitive West, and to stand pat while the other contenders bolstered their lineups with new talent must have been agonizing for Mullin. He watched Shaq go to the Suns, Kidd to the Mavs, Pau Gasol to the Lakers, and Kurt Thomas to the Spurs, among others, but instead of giving in to a knee-jerk reaction, he stood strong.
Oh sure, he went and signed Chris Webber off the scrap heap, but Webber is not going to make nor break what the Warriors are trying to accomplish this season, so his presence is negligible at best. But what Mullin didn’t do was pull the trigger on a big deal that would have upset the chemistry on his deep and talented roster just for the sake of keeping up with the Joneses in the West. And given his track record of success in similar mid-season situations, it would have been very easy for the GM to do so.
Three years ago, Mullin brought Baron Davis to Oakland in a winter swap for Speedy Claxton and Dale Davis, and of course, last season he jettisoned Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy in order to bring in the frequently-troubled Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington. Those moves re-made the Warriors’ roster and completely changed the fortunes of a perpetually putrid franchise.
This time, however, Mullin knew that the best play in this high stakes game of Texas hold ’em was folding his cards and keeping his chips in front of him. There was no sense risking the progress that has been made, and for the time being, at least, Don Nelson and his boys have rewarded his faith in them.
While the new-look Suns have gone 4-6 with O’Neal in the lineup, dropping them to 6th place in the West, and the Mavs just 5-5 since adding Kidd, the Warriors have won 7 of their last 10 and are coming off a huge 3-1 East Coast trip capped by a dominating defensive (yes, you read that right: defensive) performance in a win over the East’s 3rd best team, Orlando. In the process, the W’s have put two games of distance between themselves and the Nuggets in the battle for the eighth playoff spot, and are now, amazingly, just ½ game behind those New Kidds in Dallas for the seventh seed.
Can it be possible? Could the Warriors, who pulled off the greatest first round playoff upset in history just one year ago when they shocked top-seeded Dallas, actually return to the playoffs while the Mavericks miss out on the 2008 post-season altogether?
Of course it’s possible. Because the team ain’t broke, so nobody had to fix it.
Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.