Sunday basketball notes

Owner Lacob wants Warriors to go green

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / February 20, 2011

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Brimming with enthusiasm, Joe Lacob sounds as if he wants to slip on that No. 10 jersey he received at his introductory press conference and chase down a few rebounds for the Warriors. If the league would let owners play, Lacob would gladly battle Dwight Howard in the paint if it meant success for his newest investment.

After five years as a Celtics minority owner, Lacob and business partner Peter Guber purchased the Warriors for a whopping $450 million last summer, a hefty price for a franchise that is overshadowed in the Western Conference, so much so that the average NBA fan might be unaware they play in Oakland and that the team has a loyal and passionate fan base that hasn’t seen prolonged success since the 1970s.

Although he was a minority Celtics owner, Lacob remained a Bay area resident, and when unpopular and oft-criticized owner Chris Cohan decided to sell the team, Lacob and Guber outbid several competitors to secure the franchise. The duo has mostly decided to keep the franchise intact for an evaluation period, the lone move being to remove Don Nelson as coach and replace him with assistant Keith Smart.

Success has been fleeting for the Warriors until recently. Golden State’s 26-29 record is four games short of a playoff spot, but the Warriors are a growing and respectable franchise with a talented younger core.

As the Warriors prepare for their Tuesday matchup with the Celtics in Oakland, Lacob reflected on his time with Boston and how it will shape his approach with the Warriors.

“The experience has been fantastic,’’ he said. “I feel like I was made to do this. We have great fans, a great market here, a very exciting young team with some great core pieces, and my job is to try to build on that. Making the playoffs once in the last 16 years is, of course, totally unacceptable. I think we’re making some progress.’’

Lacob graduated from Stanford Business School and was a successful venture capitalist before investing in the Celtics. He was a minority owner during the 2007-08 championship season but informed the ownership group that he planned to sell his share to pursue the Warriors. Principal owner Wyc Grousbeck offered his blessings.

“I was in the Boston area until my middle teen years and they were my favorite team growing up,’’ Lacob said. “There were a lot of lessons in the six years I spent working with Wyc and with the other owners with respect to the business side, but also the basketball side. I got to know Danny Ainge and I really respect what he does. It will be bittersweet going back to Boston.’’

Golden State has never been a popular destination for premium free agents, and its drafts have been mediocre at best. Previous ownership scored with drafting Monta Ellis out of high school in 2005 and Stephen Curry four years later. General manager Larry Riley acquired David Lee from the Knicks and shrewdly signed Dorell Wright from the Heat. Wright is a candidate for Most Improved Player.

What separates the Warriors from being legitimate contenders is star power and a defensive philosophy. Golden State basketball has always been exciting but never successful, because of poor defense. Lacob wants to take the Celtics’ defensive philosophy and blend it with the Warriors’ excitement.

“When we took over the Celtics early in the decade, the Celtics weren’t doing very well,’’ Lacob said. “It took a few years and Danny Ainge and Doc [Rivers] had a tough time the first few years and it didn’t go so well. You have to be a little patient.

“You have to look for the right deals to get the right players and have a plan. I took that from the [Celtics] experience.

“Now, I’m not a very patient guy and I do think you can turn an NBA team around pretty fast. It takes a few players to take a big turn.

“We got to see some success in Boston and I’m going to use some of that and then do things my own way. It is a sleeping giant, a tremendous market, a tremendous area.’’

There were early rumors that the new ownership group planned to move the Warriors back to San Francisco, but the city of Oakland has shown surprising support, given the Warriors’ struggles. The team is 11th in the NBA in attendance, a loyalty that hasn’t wavered despite the rocky tenure of the hands-off Cohan, who was accused by some of letting Nelson run the organization without a long-term plan.

“Every organization needs leadership, strength at the top, people willing to commit,’’ Lacob said. “We are willing to commit in every way. Our time. Our minds. Our wallets. The fans here need that. And we got their back, too.’’

The Warriors are in desperate need of a strong identity, and Lacob and Guber feel they are the duo to provide that. Lacob’s competitive spirit has been simmering in preparation for these two matchups with the Celtics over the next month. In his eyes, it’s big brother against little brother, and he relishes the underdog role — for now.

“Let’s be clear, I bought the Golden State Warriors and paid $450 million for them so I got 450 million reasons to root for the Warriors,’’ he said. “I do tremendously respect the Celtics organization. I think they are a model franchise. I hope they win it all this year.

“But having said that, you can bet your bottom dollar we are going to try to kick their [expletive] when they come out here next Tuesday.’’

Incentive there to hit the three The 3-point shot has been a topic of heavy discussion in the past month, as Ray Allen passed Reggie Miller for the career lead. The two players share a great deal in common, most notably longevity.

Miller played until he was 39 and contemplated a return to the NBA with the Celtics at age 41. Allen, 35, has repeatedly said his body is in peak condition and he could play at least two to three more years.

Which brings up the question of whether some of today’s standout players should focus more on the 3-pointer to extend their careers. What has stopped players such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Kobe Bryant from being completely unstoppable is the inability — or perhaps lack of desire — to develop a consistent 3-point shot.

One NBA scout said last week that James can’t be guarded when his long-range shot is on. That wasn’t the case last Sunday against the Celtics.

Not one of the three is a good 3-point shooter, which is stunning considering how much pride they take in their offensive arsenal. Bryant has hit 33.9 percent for his career, James 33.0 percent, and Wade 29.3 percent. Allen, at 39.8 percent, is considered the game’s best.

Would Bryant, who has lost a step or two, consider the 3-pointer more of a weapon as he reaches his mid-30s?

“Yeah, I mean, if I have to,’’ said Bryant, who is 32. “When I first came into the league, I was pretty much a standing shooter because we played, before the triangle, one in/four out [under Del Harris]. So I was a corner 3-point shooter and I made the adjustment as my career went on.

“But yeah, absolutely, you have to be able to adjust if you want to play.’’

Paul Pierce has turned himself into a more reliable shooter with intense practice; he has hit better than 40 percent on 3-pointers three times in his career. Allen works extensively on his long-range shot. He constantly practices shooting off the fast break, when he’ll run full speed toward the elbow area of the 3-point line, come to a complete stop, then gather the ball and fire all in one motion.

Only more dedication to practice — and not just those halfcourt-shot games for money — can turn the game’s greats into great long-range shooters. Can you imagine how wide the floor would open for Wade if he mastered the 3-pointer?

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he is content to allow Wade to shoot from long range, even though there might be games in which he hits several (such as his 46-point performance in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference first round last year). The strategy is effective. Wade has converted more than one 3-pointer in just 11 games this season.

Abusive fans out of control It’s about time the Pistons try to control the fans who sit behind the opposing bench at the Palace of Auburn Hills, because they are some of the worst hecklers in the league.

When Kevin Garnett limped off the court Dec. 29, believing he had reinjured his right knee, a fan screamed, “That’s what you get for making fun of cancer patients,’’ to which Shaquille O’Neal responded with an expletive. And recall last season when a fan who claimed to have played pickup ball against Glen Davis in previous years decided to ride him about his weight and Davis answered with a vulgarity.

Last week, when a Pistons fan yelled something about LeBron James’s mother, the Heat star (whose two young sons were sitting close by), responded, “You can say what you want to me, but don’t be disrespectful.’’ Pistons security warned that fan about his remarks, but given the Brawl at the Palace six years ago, NBA and team security should take extra precautions there when it comes to fan/player interaction.

“It wasn’t a huge deal,’’ James said. “I said what I had to say and I moved on.’’

James knew he would get exponentially more jeers following “The Decision’’ in the offseason, and he has even embraced his villain role, but the negative publicity has had an effect.

“Yeah, but it hasn’t stopped the way I approach the game,’’ he said. “You go out there, and it’s 20,000 people, and in arenas you can’t single out everyone. You’re wasting time trying to do that.

“You have to understand that you go out there and play the game of basketball, and fans are going to be fans.

“I understood what I was getting myself into, changing teams, changing locations, changing scenery. I understand a lot of people didn’t like what I did and there are going to be some hateful people, but it doesn’t stop the way I approach the game.’’

Fame game tough to figure The exclusion of Reggie Miller from the Hall of Fame final ballot is a testament to the confusing election process that has left many bubble players angry. Chet Walker even said the qualifications for college coaches are easier than for NBA players, and perhaps the selection committee should make the criteria clear for advancing to the Hall.

Miller finished with 25,279 points, tied for 17th all time in NBA/ABA history, and until recently held the record for career 3-pointers. Every other eligible player among the top 17 scorers has been elected, so bypassing Miller is rather curious.

Also noteworthy was the inclusion of Dennis Rodman on the list of 12 finalists. While his election may be unlikely, Rodman revolutionized the rebounding game in the 1990s, making it an art again.

In his final season, a 12-game stint with the Mavericks, Rodman averaged 14.3 rebounds at age 38.

Rodman, by the way, made two All-Star teams.

Look to NFL for labor cue The NFL appears to have more urgency to solve its labor issues than the NBA does. News that the NFL and the Players Association agreed to meet with an independent arbitrator to facilitate negotiations should serve as a lesson to the NBA, whose collective bargaining agreement expires June 30. The two sides were expected to meet Friday in Los Angeles but neither seems serious about reaching a deal. The owners, at least those in smaller markets, are frightened about the prospect of standout players plotting to play together in bigger markets. A “franchise tag,’’ which could keep such players in their original markets for longer periods, is an interesting concept and one the Players Association should consider if it wants to have parity in the league.

Layups The Grizzlies were heavily shopping O.J. Mayo, realizing they should never have made the deal with Minnesota for Kevin Love. Mayo does not have a true position, and his run-in with teammate Tony Allen — as well as a 10-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy — made him trade bait. However, with Rudy Gay out a month with a partially separated shoulder, Mayo will likely be in the starting lineup and may be too valuable to move if the Grizzlies hope to make a playoff run. Memphis is tied with free-falling Utah for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West . . . Paul Silas’s one-year contract extension was a byproduct of the Bobcats’ inspired play in the past month and the way the coach resuscitated the careers of D.J. Augustin and Gerald Henderson. The Bobcats don’t have the resources to attract a major free agent but they could emerge as consistent playoff competitors because the core of their club is signed long-term. Still, they are at least an All-Star away from approaching the elite teams in the East . . . There is no way the Kings are going to trade DeMarcus Cousins, despite his altercation with teammate Donte Greene after a close loss to the Thunder. Apparently, this had been brewing for weeks, as Cousins blamed Greene for deferring offensively to second-year guard Tyreke Evans, who has been blamed for the Kings’ struggles. Cousins believes he should be one of the team’s primary offensive options, as Evans has taken a step back from his Rookie of the Year campaign because he is being allowed by Paul Westphal to shoot too much.

Gary Washburn can be reached at Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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