Throughout his long and very successful career, Don Nelson has received a lot of criticism from time to time. Much of it has been directed at his unorthodox use of smaller line-ups. Some has been directed at him for never winning a title.
This past Wednesday, Blazer fans directed a lot of criticism at him for wanting to put Devean George back into the game.
In many ways, it was a silly argument.
Portland had long demonstrated that winning this game was of tertiary importance...their starting line-up was primarily sick, injured, or playing a modest nine minutes (except Nicolas Batum who got a lot of run.)
At one point Portland had a whopping four years of NBA experience on the floor; Rudy Fernandez with two years and Nicolas Batum with another two. Joining them on the floor were rookies Jeff Pendergraph, Dante Cunningham, and Patty Mills.
If Portland was not taking the game serious, why should Nelson?
It is to his credit that he did take the game seriously. More important, he took the health of his players seriously.
When Devean George fouled out, he (rightfully) argued that it was dangerous to the health of his bench players to insert them.
He whined. He begged. He pleaded. He had the veins on his neck popping out as he yelled at the referees.
He ignored the raucous and prolonged booing of the crowd. He ignored the rather sarcastic music selections played by the Rose Garden sound crew. He ignored the insistence of the referees. And he did it all for the right reason.
He was trying to protect his players.
It was no different than Coach McMillan yanking Marcus Camby from the line-up moments before tip-off or playing Andre Miller just nine minutes...enough to maintain his consecutive game streak, no time for injury.
No different than him riding players like Dante Cunningham, Jeff Pendergraph, Patty Mills, and Travis Diener for heavy minutes in a game that was meaningless yet undecided.
Wait...yes, it was different. It was easy to tell that Chris Hunter could barely walk. Ronnie Turiaf looked better...but not much. And any but the most casual fan knows Anthony Morrow is far too talented not to use unless he is legitimately injured.
Nelson was doing what more coaches should do. He was trying to protect the health of his players.
I am going to also somewhat defend the referees in this situation, too. They were bound by rule to do what they did. Fair enough, one could...and perhaps should... see that this would have been a fine time to bend the rules and not allow the ridiculous three foul sequence take place. But that is neither here nor there.
What the referees did that I appreciated is they did not assess Nelson technical fouls for his arguing. This was not an objection to the officiating or showing them up. This was a man fighting hard not to win a game but to protect his players.
I am not going to lie. As meaningless as the game may have been in the standings, I still wanted to see a Blazers victory.
But not at the cost of a serious injury to another team's player.
So here is hoping the fans give credit where credit is due. Love him or hate him, people should recognize that Don Nelson is a guy who genuinely, legitimately cares about his players. And that is something worthy of a cheer.