This just in from the NBA's Department of Recurring Themes: They won't hold it against you, Monty.
Spending a year or two as the Golden State Warriors' head coach has become the equivalent of a film actor doing a commercial voiceover for, say, toothpaste. It's not that people don't notice; it's that they'll agree to forget it as soon as you want them to.
In that sense, Mike Montgomery made out fine on Tuesday. Kicked to the curb by an organization working on its eighth coach in 11 calendar years, Montgomery leaves with a $5 million buyout, an almost impeccable record from his college years and, really, one blot: two seasons with the lousy Warriors. In a phrase: So what?
It's not like he doesn't have company, after all. The Chris Cohan era of ownership in Oakland has produced an alumni club of people swept into the vortex of confusion that has been the Warriors. Each has emerged slightly better dressed, with some coin in the pocket and nothing much to tell the folks back home -- but no hard feelings around the campus, that's for sure. Not your fault, big guy.
Bob Lanier, P.J. Carlesimo, Garry St. Jean, poor Dave Cowens, Brian Winters … shoot, Warriors alum Rick Adelman, who was a no-doubt-about-it winner in both Portland and Sacramento. In between those stops, Adelman put in two long seasons with Golden State that the world will little note or long remember -- and, for him, that's the good news.
The Kings, in fact, have twice ignored a coach's results in Golden State when considering him for a job, which explains how first Adelman and now Eric Musselman came to be in charge in Sacramento. In both cases, GM Geoff Petrie's thought process had to go something like this: Well, he lost, but it was with the Warriors, so what does it really mean?
Don Nelson was the last winning coach Golden State had, way back in 1993-94, when Chris Mullin was one of the hot-shot outside guys. Now Mullin is the executive vice president of basketball operations, he projects the sense that he desperately wants to change the mentality around the franchise, and he has just fired his first major hire (Montgomery) in favor of his old coach. Maybe Nellie, with his offensive-oriented approach, can get the Warriors to score their way out of the muck.
Then again, Cohan is still the owner, so all bets are off. At least there's entertainment value attached: Cohan is the fellow who sued Nelson for taking the New York Knicks' coaching job in 1995 after resigning from the Warriors, and that case dragged on for years. Guess Nellie looks better in the rearview mirror than he did in depositions -- and, anyway, the guy historically finds a way to win. I expect Golden State to prove no different for Nelson; it just took 12 years for the organization to get back to the man with the last plus-.500 record on the Warriors' books.
Whatever Nelson may achieve, though, it won't come at the cost of Montgomery's service record. Montgomery was a breakout winner at Stanford, making 16 postseason appearances in 18 years. He was the coach who did things right, recruiting students who could meet the university's entrance requirements and still play basketball at a March Madness level. It was, and remains, an exquisite balancing act wherever it is played out, and Montgomery's time at Stanford won't be erased.
Nope, what will fade into black -- and the sooner the better -- is the time Monty spent on the Golden State campus. He had up-and-down talent and some scattered promising runs. He dealt with injuries and his own early struggles to translate his style to the NBA game. He saw a franchise try to ride the coattails of Baron Davis, for spit's sake. His team rose early and crashed late last season, and in the end he got dumped in favor of the next great hope, which in this case also happened to have been the last great hope.
In short, Montgomery had a classic coach's experience with a mediocre NBA franchise, which only makes him one of the dozens. The veterans in this sport understand all about the importance of grading on a curve. Give it a year or two, Monty. They'll forget it ever happened, even if you don't.
Mark Kreidler's book, "Four Days to Glory: Wrestling With the Soul of the American Heartland," is available from HarperCollins in January 2007. Reach him at email@example.com.