OAKLAND

THE CHARACTERISTIC the Warriors needed most was the very same characteristic Chris Mullin worked hardest to bring to the organization.

Not talent, though talent is required to assemble a quality product.

Not genius, for that's missing from some of strongest organizations. Nor is it a definitive offensive or defensive identity, for there are myriad ways to assemble a contender.

No, the first priority for Mullin was to restore the credibility lost under the decade-old ownership of Chris Cohan. As someone who played in the NBA and observed the business models of three ownerships, Mullin realized no worthwhile aspiration can be realized without credibility.

The last traces of the credibility gained with Mullin leading the basketball operation are gone. They vanished Tuesday, when Larry Riley completed his meteoric rise from buddy of head coach Don Nelson to Nellie's boss as the man in charge of the entire Warriors hoops operation.

The NBA rolls its collective eyes.

"We don't conduct and do business based on what others think about us," team president Robert Rowell said.

Now Riley seems to be a decent enough guy. He's amiable, folksy and has been around the game for most of his life. He's a lot like Garry St. Jean — and we all remember the good times with Saint — and his rise to the top, from assistant coach to GM, is not unlike that once taken by St. Jean.


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But this is not about Riley. He may do a phenomenal job. He is Nellie's guy, which means he is embraced by Rowell, who buys into all things Nelson.

Just like that, the Warriors are back to being insular and irrelevant, like they were through most of the 1990s and into the new millennium.

The Warriors turned the East Bay into an NBA outback known mostly for what it didn't have or didn't know how to get. They had the rights to the No. 1 overall draft pick in two years out of three — and bungled both. No head coach lasted more than two full seasons. The franchise's last All-Star, Latrell Sprewell, in 1997, literally fought his way out of town. Introduced at the All-Star Game here in 2000, Cohan was stung by 20,000 boos.

If Cohan were to stand at courtside at Oracle Arena for an introduction today, nine years after that public humiliation, he'd receive another painful dose of disapproval.

Two years ago, though, Cohan was being embraced by many and accepted by nearly all. He had, it appeared, presided over the recovery of a franchise. As "We Believe" mania swept through the Bay Area, the franchise was enjoying its finest hour under the Cohan ownership.

This hour could not have arrived without the work of Mullin. He saw much of the previous circus and was aware of the entire operation. He arrived in 2002, sized up the situation, much as he did as an All-Star forward, and set out to make the place work.

Mullin sought credibility from Day 1, and he went after it with such a vengeance he dived headlong into a mistake.

After two seasons as a special assistant to St. Jean, Mullin was promoted in April 2004 to lead the basketball operation. One of his first moves was to overpay free-agent guard Derek Fisher, giving the former Laker a $39 million deal. The reasoning behind it was Fisher's status as a respected veteran who was an important part of teams winning multiple championships.

The gamble failed, but the concept behind hiring him was impeccable. Mullin wanted to make this place attractive to others.

The biggest stride toward that goal came later that season, when Mullin acquired Baron Davis. It was the organization's most fruitful trade in the past 30 years, putting the team back on the map. It emboldened Mully to make another gamble two years later, luring Nelson back as head coach.

The Warriors made the playoffs for the first time since 1994. In his quest for credibility, Mullin had found talent. Nelson brought a slice of genius and an identifiable brand of basketball.

The Warriors were rebranded, their image recast. They were an attractive team with an imposing home court.

That's all gone. The Warriors are starting over, again, with a core of youngsters — Monta Ellis, Andris Biedrins, Anthony Randolph, Brandan Wright, Anthony Morrow — selected by Mullin.

Credibility does not seem to be part of the equation.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.