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9:05PM

Mullin better than Warriors deserved

OAKLAND -- It wasn’t exactly man-bites-dog stuff, the firing of Chris Mullin as the Golden State Warriors’ general manager. It was inevitability becoming fact.

Mullin, the lamest of lame ducks, got caught in what either was the saddest or funniest of sporting tragicomedies, sort of a Three Stooges version of “Hamlet.’’

For the past year, Mully wasn’t exactly a dead man walking, but through machinations among those above him (team president Robert Rowell) and around him (head coach Don Nelson), Chris had lost everything but his integrity.

Why this came about could perhaps be explained by those knowledgeable in Freudian theory or Communist theory, but there was no denying what had taken place, despite the denials or the silence.

On Monday afternoon, the Warriors, in one of those euphemistically phrased announcements, said “the club has elected not to renew’’ the contract of the 45-year-old Mullin, which expires June 30, and had replaced him with his 64-year-old assistant, Larry Riley.

Who is a pal of Nelson’s and who for the past few months has been in control of an operation most would agree is out of control.

Mullin had been elevated to vice president of basketball operations, or GM, in April 2004, a decision that at the time seemed both logical and intelligent. One of the Warriors’ stars of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Chris worked his way through the front office, showing skill and intelligence.

But along the way, he and Rowell had disagreements. And as others have found throughout history, in that sort of situation, the boss, the guy who in effect signs the checks, always wins.

Mullin already was semi-ostracized by the time the great Monta Ellis caper took place last summer, not long after the guard signed a huge contract.

Ellis, at home in Mississippi, incurred a severe ankle injury -- he said playing pickup basketball but what in actuality was caused by a moped accident.

Rowell, angry and vindictive, wanted to deduct a large amount, several million, from the new $66 million contract, contending through the accident Ellis violated terms of the deal and implying that Monta’s long departure (he didn’t play until January) cheated season-ticket holders who thought Monta would be on the court, not in rehab.

However, Mullin, the ex-player, was more sympathetic, figuring the pain, physical and mental -- and maybe some actual guilt -- was more than enough punishment.

This came shortly after Mullin tried to re-sign the man who had become the face of the franchise, Baron Davis, while Rowell steadfastly refused to give Baron a salary reportedly around $18 million to $19 million a year.

Surely, the disagreements over both Davis and Ellis drove the wedge between Mullin and Rowell to where there could never be reconciliation.

And there won’t be.

“It’s never an easy decision to make a change,’’ was Rowell’s comment on the dispatching of Mullin. “This case is compounded by the fact it involves Chris Mullin -- someone who has provided Bay Area fans with many great memories over the years, as both a player and executive.

“He’s a class individual who will always be remembered for his accomplishments with the Warriors organization.’’

Oh yes, a lot of praise as they figuratively toss you out the door.

While there may not have been much surprise, there is among some a great deal of disappointment. Chris Mullin, until he understandably went into hiding a few months back -- if you have nothing to do, why hang around? -- basically was an upfront guy.

Whether he was a good general manager can be argued. He gave big contracts to people such as Adonal Foyle, Derek Fisher and Mike Dunleavy, but managed to slip out of those.

Mullin traded to New Orleans to get Davis, and that transaction was the key to the Warriors in 2006-07 making the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons and stunning the Dallas Mavericks in the first round.

But Mullin also hired Mike Montgomery from Stanford to be the Warriors’ coach. Montgomery never got the attention of the pros, particularly Baron Davis. On came Don Nelson, out of retirement, to replace Montgomery.

The new GM, Larry Riley, is a Nelson man, if that means anything. A few days ago, Nellie conceded he wasn’t sure who was making the team’s preparations for next month’s draft.

It wasn’t Chris Mullin. Even before he was out, he was on the outs. The Warriors, who had a 29-53 record this past season (Ellis’ injury and Baron’s departure were blamed), are once again waddling in confusion.

Chris Mullin may not miss all that transpired the last few months, the uncertainty, the power struggle, but we’ll miss Chris Mullin. He was better than the Warriors deserved.
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