You won’t hear it from the Golden State Warriors or the man himself, but it's likely Warriors' head coach Don Nelson’s Farewell Tour was announced last week with the release of the NBA’s 2009-10 season schedule.
Officially, there hasn’t been even a hint of Nelson’s retirement, but the signs are out there.
Nellie is entering the last season option of an extended contract; he will become the winningest coach in NBA history—probably before the All-Star Break —and he will turn 70 next summer, as the 2010 NBA Playoffs start.
It’s also widely known, much to Nelson’s chagrin, that his feud with Mavs owner Mark Cuban has come to a head, ending his financial relationships around the league. The writing’s on the wall: After more than 25 years courtside, even if he isn’t saying so, The Don is done—and on his way to the Hall of Fame.
Western Conference teams should take note, though, that Nelson’s quiet exit strategy makes him very, very dangerous.
If in fact Don Nelson is leaving, it hasn’t affected his fierce desire to win—not at any cost, but with discipline and through innovation. It’s a style consistent with his years with the Auerbach Celtics and through his multiple tours as a head coach in the NBA. He’s an innovator who not once but twice devised new offenses—the famed “Nellie Ball,” driven through a position he invented, the point-forward, and the Warriors’ Run TMC offense of the 1990s.
But for all its consistency, innovation, discipline, and success, Nelson’s style is asterisked by an unspoken urgency; just 24 wins away from passing Lenny Wilkens as the game’s winningest coach, Don Nelson has never won an NBA Championship.
Now, with a healthy Monta Ellis, a smart ROY candidate and support acquired in the offseason, Western Conference teams have good reason to fear the sleeper Warriors. Don Nelson going for broke in his last season very likely means upsets.
And with the new kid, it’s an awesome script. Who better than Stephen Curry—who seized the attention of the nation storming March Madness for lowly Davidson in 2008—to join Don Nelson in his final charge?
Offseason trades brought guards Acie Law and Speedy Claxton and confirm that Nelson’s team will continue his brand of exceptionally dangerous small ball designed to rattle the cages of even the staunchest defenses with an insistent scoring pace. But in a shift away from the guard-heavy play Nelson made popular in the Bay Area, the team is returning to another of his inventions—the point forward.
The Warriors have picked up veteran small forward Devean George from the Raptors, who, like the agile Stephen Jackson, will float between the explosive guards—Curry, Law, Ellis, and the much improved Kelenna Azubuike—and the frontcourt of Andris Biedrins, Anthony Randolph, and Corey Maggette. Nellie Ball is back!
While smaller than the Lakers or the re-tooled Spurs, the Warriors have an excellent combination of youth and experience. Guided by the winningest HOF Coach in history, Nellie Ball could be just the mix to jam up Andrew Bynum, cause havoc for Tim Duncan or run George Karl’s Nuggets ragged.
Once again, The Don’s got ‘em right where he wants ‘em.