Steinmetz: Warriors play waiting game

Restricted free agency is considered the great equalizer for NBA teams wanting to hold onto their key players. Simply put, the rule allows the “home” team to match any contract offer a player might receive from another team in order to keep him.

In 2003, Warriors fans watched second-year phenom Gilbert Arenas bolt for the Washington Wizards because he was an unrestricted free agent, the result of a flawed rule regarding second-round selections that has since been remedied.

So, it would figure that this season Warriors fans could breathe easier knowing that Andris Biedrins and Monta Ellis are restricted free agents. Neither player looks to be going anywhere.

Which is good, right? Or is it?

Restricted free agency will give the Warriors the final call on whether or not they will re-sign Biedrins and Ellis. It might seem like a no-brainer, but it could turn into a nightmare for executive vice president of basketball operations Chris Mullin.

Ellis will likely command more money than Biedrins and all it will take is one team to make him a lucrative offer and put the Warriors in an uncomfortable bind. At that point, they’ll have two choices, both bad.

It is no secret that the Grizzlies will have a boatload of cash this offseason, and they just happen to play in Memphis, all of three hours from Ellis’ hometown of Jackson, Miss. The Grizzlies are said to be targeting Ellis, who has turned into one of the most explosive backcourt scorers in the league.

If the Grizzlies sign Ellis to an offer sheet that starts in excess of $10 million per year, it is going to put the Warriors smack dab in the middle of no-man’s land.

Common sense dictates Mullin would almost have to match the offer. After all, Ellis is the most dynamic Warriors player since … well, Arenas. Ellis has improved every year, and if he adds a 3-point shot, there’s no telling how good he can become offensively.

But if Mullin matches that contract, one that will increase in every subsequent season, it probably will have a lasting and negative effect on the Warriors. Then again, the alternative is allowing Ellis to leave for nothing … which seems unheard of.

The problem, however, with matching a big-time offer for Ellis is that he hasn’t yet proven he is worth that kind of contract. As dynamic as Ellis is, he isn’t a point guard, he doesn’t make teammates better and he has yet to shine in the postseason.

Baron Davis has had a lot to do with Ellis’ success, allowing Ellis to steer clear of the point guard position. Davis’ defensive game also dovetails perfectly with Ellis, who has great difficulty at that end of the floor.

Because Davis has size, he can often guard the opposing team’s shooting guard and allow Ellis to guard smallish point guards. But what happens if/when Davis leaves? Certainly, Ellis will be less effective.

The Warriors are hoping Ellis — and to a lesser degree Biedrins — doesn’t get much of a sniff from other teams. That would make it easy for the Warriors, allowing them to deal from a position of strength.

But by the looks of things, it’s going to be anything but easy.

Matt Steinmetz is the NBA insider for Warriors telecasts on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

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