No panic visible from Warriors; is it hidden by the smoky air?

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — You stop by Warriors practice and expect to see a lot of panic — that is, if panic is visible through the smoky, unhealthy air — but you’re disappointed.

There’s Kevin Durant, ignoring his $25,000 fine for “directing inappropriate language toward a fan” in Dallas and ignoring the media, popping jumper after jumper.

There’s Steph Curry, who seemingly is unable to stand up and definitely won’t be in Wednesday night’s game against Oklahoma City, bouncing balls off his head in a soccer routine.

And there’s head coach Steve Kerr, loser of three in a row for the first time since who knows when, sitting behind a microphone and in front of the cameras, and handling every question the way his team of late has not been handling the basketball: smoothly.

For the Warriors, this was the week when if the sky didn’t fall it sank a little, unlike the Warriors' field goal attempts at San Antonio. When the façade of love and understanding had a few holes. When Kerr, who Tuesday pointed out he was trying to defuse the situation with his comment, saying, “This is the real NBA.”

The league of big men and big egos, of small mistakes that decide games, of teams so balanced that a good shot or a bad bounce is often the difference in a game — although it’s invariably the better team that makes the good shot.

“We haven’t been in the real NBA the past couple of years,” was Kerr’s addition to the opening statement, after the defeat at San Antonio on Sunday night. “We’ve been in this dream, and now we’re faced with adversity.”

Meaning the groin injury to Curry, who when he's on the court can decide any game from any distance; meaning the toe injury to Draymond Green, of whom Kerr said, “This guy’s been so good; we’re not hanging any banners without him.” Meaning, certainly, the feud (or dust-up, or contretemps, if you will) between Green and Durant in L.A. a week ago. Meaning the frequent references to Durant’s impending free agency and rumored departure to the Knicks, or worse, the Lakers.

Sometimes the best view is from a distance.

Marc Stein, the longtime NBA observer now writing his perceptions for the New York Times, said, “Crisis is probably too strong a word, given that they remain prohibitive favorites to win the championship in June, but the Warriors have been undeniably wounded by a spate of injuries and last week’s sideline spat between All-Star forwards Kevin Durant and Draymond Green.”

The injuries will heal, or at least one expects them to heal, but who knows about the rift? Nobody on the Warriors wants to discuss it.

“Don’t ask me that again,” Durant responded to the San Jose Mercury News’ Mark Medina after the loss against Houston in the opener of the lose-them-all three-game trip in Texas. So nobody did. From the Bay Area media.

But when the Dubs hit the road again, Durant will be hit by that question again, whether it’s unfair or not. The subject is out there, and it’s not going to go away, until — Warriors fans, take a deep breath — Kevin goes away.

This is November, miles away from the playoffs. And from the end of Durant’s contract. What the Warriors need at the moment is to play the defense they have been playing and the offense they haven’t been — at least in getting routed by Milwaukee at home and being held to 92 points in San Antonio.

“Without Steph and Draymond,” said Kerr, “we can’t get away with things we do when we have them. We were 10-1. Last year, we were the best team defensively of any in the playoffs.

“We have been on a run over a four-year stretch. Nobody ever won as many games as we have the last four years. There’s been a lot of things going right for us.”

Right now, they’re going quite wrong.


Gruden on debates with QB: ‘We don’t have a ‘No Yelling’ sign on sideline

  ALAMEDA, Calif.—The coach and the quarterback had words. “I don’t have a ‘No yelling’ sign on the sideline,” said Jon Gruden. So he yelled at Derek Carr, and Derek Carr yelled back.

     “We get excited down there,” said the Raiders coach. In full view of the stands and television cameras.

 Great theater. “To be or not to be.” Not that kind of theater; not Shakespeare. More the Rockne kind. The Lombardi kind. Improv while the defense tries to improve.

  “What the hell is going on out here?” bellows Vince Lombardi on an old NFL Films segment,

  What was going on with the Oakland Raiders was an attempt Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals to win a game; it was successful, 23-21, on a last-second field goal.

   Some 24 hours after only his second victory in 10 games, Gruden, seated behind a desk at Raiders Central, was asked, “Is it a different Monday after a win?” His answer was personal and professional. “It’s been a tough year,” he said.

   A year of injuries. A year of on field mistakes. A year many of us decided was reflected in a coach and his QB jawing on the sideline, even if that’s common in the NFL, whether Bill Walsh with Joe Montana or Bill Belichick  with Tom Brady. 

   “I’m a big cheerleader sometimes,” Gruden explained. “I’m very positive a lot of the time. Every once in a while you have to make your points in some different ways. Sometimes raising your voice. I look ridiculous to some people, but I want urgency . . . I want to get things right.

  “I doesn’t mean I’m always right either. Derek pointed that out to me Sunday.”

   Football is a collaboration of calls, skills and fortunes. “Marshawn Lynch was here and running really well for us and then Marshawn went away,” was Gruden cut-to-the-chase phrasing of the injury that forced a change in the running game. “Doug Martin has been doing good things; Jalen Richard might be the MVP of our team.”

  Richard rushed 11 times for 61 yards and caught three passes for 32 yards. Carr completed 19 of 32 overall for 192 yards and two touchdowns. Whatever he and Gruden argued about may not have had much effect on the end result.

  “I think cameras can catch things that maybe look a little bit peculiar,” said Gruden, who, of course, before rejoining the Raiders this season was an analyst for ESPN for nine years.

   Peculiar could be the word for the Raiders’ season, for anyone who hesitates to use awful or disagreeable.

   Everything went south when Khalil Mack went east to the Chicago Bears. (What a game he had against the Vikings on Sunday night). There are numerous other reasons for going 2-8, mainly injuries to the offensive line, but the Mack trade seemed to trigger all misery.

   “These guys have played great,” said Gruden about a team he said has not come apart—which is a reflection of both players and coach.

“These guys played hard Sunday. I’m really proud of the effort. I know we’re not where we want to be, but the attitude and the effort and the camaraderie is a big part of establishing a program. For that I’m really proud.”

  The negative, as far as Oakland is concerned, is when the program is established the Raiders will be in Las Vegas.

  Gruden was asked what a lone victory can do for a team that, along with San Francisco and Arizona shares worst record in the NFL

    “We’ve had a lot of good practices,” said Gruden. “Guys have been putting forth a tremendous effort. They’ve been preparing hard. Winning is a great motivator. It’s a great cure. It builds momentum.

  “We’re missing a lot of players. Our injury list is unfortunate. Look at Drew Brees. I don’t know how many receivers have come and gone through New Orleans. Derek Carr has done well. That’s what every great quarterback has to do in this league.

   “Aaron Rodgers is going through it. Tom Brady has gone through it. That’s what comes with being a C.E.O.quarterback, and (Carr) has handled it extremely well. And that’s a credit to him.”

   As is handling the sideline disputes with Gruden.


Durant on dust-up with Draymond: ‘Spit happens in the NBA’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — Kevin Durant, who often has the answers, this time had a question. “Anyone want to ask about basketball?” he wondered, his words paced as if trying to run down the clock.

Not on this Tuesday night, not after this game, when it wasn’t so much the men who were in the lineup for the Warriors for their 110-103 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.

But the man who wasn’t, Draymond Green.

Oh, he was in the lineup of the game notes on the press table, that document having been created before Warriors management, specifically general manager Bob Myers and head coach Steve Kerr, suspended Green for a non-punch dust-up with Durant after Monday night’s loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles.

But by game time Tuesday, when as proclaimed by the badges worn by some Warriors employees — none of them players — the Dubs recorded their 300th straight Oracle sellout, Draymond was not even in the building.

A little reprimand for the team’s emotional leader — as well as the loss of a day’s salary, roughly $120,000. ”I think what will be the hardest thing for him,” Myers said, “is not playing basketball (Tuesday) night.”

Myers, who played at UCLA and then was a players’ agent before he became the Warriors' GM, reminded, “Basketball is an emotional sport. These things happen.”

That they happened between Green, who has his fiery moments, and Durant, who at the end of the season will be a free agent and might be leaving for the New York Knicks, makes the incident more compelling. That’s two-fifths of a starting five from a franchise trying to win a third straight NBA title.

“I’m trying to move on,” said Durant. “Once the ball is tipped, nothing else matters. I think that’s the approach everyone takes. I want to keep this in house. I’m not trying to give nobody no headlines.”

What he was trying do Monday, in L.A., in the dying seconds of regulation, was get the ball from Green, who was bringing it down court and then let it slip away.

On Tuesday, Durant had more than enough, scoring a game-high 29 points, though he made only 9 of 23 field goal attempts. "Just night in and night out, you can pretty much mark down 25-30 points,” Kerr said about Durant, “whether he shoots the ball well or not. Because he’s going to get to the line.” Where he was 11 for 11.

Asked if he was surprised by Green’s suspension, Durant, in a classic sports response, said, “I was just focused on the game. I didn’t care either way.”

Durant and Green did not communicate Tuesday, but the Warriors leave Wednesday for Houston. Both KD and Draymond will be on the same plane, in the same hotel and on the same court.

“His presence has been part of this team for a while before I got here,” Durant said of Green. “He has been a huge staple in the organization. But that’s what happens in the NBA. Spit happens. I just try my best to move on and be a basketball player. I got nothing else to do but be the best player I can be every single day.”

As Quinn Cook, who started at guard in place of the injured Steph Curry, pointed out, “I think we’re all professionals. We love each other. We’re together eight months a year. We’re like brothers. Brothers fight. We have a common goal. We’re going to get past this.”

Jonas Jerebko started in place of the absent Green, scoring 14 points, making four three-pointers and grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds. “Jonas was great,” said Kerr, who was going to praise the man whether or not he deserved it — and he deserved it. “He was our MVP tonight.”

Klay Thompson got 24 points, as well as some observations. “We just want to play basketball,” he said. “This game wasn’t about what happened (Monday) night. We wanted to put on a show for the fans. I’m happy we got the win tonight. This is not about personal agendas. We win Thursday and then Saturday (Dallas) and Sunday (San Antonio), this will be in the past.”

A reference was made to the Chicago Bulls of Michael Jordan, when the legendary star got into fracas with a teammate named Steve Kerr.

“When you play at a very high level, things happen,” allowed Kerr. “And I kicked MJ’s ass.”


Eli disproves the idea he’s done—at Niners’ expense

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Eli Manning didn’t look so bad, did he? All those stories he was finished, about to be benched by the New York Giants? The San Francisco 49ers could only wish he wasn’t in the game.

   And also wish they could play defense when required—late in the game.

  Manning was a very efficient 37-year-old quarterback Monday night/ He was a very efficient quarterback Monday night for whatever age, throwing three touchdown passes including one to Russell Shepard with 53 seconds to play that gave the supposedly helpless Giants a 27-23 win over the Niners.

   Neither team is very good, being kind, but the Niners had won their previous game, the Giants had lost five in a row, and fans and writers back in New York, where everyone has an opinion, were pleading for Kyle Lauletta to replace Manning.

  First-year coach Fritz Shurmur  stayed the course, which coaches tend to do, and so the Giants have a 2-7 record, while the 49ers, entering bye week with a thud—they had a 20-10 lead in the third quarter—enter their bye week at 2-8.

  “We should have won the game,” said Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers coach. But they didn’t. And when you get down to it, it’s the result that counts not a lot of possibilities, a lot of should haves and could haves.

   This was the second start for the Niners rookie QB, Nick Mullins, who after looking brilliant against the Raiders—doesn’t every quarterback?—looked like a rookie, if a competent one, against the Giants

  Mullins did complete 27 passes of 39 attempts, one for a touchdown, but he also threw two interceptions. Manning, careful, capable,  as a veteran  under pressure has to be, was 19 of 31 for 188 yards and the three touchdowns, two to Odell Beckham.

  After the winner, running back Saquon Barkley, the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft, said he went over to Manning and told him, man, you’ve been doing this since I was like 12. That’s Eli.

  Barkley ran for 67 yards.

  But the stats are misleading. The Niners had the ball more than 24 minutes out of the total 60 minutes and outgained the Giants, 374 yards to 277. What the Giants had was Manning, the two-time Super Bowl champ, and the 36th game-winning drive of his career.

  “We found a way to finally score some points,” said Shurmur. “I watched when I wasn’t coaching here as he engineered drives at the end of the game. That’s what Eli is really good at. I thought that was terrific.”

   A key holding penalty on San Francisco linebacker Malcolm Smith helped keep alive the Giants’ final drive, but Shanahan, the Niners coach, had no complaint. “He grabbed him,” said Shanahan, “They called it.”

   Shanahan’s assessment of Mullins was unenthusiastic: ”I think he did some good things,” he said, “and some things we need to improve on.

  “He didn’t get gun shy. Played his game. I don’t think the picks affected him.”

   They affected the Niners, of course. Two turnovers to none for the Giants.

  “I thought we put ourselves in a position that we should have won the game,” was the Shanahan lament. Up 20-10 after the first drive in the third quarter. Gave up a big kick return.”

  And then Manning worked his magic.

“He was getting the ball out fast,” said Niners defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. “They had a game plan to try not to get Eli hit.”

  Manning, sacked only once, was elated by the performance.

“That was big,” said Manning. “We’ve been good at the two-minute drive this year. Unfortunately we’ve been down two scores or left too much time. But when we needed touchdowns we got them. I told the guys this week, we’ve worked too hard not to be rewarded with a win.”

   They were rewarded, at the 49ers’ expense.


Giants new president believes in winning, not stars

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — He came on purposefully and quietly, which seems to be Farhan Zaidi’s way — if not the way Giants fans might wish the team’s new president to act.

The Giants have had consecutive losing seasons, interest declining along with attendance. You might then expect Zaidi, hired away from the dreaded Dodgers, to make a boast or two about how he is going to turn the Giants into the champions they used to be.

Maybe a mention of Bryce Harper or a suggestion about Madison Bumgarner’s future. A tease, a promise, a hint.

But Zaidi, a 41-year-old Canadian who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and did graduate work at Cal, made no headlines. What he talked about on Tuesday at AT&T Park was making progress.

Zaidi never played baseball in the pros, but he’s played the front-office game, learning with Billy Beane in Oakland, then working as GM of the Dodgers, who were in the World Series a second straight year.

But again didn’t win. As opposed to the Giants, who did win the Series in 2010, '12 and '14, making us remember Beane’s sad words after the A’s were bounced in the early 2000s that the postseason is a crapshoot.

“Bittersweet,” Zaidi called the Dodgers’ everything-but-the-championship years. “Coming up short. But you’d like to get to the doorstep every year and take your chances.”

The Giants don’t seem to taking any chances with Zaidi. He knows the landscape. The Dodgers play the Giants 19 times a season. He knows what succeeds, attention to detail, rebuilding a depleted farm system. No move is too small, though the Giants' home run output was.

“The message," he said, "is to have maximum flexibility in the organization.”

Zaidi is new baseball, analytics — which you would expect from an MIT grad — but he is not opposed to old baseball, which is that the eyeball tells you about a player. So that makes him very accepting of longtime Giants manager Bruce Bochy, whom Zaidi calls “Boch.”

The front office (after discussions and advice) determines who will be on the roster. The manager, said Zaidi, determines who will be on the field.

“That new school-old school potential conflict is oversimplified,” he said. “It’s a convenient narrative to see a class of schools of thought. But I don’t see it that way. We had two managers of the year, Bob Melvin (A’s) and Dave Roberts.

“The game is hard. Managing is real hard. Fans wonder why a guy swung at a slider down and away. As somebody who doesn’t have the most illustrious playing career on his resume, I think it’s fair for me to always remember that.”

What Zaidi found out with the thrifty A’s was that "no move is too small not to be worth a certain level of detail.” Baseball is a sport by committee. The lineup counts more than the individual.

The Dodgers and Giants are big-budget teams, but the money must be spent wisely.

“I feel fans want to see a winning team, and winning drives up attendance,” said Zaidi. ”Just try to put together a good baseball team. Stars will come out of that. What kind of total team you develop is important. I don’t see targeting stars as important as trying to fill a team with good players.”

Zaidi said he owes his career to Beane, who in getting the A’s from the bottom to the playoffs in only a season deservedly was named major league baseball executive of the year. “To be in the same city as Billy is really exciting,” said Zaidi, ignoring the dividing waters of the bay. 


When he accompanied the Dodgers to San Francisco, he walked to the games from Union Square, savoring the opportunity to mix with pedestrians and as he neared AT&T the fans.

“My first major league game,” he recalled, “was in 1987, Candy Maldonado and Will Clark went back-to-back. I thought all games were that exciting.”

They may be again in San Francisco. In part, it’s up to Farhan Zaidi.