Letting Nelson go the right move

9/23/2010 - NBA

Don Nelson's ouster from the Golden State Warriors might mean a new start for the team, but it's the same old story for Nellie. Sure, he is losing his job. In the grander scheme he maintains his reputation as coach who kept on winning -- except when it came to games that actually meant something.

He'll get $6 million from the Warriors this season, his payoff for parlaying his one playoff series victory in the past six seasons into more time and money from Golden State. He hung on long enough to set the NBA's all-time career coaching record last season. He got what he wanted.

Apparently he didn't want to coach in the NBA Finals very badly, because he never made it there. Nor did he assemble rosters or coach in a manner conducive to reaching the Finals. It was more important to him that he did things his way.

Give the incoming Warriors ownership duo of Joe Lacob and Peter Guber credit for recognizing that Nelson's way isn't the way to win a championship. That's more than you could say about their predecessor Chris Cohan, who departs with that lone playoff victory but also $450 million from the sale of the team.

Let's clarify a bit.

"A better way of saying it is [Warriors president] Bobby Rowell allowed Nellie to stay in position," said one plugged-in Warriors observer. "It wasn't Cohan that did it."

Cohan signed off on it, though, just as he authorized Rowell's ascent to a more powerful role in the organization. The new owners haven't moved on Rowell. Perhaps they're working their way from the bottom up. But Rowell will start with an 0-2 count. Lacob and Guber will spend their first year paying $6 million on a guy who isn't coaching the team and inherit a roster that won 26 games last season. Which guy in the building is most responsible? Rowell.

Lacob, the lead owner, is smart enough to recognize that nothing good ever comes from teams that put the long-term future of their franchise in the hands of Nelson. And the recent trend has seen good things happening to teams the year after they get rid of him.

The Dallas Mavericks went to the NBA Finals under Avery Johnson in his first full season after replacing Nelson. The New York Knicks made the rare move of firing a coach in the middle of a winning season when they let Nelson go in 1995-96, but the next season they were 57-25 with Jeff Van Gundy in charge.

That doesn't automatically mean that great things are in store for the Warriors' long-unrewarded fans now that Keith Smart will take over for Nelson. But it's a sign of leadership that's making smart decisions, that isn't content to trudge along with the same ways and people that were there in the past.

It's a good day by the Bay.