Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ten Reasons Not to Fire Don Nelson

By Phil Marshall
Thu, Apr 15, 2010 at 3:19 PM

The Warriors’ season ended last night with a 122-116 victory over the Portland Trailblazers. While the win was a pleasant way to close out the season, it does little to gloss over a miserable season in which the team went 26-56. Fortunately for Warriors coach Don Nelson, General Manager Larry Riley has said there are no plans to fire him after the season. Unfortunately for Nelson, Riley might not be calling the shots next year.

Warriors owner Chris Cohen has announced his intention to put the franchise on the market next season and Oracle founder Larry Ellison has expressed a strong interest in purchasing the team. The changeover wouldn’t bode well for Nelson. The $6 million the team owes the coach next year could easily be bought out. And there are few reasons why a new owner would want to bring the aging coach back for another year — well, except for these ten reasons:

1. The guy has been around.
When Don Nelson was drafted by the Chicago Zephyrs in 1962, John F. Kennedy was president. Chubby Checker was doing the twist and the Warriors were still in Philadelphia. It was a time before rims were designed to withstand the stresses of high-velocity impacts, before the advent of the three-point line, before $100 million contracts, before $10 million contracts, before $1 million contracts. It was a time when players wore shorts that were downright pornographic.

Don Nelson has seen the NBA go from a diminutive diversion for people that couldn’t score baseball tickets to a globally marketed behemoth. So maybe he has a few tricks left in his bag.

2. He holds the record for wins but not for long.
Somehow, between 1976 and 2010, the guy managed to rack up 1,335 wins. He’s won more games than any coach in the history of the league. However, Phil Jackson and Jerry Sloan are still coaching and are well within striking distance of his record. Larry Ellison, let the man get a few more wins so he can keep his record for just a little bit longer.

3. He has a keen eye for talent.
It doesn’t matter if you play for the Kentucky Wildcats or the Poughkeepsie Peacemakers; Don Nelson knows who you are and what you can do with a basketball. He has been responsible for signing D-League success stories like Anthony Morrow, CJ Watson, Anthony Tolliver, Reggie Williams, and Kelenna Azubuike. He also drafted Mitch Richmond, Tim Hardaway, Penny Hardaway, Anthony Randolph, and, most recently, Stephen Curry. The guy knows talent, whether it’s in a player or in a scout.

4. The team finished strong.
Well, it’s true that the Warriors finished with a 26-56 season. But if you look at the last part of the season, it’s evident that they were on an upswing. The last three games of the season they went 2-1. If they continue this blistering pace into next year they will have a 54-28 record — and that’s being conservative.

5. He managed to win with a rag-tag team.
Okay, back to reality. He only won 26 games this year, but he won those games starting a rookie at point guard, an oafish Frenchman at center, and a revolving cast of D-Leaguers. There isn’t another coach in the NBA who could have done better with what he had.

6. He didn’t get a chance to try out the team he built.
One has to wonder what kind of damage the Warriors could have done had they had a healthy roster throughout the season. Kelenna Azubuike, Andris Biedrins, Corey Maggette, Vladimir Radmanovic, Anthony Randolph, Brendan Wright, and Raja Bell were all injured for a significant number of games. If they were all healthy the Warriors could have averaged at least 130 points per game. If Nelson is ousted his replacement surely won’t know how to use the team and will probably make the mistake of trying to teach these kids defense. How sad would it be to see these svelte mustangs put under the reins of some oppressive coach with misguided notions of how to win? It’s become a mantra in the NBA: “you can’t win without defense.” Well that may be true, but who cares? The successes of defensive-minded coaches like Gregg Popovich and Jerry Sloan and their brand of boring ball does very little for this basketball fan. Offense equals entertainment. Larry, give offense one more chance — if not for the good of the game — do it for the children.

7. Mark Cuban would lose his gambling buddy.
Oh, you didn’t think that win against the Mavericks just happened, did you?

8. Players like him.
No really they do. Despite the fact that his team doused him with Mountain Dew and beer rather than champagne, his players were genuinely happy to see him get the record. Somehow the gruff old man has a way of bonding with college-age misfits. Before their falling out, Stephen Jackson once remarked that Nelson understood him. He’s even rumored to have hit the bar with players after games.

9. It’s not whether you win but how you play the game.
Basketball has always been a venue for creativity, whether it is a behind-the-back pass or a self-served dunk off of the backboard. Moments of impulsive improvisation find their way into every game multiple times. And here’s a guy that coaches with all the reckless abandon of a point guard slashing to the rim. Here’s a guy that matched up a six-foot-three Barron Davis against a seven-foot Dirk Nowitski and won.

10. Hawaii will always be there.
Sure, sure, he has a victory record but the ultimate prize in the NBA, a championship, has eluded him. He has a nice little house in Maui with a hammock but that hammock won’t be nearly as comfortable without a championship to his credit. So let the old Windsor do one more lap around the track.

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