Don Nelson has jokes. Golden State Warriors-related jokes.
Speaking with Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard at his home in Hawaii, Nelson, who coached Golden State for 11 full seasons through two separate stints, took some digs at his former team.
Later, when Warriors forward David Lee gets the ball on the block, Nelson smirks. "You better go to him," he says, "because he can’t guard anybody."
Still, even after they lose, he says only positive things about [Mark] Jackson: "A good guy. I thought it would hurt him when he lost his assistant [Mike Malone, now the Kings’ coach], but he’s doing fine. He’s got enough bulls— that works as a coach." Nelson chuckles, picks up his Chardonnay. "You got to be a bit of a bulls—ter."
Zing. Got 'em.
Criticism of Lee's defense is nothing new. He's a terrible defender. His defensive awareness—or rather, lack thereof—is encapsulated in the below video, where he amps up his teammates before blowing consecutive assignments himself:
To be fair, who among us hasn't taken a few shots a good ol' D-Lee?
The Mark Jackson jabs are a tad more personal. Nelson's compliments are backhanded, as are any forms of praise that come bearing "BS-er" tags. He's also mocking Jackson's revolving optimism, an emotional state that Nelson, who was always prone to popping veins, probably doesn't understand.
Jackson is indeed guilty of protracted enthusiasm and speaking in hyperbole. That's how he rallies his troops and maintains morale, and it's not for everybody.
But Jackson isn't all daisies, emphatic motivation and chocolate-flavored flattery. He has a dark side.
Fine. That's not exactly a jaded take, but it's the closest Jackson will come to channeling his inner Nelson, who once compared a Warriors performance to "trying to get blood out of a turnip," per the Mercury News' Tim Kawakami.
Because you can only subtly mock a genuine coach like Jackson for so long, though, Nelson took an opportunity to throw some punches Monta Ellis' way.
Nelson told Ballard that Ellis was an "incredible, gifted athlete," but adds that he was "a pain in the ass when I had him." That says something about Nelson. And Ellis.
The two were together for four seasons between 2006-10. During that time, Ellis' field-goal percentage never dipped below 44.9.
Imagine what Nelson would have to say if he remained with Ellis for the next season-and-a-half, when he struggled to shoot 40 percent from the floor. Choice phrases other than "a pain in the ass" would have surely been uttered.
No matter. Nelson's takes are no longer of any concern to Golden State. He's enjoying retirement. Meanwhile, Jackson has the Warriors relevant again and Ellis is the Dallas Mavericks' problem turned offensive savior.
As for Lee's defense, well, Nelson's right—it's hopeless.