King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Don Nelson returns to the NBA sideline as the Warriors make a cynical grab for 50 wins and a quick playoff exit.


Salon Staff
August 30, 2006 8:00PM (UTC)

As a lapsed but still-sympathetic fan of the Golden State Warriors, my first reaction when a friend instant-messaged me that the team had rehired old coach Don Nelson was: NO!

And you have to picture that in 48-point type.

And repeated 50 times.

But I eventually calmed down. The next 25 times I sent the message I used a lowercase "o" and 24-point type.

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The move, by Warriors boss and former star Chris Mullin, actually makes some sense, in a cover-your-butt kind of way. Mullin needed to do something.

His last hire, former Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, had become the latest in a long line of successful college coaches who had flopped in the NBA, leading his team to back-to-back 34-48 finishes in his two seasons and extending the Warriors' streak of missing the playoffs to 12 seasons.

This offseason's moves had consisted of drafting Patrick O'Bryant, a project, and trading Derek Fisher to Utah for Devin Brown, Keith McLeod and Andre Owens, hardly a summer that says to fans, "Watch out, here comes a championship run!"

I doubt Mullin subscribes to this column's NTCBDNWEWANC theory -- no team coached by Don Nelson will ever win an NBA championship -- but I think he has to know that hiring Nellie doesn't exactly signal a championship run either. But it does make it reasonable to expect that the Warriors will be an entertaining team that will win a lot of games in the regular season before losing in the first or second round of the playoffs.

That's pretty much the Don Nelson recipe. Funky lineups, run and gun, improvise and, if you really feel like you have to worry about defense, try not to get too stressed out about it. That sort of thing is generally worth about 50 wins between Halloween and Easter, and then it's worth a bag of day-old doughnuts in the playoffs, when the games count and the other team is giving a full effort.

By the conference finals, Don Nelson is generally on a beach in Hawaii, telling anyone who'll listen that you just can't win in the NBA without a dominant big man.

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Mullin knows this because he lived it. The last time the Warriors made the playoffs, in 1994, when Nelson was the coach, Mullin was just starting the injury-riddled, less-effective second half of his career, and the Warriors won 50 games and lost in the first round of the playoffs.

Nelson spent that season feuding with his best player, rookie Chris Webber. When the team shipped Webber off to Washington, I threw up my hands in frustration and resigned as a fan. The Warriors had backed the wrong horse, I thought, and though that seems obvious now it wasn't the prevailing opinion at the time, if I can toot my own horn a little if only to show that, at least once a decade, I'm right about something.

The next season, during which Nelson resigned, citing stress and health problems, was the first of the 12 straight without a playoff appearance. The extreme miscalculation on Webber -- Nelson basically said he'd never amount to anything -- wasn't the cause of the franchise's demise, it was a symptom, one of a thousand idiotic moves over the years.

I sulked for a year or so, then decided to adopt the sad-sack franchise out I-80, the Sacramento Kings, who hadn't had a winning record in -- sound familiar? -- 12 years. This was a move that paid off a few years later when the Kings traded for -- hey, whattaya know -- Chris Webber and became a perennial playoff team.

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After a brief stop with the New York Knicks, Don Nelson ended up in Dallas, where after a couple of losing seasons he turned the Mavericks into a team that won 50 games and lost by the second round of the playoffs every year.

Not counting partial seasons, Nelson has coached in the NBA for 22 years. In 10 of those, his team won 50 or more games and lost in the first or second round of the playoffs. To be fair, I should note that in 1983, when his Milwaukee Bucks lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round, the second round was the conference finals.

I think winning 50 games and losing in the first two rounds should become known as Don Nelsoning. Last year two teams Don Nelsoned: the Cleveland Cavaliers and the San Antonio Spurs. The Mavericks, who had Don Nelsoned three times in his six full years in Dallas, went to the NBA Finals in their first full year after Nelson stepped aside for Avery Johnson.

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I get what Mullin's up to here. A wide-open offense, 50 wins and a spot in the playoffs are nothing to sneeze at, especially when you've gone longer without a playoff appearance than Los Del Rio have gone without a -- hey, Macarena! -- hit. They (winning 50 games, etc., not Los Del Rio) put butts in the seats and create excitement. They make it seem like things are moving in the right direction, even when they're not.

It's a cynical move by Mullin, but he probably likes his job and wants to keep it for a while, and he knows that if the Warriors can Don Nelson for a couple of years before the 66-year-old Nellie burns out again, he'll have bought himself some more time in the corner office.

I know where he's coming from. I like my job and want to keep it for a while too, which is why I sometimes mention Beyoncé Knowles' booty dance or Britney Spears' tiny shorts out of the blue. But at least I admit that I'm hoping to attract some hot, sexy, barely legal page views when I do that.

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Mullin has scheduled a news conference for 7 p.m. PDT Wednesday to introduce Nelson. I'll bet you a wet T-shirt they'll talk about winning a championship, and nobody will mention NTCBDNWEWANC.

Previous column: High school football coaches' pay

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