Warriors Extend Don Nelson: Quest for Championship or Simply Road to Redemption?

Joel CreagerCorrespondent IOctober 27, 2008

There are a lot of suspect words floating around in that title, but bear with me. 

Usually, when you hear the words "Warriors," "Nelson," and "championship" in the same sentence, it is coupled with the word "never."

The doubters will count the ways.  Nellie's style of ball is too small or not defensive enough.  There are no natural leaders on the Warriors (probably not true).  The front office is in disarray.  Or, if you are a knucklehead like Sir Charles, then you simply don't like the Bay Area. 

(On a side note, Barkley is one of my favorite "Warriors Haters."  So I hope he gets to comment on plenty of their games this year.  He is always entertaining.)

Regardless of your reason for doubting the Warriors' chances, it is hard to envision them getting into the playoffs with the shadow of this offseason hanging over their backcourt.  However, Warriors fans might have a lot to look forward to in the next three years, if the most recent front office decisions are any indicator.  I have never been a fan of Rowell or Cohan, but their latest move may be a step in the right direction.

As you read this, the Warriors and Don Nelson are touching up a two-year extension to keep him as head coach.  Says Nelson, "It wasn't my idea." 

For those of you not keeping track of the Warriors' drama, this is immediately after Robert Rowell insisted that there was plenty of time left to make the big decisions regarding Nelson and the recently-estranged Mullin.  

Unfortunately for Mullin, he will still have to wait and see.  However, there are rumors floating around that Mullin is not planning on returning to Golden State, and that this is all part of a planned extraction so that he can be GM for the Knicks. 

In a recent interview, Nelson stated his sincere desire that Mullin stay.  Stephen Jackson did the same, and said that Mullin went with him to court on every single occasion.  So there may be a silver lining to the extension of Jackson and Nelson. 

Whether Mullin stays or not, extensions for Nelson and Jackson mean that Rowell and Cohan will have to listen to Nelson—or should, at a minimum, to keep him from retiring. 

Enough about the present drama. Most Warriors fans have shed their expectations of a playoff season this year, and would settle for merely a winning one.  But what about after that?

Are Rowell and Cohan finally looking to prove something to their fans and the rest of the league besides their famously cold-hearted and detached approach to basketball management?  Nelson badly wants a championship, Cohan desperately wants redemption in the eyes of the fans,  and Rowell wants his cut. 

A quick look at the Warriors salary board for the next few years reveals that they can afford to pick up some pricey free agents without losing their other big contracts.  By 2009, Golden State will have player options on Brandon Wright, Marco Bellinelli, and Marcus Williams.  In addition, Golden State will be freed up about $6.5 million dollars that they buried with Foyle.  The Warriors will have their final opportunity to evaluate their younger players before deciding whether or not to commit. 

An odd twist to what happens at the forward positions depends on whether Al Harrington is traded or not. Harrington will most likely take up his $10 million option for that season.  It is unlikely his production will improve enough to raise his value any higher than the hefty $10 million.  To his own credit, Harrington will be playing in a more comfortable role this year so he could finally be worth his money. 

Don't expect too much activity next off season unless Wright or Randolph blossoms at forward and Harrington gets traded.  For the most part, it will be a reshuffling of the bench. Expect some of the Foyle money to go towards Jackson's extension.

The 2010 offseason is probably the most anticipated offseason in the recent history of the NBA.  Without going into details, there are going to be a lot of big names on the market.  By this time, Perovic, Foyle, and Harrington will all be off the books for the Warriors.  

Looking at the bare minimum roster for 2010, the Warriors will still have Ellis, Maggette, Jackson, Biedrins, Turiaf, most likely Randolph, and possibly Wright.  That is easily a starting lineup that will have already been in the oven for two years. Is it a championship lineup? Probably not, but this should give the Warriors plenty of time to stack their bench with capable role players.

All of a sudden Nelson's excitement over this deal is suddenly starting to make more sense.  He will get a more or less handpicked lineup with a handpicked bench.  Isn't that every coach's dream?  Nelson may finally get the chance to coach the team of "@#$-Kicking veterans" that he "deserves." 

In 2010, the Warriors won't have nearly the same cap space that many other teams will.  However, this strategy could work out well for the Warriors.  With all the big stars commanding huge contracts, the role players that the Warriors need will be forced to settle for less, since their value relative to available cap space around the league will decline. 

It is sort of a crap shoot, but when dealing with the Warriors it is always better to take the chance with the bench rather than with the starting five. Besides, the Warriors will be a desirable franchise for free agents that want to support a competitive team.

For the last three years, the number-one priority for the Warriors' front office was salary protection.  Mullin did a decent job of atoning for his early mistakes, and building a solid team within that "protection."  Whether he is in the Bay Area or not in 2010, Warriors fans will be looking back and thanking Mullin for his foresight.

Will the Warriors make a run for the championship?  It is too early to tell.  At the very least, they plan to break into the bottom ranks of contenders in the west. 

Mark my words, there will be a day when Cohan and Rowell have to decide whether they are going to pony up and take the Warriors to the top, or ride the Nelson-wagon all the way to retirement in Maui.  Rowell and Cohan's history together has me fearing that day, but at least the Warriors will once again be a respectable team. 

It is still way too early to start talking down to Lakers fans, but Warriors fans can be glad they've kept what is theirs for the next couple of years.  Between the international leagues and upcoming free agencies, many NBA franchises are in for some surprising roller coaster rides straight to the top and the bottom of the league. 

Hopefully the Warriors' steady rise in depth and potential is not just a false hope.  It will take the performance of a lifetime for Don Nelson to unlock that potential.  Whether Nelson, the Warriors, Cohan, and the fans get their championship or not, they are in for one heck of a ride.

Oh yeah, and no matter what happens, Rowell will still get his cut.