Andris Biedrins

Judgment Night for Cohan, Zito

“Six: Got no love for the rich”
Method Man — Judgment Day

To be accurate, this evening represents Judgment Night for two embattled Bay Area sports figures with wallets fatter than Tony Gwynn crossed with Rick Majerus.

Warriors owner Chris Cohan and Giants starter Barry Zito are wealthy, but unloved. Cohan followed the only playoff appearance for the Warriors in over a decade by trading the team’s tenured emotional leader at the time, Jason Richardson. With so much goodwill surrounding the “We Believe” crew at the time, most people saw the trade for Brandan Wright and the $10 million trade exception as a nod towards the future with possible positive ramifications … provided they used the exception.

Well, Golden State’s NBA gift card is set to expire tonight, and it’s looking more and more like Cohan has taken that card away from Chris Mullin and chopped it up with platinum scissors. For those unfamiliar with the NBA’s luxury tax, it’s pretty much the barometer of how much your favorite team’s owner cares about winning (or feels pressure to spend from a much more ferocious local media, as in the case of the New York Knickersuckers). Whatever amount over the tax threshold an NBA team is, that team must pay the same number of dollars to the league to get redistributed equally among the thrifty teams that avoided the tax.

The luxury tax is why Phoenix keeps giving up first round draft picks, and it’s why Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw are getting dangled around the league like bike parts and “massages”on Craigslist.

The Warriors are right up against the tax with upcoming monster extensions due to Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins, partly because about a quarter of the luxury tax number is being taken up by Baron Davis’ $17.8 million salary.

Cohan has a choice today. Do the Warriors go all-in with Baron and try to win a title next year, or do they wait until Baron’s contract expires after next season and role with a young core of Ellis, Biedrins, Brandan Wright, Marco Bellinelli and their two draft picks from last week, Anthony Randolph and Richard Hendrix?

Since the Warriors have been supposedly building towards the future since before Latrell Sprewell had cornrows, the most loyal and vociferous fans in the Bay Area deserve the chance to watch the team go for broke (literally) in what will probably be Don Nelson and Baron Davis’ last year in Oakland. It’s up to Cohan though, so don’t bet on that happening.

(Side note: Listening to Fitz and Brooks on KNBR right now, there’s no way they use the exception. Bob Fitzgerald (the Warriors TV play-by-play announcer) has fully embraced a new company line: if you get an extra player, you’re paying twice as much because of the luxury tax. When Fitz said, “I like Kirk Hinrich, but do you want to pay $20 million (he makes about $10 million) for him?” I think a little birdie told Fitz to stop pining for extra talent since Cohan will never go over the tax. Hopefully I’m proven wrong.)

Can Zito improve on his 0-7 record at home?

Zito goes against the Cubs tonight in the Giants’ most important game before the All Star break, coming off an outing at Cleveland that represented his best game since the 2006 Division Series against Minnesota.

He’s sure to hear more pregame cheers than he has any time this year at Mays Field, but if he gives up more than a run in the first inning to the powerful Cubbies, he’s going to hear, “What’s the matter with Zito? He’s a bum,” before he even gets back to the dugout.

Will Zito throw 87-88 mph, or fall back to 82-83 mph on his fastball? Will his curveball dive or hang? Will Zito paint the corners like a young Tom Glavine like he did against Cleveland, or will his only strikes end up belt-high and down the middle?

If Zito follows his third win with another stinker, it won’t matter that he looked like the Zito of old against Cleveland (a terrible offensive team). The Cubs are much more powerful than the Indians, and they’re angry about getting swept at Comiskey by their cross-town rivals (luckily for the Giants, the Cubs played the ESPN late game last night before flying to SFO, so there’s a chance Chicago uses the same excuse the Giants did after losing 4-1 to the A’s Friday night a day after their rain-delayed loss in Cleveland: jetlag and lack of sleep).

Zito’s focus and performance must be even better tonight or many Giants fans may give up on him forever. Actually, if the Giants played on the East Coast everyone probably already would have given up on him. But patience, even in laid-back San Francisco, is wearing quite thin.

In all, this is the most important Monday night in Bay Area sports since back when the 49ers were relevant and worthy of playing on ABC in front of Al Michaels, Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf. It’s Judgment Night for Cohan and Zito. The Bay is watching.

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