Tuesday, August 29, 2006

He's Baaack (The Return of Don Nelson) sports

"NBA fans everywhere celebrate the Warriors' attempt to quote Santayana"

Oakland sports teams are much more sentimental than I ever imagined. I looked at the papers this morning to find out that Jeff George, who didn’t leave the Raiders on the best of terms, had returned as a possible backup quarterback for his old team and its new old coach Art Shell. At various times, the A’s have arranged for swan songs for Jose Canseco, Reggie Jackson, and Rickey Henderson, though Rickey forgot to retire. Some time in the future, I imagine we’ll see the return of the Giambi brothers to the Green and Gold. Even in politics, this is the city that elected Jerry Brown mayor. Now the big story is that after twelve years out of the playoffs, the Warriors have brought Don Nelson back to coach the team. I’m waiting to hear about their deals to sign Chris Webber and Latrell Sprewell some time later this week.

Chris Cohan, the Warriors owner, not only fired Nelson twelve years ago, he sued him for taking another job as head coach of the Knicks. He’s now paying the sixty six year old coach six million dollars a year over the next three years. Yes, you’re right that’s three 6’s in succession. For those who don’t remember the story, Nelson has a long history of being a coach who takes teams from nothing to contention, but who can’t get them to the finals. He managed this in Milwaukee, Dallas, and at Golden State. I’m not sure what to say about the Knicks except that Larry Brown who also has added value everywhere else he’s gone bombed out there too.

With Run TMC (Hardaway, Richmond, and Mullin, the current Warriors GM), Nelson was all set to make the jump from playoff team to championship contender with the addition of Chris Webber. Webber preferred to play power forward so Nelson traded for a true center, Rony Seikaly by giving up one of Webber’s best friends on the team Billy Owens. Webber’s complaints about Nelson’s “negative” coaching style grew more vocal and Cohan decided to keep the coach instead of the budding star in a it's either him or me scenario. A few months and a sudden loss of chemistry later, both star and coach were gone. Him or me somehow turned into Donyell Marshall. A year or two later, Latrell Sprewell was choking his coach. The Warriors have not had a winning team since.

Psychologists sometimes encourage traumatized patients to “relive” the incident and work through it again. Perhaps this is what Cohan’s up to. He’s tried 8 coaches since Nelson and the team still plays as if jinxed. Nelson may be the only person on earth who has the counter-spell. Mullin, as a protégé of Nelson’s, already has assembled a group in Nelson’s image in that the roster has no center who can score, a bunch of scorers on the wings, and more than its share of player who didn’t grow up in the United States. In addition, like traditional Nelson teams, the current Warriors don’t play much defense.
They do, however, still have Michael Pietrus who came to the team as the “Michael Jordan of France”. With the emergence of Tony Parker and Boris Diaw since, Pietrus is now more like the Sam Bowie of France.

I think I do understand Nelson’s motive for coming back. At one point, it looked like Nelson senior was trying to set up his son Donn Nelson junior as his successor in Dallas. Instead, Avery Johnson emerged as the coach in waiting and once given the job took the Mavericks to a level that Nelson senior had never managed, the NBA final. It’ll should be a little while before Donn Jr. has any hope of taking the job away from Johnson. In the meantime, Donn Sr. could certainly bring his son/assistant back to Golden State along with maybe Grandnelsonnn III, second assistant.

More significant, I believe that Nelson loves coaching and that this is a no lose situation. Yes, the team might lose, but if he does he can blame it on the bad karma from twelve years ago and the idiocies of Chris Cohan. If the team happens to win, Nelson will have the entire bay area basketball community proclaiming his wisdom and greatness. As the second winningest coach in NBA history, Nelson who remains an excellent judge of talent might just manage to get a winning season out of what most consider a talented but underachieving roster. Basically, it’s his chance to be Pat Riley, though without having to get beaten by Texas Western in Glory Road or even having to win the NBA championship. All Nelson has to do is make the playoffs in the next two years.

In the meantime, Ken Macha needs to watch his back. I’m sure the A’s must already be in talks with Tony LaRussa and Art Howe.



At 8/29/2006 04:40:00 PM, Blogger None said...

George and Nelson back on the same day. The end must be near.

I'm a little shocked that Monty took the payoff for the final year of his contract. I guess it was all part of the Mullin plan. Not many people figured Monty would be around long enough to transform this team. He was good publicity while he lasted.

It all seems like Mullin is running out of options. His drafts have been an improvement over the past... but, we're still stuck without a playoff run.

The Macha / Mullin comparison stops quickly. Beane & Co. seem to push the player performance side while Mullin goes for the influential coach. Which is better? Depends on the sport I guess.

At 8/29/2006 05:37:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Hell seems to have frozen over in Oakland.

Montgomery was/is a class act. Unfortunately that has little correlation to being a winning coach in the NBA.

My take is that Mullin has nothing to show for his time as a GM. Had he not played for the team, I think they would have changed direction middle of last year.

Beane/Macha really can't be compared to the Warriors. The A's have been winning, maybe not getting very far in the playoffs, but it's hard to complain.

What would moneyball look like in basketball anyway?


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