Click photo to enlarge
With the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building as his backdrop, Golden State Warriors Vice President of Basketball Operations Chris Mullin awaits the start of a press conference to introduce the newest members of the team, Monday, July 2, 2007 at Lowell Park in Oakland, Calif.
More Warriors News

OAKLAND — His sandy red flattop no longer is a common sight in his suite at Oracle Arena.

He once was a regular at Warriors practices. Now that's a rarity, which also would describe his shoot-around attendance.

Chris Mullin, the Warriors executive vice president of basketball operations, is a ghost.

"I've hardly seen him," one player said. "Where's he been? I think I have seen him maybe twice."

Mullin, once the face of the franchise for the second time in a generation, has practically disappeared. Soon, he is expected to be gone completely. According to multiple team sources, Mullin's days as the franchise's head basketball honcho are numbered. The situation has many fans and NBA insiders scratching their heads.

How did the executive who pulled the strings to turn around a doormat franchise wind up the roommate who can't move out quickly enough? How did the architect behind Golden State becoming relevant again wind up a lame duck?

The answer depends on whom you ask. For most of the season, two schools of thought have emerged from the organization. There are those who believe Mullin is a victim of ego-tripping team president Robert Rowell. They believe Mullin is underappreciated and disrespected, and he was all but forced out when his authority was undermined.

Conversely, some quietly contend Mullin hasn't been held accountable for his mistakes. They criticize him for wasting money, poor communication and disappearing this season.


Advertisement

The philosophical differences, personality clashes and infighting surrounding the organization's two most powerful non-owners have left a black cloud over the Warriors all season. With the 2008-09 campaign coming to a close, things are set to come to a head.

Neither Mullin nor Rowell made themselves available for comment for this story. Mullin's contract, which he signed in 2004, expires July 1, when the NBA's fiscal year begins. It seems Rowell is opting to let Mullin's contract expire rather than fire him.

The reason? Again, it depends on whom you ask.

Who is to blame?

Mullin's supporters say Rowell is trying to avoid the inevitable public relations nightmare from firing someone as beloved as Mullin, one of the best players in franchise history. Some Rowell supporters agree. Others say Rowell has been waiting for Mullin to reclaim his job, to jump back in and be part of the fold again.

Either way, the question begs: How did this all happen? Two years ago this month, the Warriors were in the playoffs and Mullin was the executive who ended the 12-year postseason drought. Now, it seems both sides are running out the clock on his reign.

"People have been waiting for him to do his job," one Rowell supporter said. "Sure, they had some disagreements and he was overruled on some stuff. But he could have sucked it up and showed up."

One of the few things both sides agree on is that the problems began during the 2007 playoffs. One side said Mullin's camp was too zealous about claiming credit for turning around the Warriors. The other side said Rowell was jealous about Mullin getting all the glory.

It was around that time that Mullin began discussing an extension for point guard Baron Davis. The following offseason, the breakdown of those negotiations proved to be the beginning of the end.

Mullin wanted to give Davis an extension. He was overruled by Rowell, who wanted to put incentives and/or team options on the last two years of the deal. It has been reported that Rowell rejected a three-year, $39 million deal Mullin worked out with Davis. But Davis disputed that report, and multiple sources said a deal never made it to Rowell, which, to Rowell's supporters, is indicative of Mullin's communication problems.

Mullin is known for being reserved. When he does talk, it's short and blunt. His silence, instead of championing the company line, has long since been an issue, according to some members of the organization. Plus, his camp leaks information to the media, some believe.

Mullin's supporters contend he's a straight shooter who subscribes to the if-you-ain't-got-nothing-nice-to-say philosophy. They say it's Rowell's camp, which includes coach Don Nelson, who leaks information. And they point to Rowell as the one who made inappropriate public comments.

Dealing with Ellis

When the Warriors announced the 30-game suspension of guard Monta Ellis, who injured his left ankle in a moped accident in August and lied about how he sustained the injury, Rowell went public with his and Mullin's disagreement over how Ellis should be punished.

Rowell supporters said Mullin wanted to let Ellis off the hook. But Mullin's stance, according to his supporters, was to punish him but be compassionate to Ellis, to use the situation as an opportunity to show Ellis the franchise was behind him.

"They asked Mullin's opinion, and (Rowell) didn't like the opinion," said one Mullin supporter, who requested anonymity. "Then he went public with it. Not Mullin. (Rowell) chose to tell the media. Why was he even giving the interview? Bobby wanted to chop his head off, and Mullin maybe was too lenient. But in the end, that stuff should stay in-house."

The disagreement over how Ellis should be punished deteriorated the relationship further, but a series of moves in little over a month drove Mullin into the shadows.

Between late October and November, the Warriors gave a two-year, $12 million contract extension to coach Don Nelson, traded forward Al Harrington and signed swingman Stephen Jackson to a three-year, $29 million contract extension. Not only was Mullin not involved in those moves, he wouldn't have approved any of them, according to team sources.

In November, the Warriors fired assistant general manager Pete D'Alessandro, Mullin's right-hand man. What's more, the Bay Area News Group reported last month that Nelson undermined Mullin's power by latching himself to Rowell, a belief bolstered by the Warriors hiring of what many believe to be Mullin's replacements: Nelson's right-hand man, Larry Riley, and brought in former Milwaukee Bucks general manager Larry Harris (as assistant coach), who is the son of Del Harris, Nelson's good friend and longtime assistant coach.

"He's got no power," another source sympathetic to Mullin said. " ... He can't hire. He can't fire. He can't make a trade. How can a guy with his position have no authority? You stripped him of his ability to do his job."

Supporters of Rowell contend someone needed to step in, as Mullin cost the Warriors millions with bad decisions.

More questionable moves

Another thing both sides agree on: Power forward Ike Diogu and center Patrick O'Bryant, taken No. 9 overall in 2005 and 2006, respectively, were bad draft picks.

Then there's the widely reported contracts Mullin doled out: $58 million to Troy Murphy, $40 million to Adonal Foyle, $36 million to Derek Fisher, $45 million to Mike Dunleavy, $50 million to Corey Maggette. All are regarded around the league as overpaid.

"(Rowell) got him whatever he asked for," a Rowell supporter said. "Every contract, no matter the amount, Mullin wanted done, (Rowell) sold it to (owner Chris) Cohan."

Other failed investments — such as the million-plus spent on oft-injured guard Troy Hudson and the three-year deal given to European project center Kosta Perovic (sources said the Warriors only paid him for the first year) — also drew the ire of Rowell.

But Mullin supporters said Mullin corrected his mistakes, either getting those salaries off the books or trading them for better players. Overshadowing his failed moves, they say, are the doozies he pulled off to change the franchise.

Redemption for Mullin

Acquiring Davis was arguably the best trade in Warriors history. Mullin also drafted center Andris Biedrins and Anthony Randolph, plucked Ellis in the second round and swingman Kelenna Azubuike and rookie guard Anthony Morrow from relative obscurity, traded for Jackson and signed center Ronny Turiaf.

Mullin's crew contends he made the Warriors a franchise players wanted to join. Two summers ago, the possibility of playing for Golden State intrigued All-NBA forward Kevin Garnett. This past offseason, the Warriors' lucrative offers were spurned by high-profile free agents Gilbert Arenas and Elton Brand.

"Look at the players he brought in here," one of the sources said. "This was not a place players wanted to come play. He changed that, and now it's getting back to how it was."

No one on either side has completely closed the door on Mullin's return, leaving room for a miracle. It would no doubt take some heated meetings, some swallowed pride, some delineated roles.

But the opportunity for reconciliation might have come and gone. Mullin, a Hall of Fame candidate, "has too much pride" to come crawling back, some say. And Rowell "isn't willing to give up power," many believe. Plus, Mullin working side-by-side with Nelson confidants is likely not going to happen.

So the likelihood is the clock will continue to tick on the Mullin era until — to steal a line from the movie "The Usual Suspects" — just like that, he's gone.

Contact Marcus Thompson II at mthomps2@bayareanewsgroup.com.