IT RIPPED THE heart out of the Raiders, snatched the spirit out of the 49ers and is threatening to send the Warriors back to irrelevance.

Ego, unchecked and misused, is a beast.

Whether it destroys the Warriors is up to team president Robert Rowell, who is flexing a level of muscle the Dubs had not exposed to the public since Don Nelson sought to put Chris Webber in his place before elbowing him out of town.

Rowell, with the blessing of principal owner Chris Cohan, came forward to announce a 30-game suspension of guard Monta Ellis for violating a provision of his $66 million contract and initially lying about the circumstances. It'll cost Ellis about $3 million, but the Warriors were within their rights to take action. It was harsh, maybe too harsh.

Where Rowell really puffed up, though, was in his characterization of the roles of coach Don Nelson and, to a greater degree, general manager Chris Mullin.

Mullin apparently urged Cohan and Rowell to show more compassion toward Ellis, who while riding a moped in August sustained an injury to his left ankle that required surgery. Mullin's viewpoint is colored with the knowledge that Lakers forward Vladimir Radmanovic was injured during a banned activity, lied about it initially, was fined $500,000 and conceded it was fair. Then, too, Mully battled alcohol abuse early in his career and owes much of his current status and the positive direction in life to the compassion of an NBA executive — Nelson.


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Yet Mullin had no influence here. He was heard and ignored.

Rowell made this abundantly clear to reporters over the weekend. He's running the franchise for Cohan, speaking publicly for a boss who won't. Bobby was in charge, an executive in full.

It was the kind of swaggering, roaring clout last glimpsed around here in 2003, when John York, compelled to show he was in charge of the 49ers, abruptly fired Steve Mariucci — after a division championship season.

This came one year after vanity induced Al Davis to trade Jon Gruden — mere weeks after the Raiders' first consecutive playoff seasons in a decade.

The 49ers have had two coaches and zero winning seasons since Mariucci (57-39, four postseasons in six years) was bounced. The Raiders have had five coaches and one winning season since Gruden (38-26, two postseasons in four years) was sent away.

The Warriors, meanwhile, had no winning seasons and zero postseason appearances in 12 years of Cohan ownership — and were roundly criticized and ridiculed — until management was turned over to the Mullin-Nelson team.

And now, after the team's first playoff appearance and back-to-back winning seasons, it's Rowell and Cohan with all the answers?

It's widely known that Stephen Jackson would like a contract extension, that Rowell is at the center of negotiations, with Mullin on the periphery. Mullin is entering the last year of his contract, there has been no serious discussion regarding an extension and, according to Rowell, Mully's own performance is under scrutiny.

As is that of Nelson, also in the final year of his deal. We say with certainty, too, that Cohan and Rowell were more than mildly irritated by Nellie's clumsy attempt at a cash grab during the summer of 2007.

In other words, what was going to be a challenging Warriors season now has enough subplots to engage the mildly interested and be endlessly fascinating to the morbidly curious.

Call it ego or power-tripping or, as Pat Riley does, The Disease of Me. It is undeniably behind the steep declines of the Raiders and 49ers, and now it's baring its fangs within the Warriors.

Rowell, who joined the Warriors as a 28-year-old assistant controller, has shown the ability to sell the club. Also, at Mullin's urging, he played an important role in persuading Cohan to embrace the return of Nelson.

But Rowell must be careful now, for this is a battle he can lose. Mullin has had two winning seasons in four as GM. He's popular in the Bay Area and around the NBA. His heist of Baron Davis is among the greatest trades in local history. Sentiment is with him.

If Rowell studies the recent fortunes of our NFL teams, he might find lessons from which he can benefit.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com