You will not see Don Nelson's name when ESPN.com provides your monthly opportunity to register bench grades and gripes via our NBA Coach Approval Ratings.
SPECIAL MIDWEEK EDITION Don of a new age?
Not this February.
But by next February . . .
Don't be surprised if he's at midseason with his new team.
Multiple Nellie associates inform ESPN.com that the 65-year-old has dropped hints about considering other jobs after sitting out the rest of this season. It's highly unlikely that Mavericks owner Mark Cuban would let Nelson go anywhere before next season anyway, and a couple of those same Nellie associates say a return to the bench won't happen unless someone out there offers him an annual salary of at least $5 million, but you can be pretty sure someone will in the off-season.
Reason being: There isn't a more accomplished coach on the planet who isn't working.
He's officially a Mavericks consultant these days, but Avery Johnson's Mavs don't consult Nelson for much. This is also the final season in which Nelson is earning $5 million, after which comes a drop to a more consultant-like $1 million (and change) but also more freedom to leave for a head-coaching spot, which is why a new gig would shock no one who knows him.
Media types in the Bay Area are already tossing out Nelson's name as an ideal successor to Mike Montgomery in Golden State, given that the Warriors haven't been to the playoffs since Nelson's last full season there in 1993-94. Nelson will also be mentioned as a candidate in Seattle -- barring the re-hiring of the recently promoted Bob Hill -- because of Nelson's longstanding friendship with Sonics general manager Rick Sund.
But I'm betting on Sacramento.
Nelson remains undeniably close with Warriors vice president Chris Mullin, but that alone isn't enough to legitimize the link. Team sources, for starters, insist that reports of friction between Montgomery and star guard Baron Davis are a media creation. Yet even if the Warriors continue to fade and miss the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season, Nelson can't be considered a serious contender to take over in Oaktown unless his relationship with Warriors owner Chris Cohan is mended. Don't forget that Cohan's messy 1995 parting with Nelson was not wrapped up until 1999, when an NBA arbirtator ruled that Nelson could keep $1.6 million that Cohan expected him to repay after Nelson was hired to coach the Knicks.
The Sonics? My suspicion -- endorsed by everyone I've presented it to -- is that Seattle won't be looking to hire a $5 million-a-year coach if Hill is not retained.
Which brings us to Sacramento, where Rick Adelman is in the final few months of his contract. If the Adelman era ends at season's end, as widely expected after a run of eight seasons, Nelson really is a natural successor there. For a few reasons.
1) As we said about the Lakers' Phil Jackson and Denver's George Karl, Nelson is sufficiently eccentric in his own right to have a shot at clicking with new Kings cornerstone Ron Artest.
2) Kings co-owner Joe and Gavin Maloof are undoubtedly willing to pay top dollar for coach, as evidenced by their not-so-secret attempt to hire Jackson before Phil returned to L.A.
3) Nelson is already working for the Maloofs. The madcap brothers own the production company that, with George Clooney as their producer, is putting together a basketball sitcom
Donnie Nelson, president of basketball operations for the Mavericks and Nellie's son, doesn't doubt that his dad's name will come up for several jobs. Noting that the starting-over Toronto Raptors just created a front-office opening, Donnie said: "Anybody looking for a coach or GM should have Nellie on their list. He's already built three franchises from the ground up."
The younger Nelson is quick to add, though, that he'll be lobbying his father to turn down any offer that comes, and not simply because he'd rather see Big Nellie -- who left Monday for a vacation in New Zealand -- stay with the Mavs as a Red Auerbach-style godfather.
"I would just ask him, 'How many more mountains can you climb?'" Donnie said. "He's the second-winningest coach of all-time. He's achieved pretty much everything there is to achieve as a player, coach and executive. If he asks me, for health reasons and everything else, I'd tell him, 'You don't need it.'"
If that speech doesn't work . . . Donnie can always throw out the ESPN.com NBA Coach Approval Ratings as another deterrent.
AP Photo/Tim Sharp
No wonder Dallas Mavericks consultant Don Nelson is wearing such a wide grin. He's safe from criticism in ESPN.com's NBA Coach Approval Ratings . . . but for how long, Marc Stein wonders.
1. The Clippers can't make any public guarantees until they see how he responds to rehab, but those who know Corey Maggette best say he's virtually certain to come back before the end of the season.
Which would add an interesting postscript to the Ron Artest trade.
The Pacers backed out of a deal to swap Artest for Maggette earlier this month because, with Maggette's left foot in a cast at the time, Indy didn't want to take the risk of making the trade and then finding out that Maggette would need season-ending surgery (and the insertion of a screw) to repair ligament damage.
It appears now, nearly three weeks later and with Artest gone to Sacramento in exchange for Peja Stojakovic, that Maggette won't need the surgery. He's still out at least another month, but all signs point to Maggette returning before the playoffs.
Maggette is known for his willingness to play through pain, which means L.A. will probably have to try to slow him down a bit to ensure that the high-scoring swingman doesn't rush back and re-injure himself.
2. The biggest injustice with all those Wilt vs. Kobe comparisons?
Wrong. We repeat: It's hardly an insult to wonder aloud whether Kobe Bryant's 81-point game in the modern era is greater than a 100-pointer in Wilt Chamberlain's heyday. It's healthy sports debate.
The insult is that no one even mentioned the late, great Drazen Petrovic and the 112 points he once scored in a game in the former Yugoslavia.
Yugoslavia, yes, but 112 is worth a mention, don't you think? No matter how many levels below the NBA that was, Drazen shot 40-of-60 from the floor in that game.
Shame on all of us.
3. If you're saddened to hear that LeBron James has again refused to participate in the dunk contest at All-Star Weekend, remember what we said last year: You can't single out LeBron for saying no when every other name dunker does it . . . and when the league's many sponsors haven't anted up with the seven-figure purse that might actually lure the big names back.
If you're wondering why LeBron has consented to participate in the Skills Challenge on All-Star Saturday instead of the dunk contest, here's the explanation:
He had no choice.
As part of the new collective-bargaining agreement hashed out over the summer, any player voted by the fans or coaches into the Sunday All-Star Game must participate in a Saturday event if asked . . . any event except the dunk contest.
With so many stars unwilling to volunteer for dunk duty and try to resuscitate what used to the glamour event of the season, union chief Billy Hunter held out for that exclusion and got it in CBA negotiations. Because Kobe, Vince Carter and many more don't want to save the dunk contest, either.
A look at the most active movers, upward and downward, in ESPN.com's weekly NBA Power Rankings:
Highest Rise: No. 7 Los Angeles Clippers
Steepest Fall: No. 11 New Jersey Nets
Ron Hoskins/Getty Images
Pacers forward Peja Stojakovic has Brian Cook in his path, but the former King had 26 points and 13 rebounds in his Indy home debut, a 105-79 win over the Lakers.
Quote of the Day
Five questions with Utah forward Andrei Kirilenko:
Q: Will we see the Jazz in the playoffs?
A: There are a lot of games left to play. I would not say we are a [definite] playoff team. We're a team that's fighting to be in the playoffs. We can get there, but I think we're very inconsistent.
A: With Karl and John, it's like you have three coaches. Maybe he's changed, but I can't say how much. It's just different. He's a winner, he likes to win. So last year wasn't fun for him, either.
Q: You've become known for the 5X5. How proud are you to be one of the few players in history to pull that off [five points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in the same game]?
A: It's definitely fun, because I know America is a stats country. But I like winning more.
Q: How much pressure is on Carlos Boozer after all the time he's missed -- not just from Jazz fans but also his teammates?
A: He is a great person and great player, but we're not waiting for him like a [savior]. When he'll be ready, we'll welcome him with open arms, and he'll definitely help us.
Q: How disappointed would you be if you're not selected for the West All-Star team?
A: Definitely it's a big-time competition. I would say Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Rashard Lewis . . . and I can keep going. There's lots and lots of good players [trying to earn a reserve spot] in the West, especially forwards. It's very hard to make the All-Star team. But it's not like I'm shaking my head, looking at my stats. All I'm trying to do right now is be a leader and bring my team higher.
KJ (Kent, Ohio): Hey Marc: Are you willing to admit live on this forum that you have a bias against LBJ? You say he hasn't done it in the post-season, but the MVP is a regular-season award! And you say Kobe has been "sicker" individually? OK, but LBJ's team has a better record. And then LBJ dominates the floor against Nash and Phoenix. What more does he have to do this year?
Marc Stein: What I have a bias against is turning one game into anything more than one game, like you're trying to do with Sunday's Cavs-Suns game. We've gone over this a zillion times, but team success will always be the biggest factor on my MVP ballot. The Cavs, until this recent win streak, were sliding toward .500. Even without Hughes, I expect more. LeBron, remember, has teammates like Ilgauskas and Marshall who are a fair bit better than the options surrounding Kobe these days.
So LBJ is fifth on my ballot at the season's midpoint behind Kobe at No. 4. Nash is No. 1 because he has the Suns on a better-than-50-win pace without Amare and has helped SIX teammates score at a career-best rate. No. 2 Nowitzki is the only every-night lock on a team that might tip San Antonio for the top seed in the West. No. 3 Billups is the spark and conscious for a team that will probably post one of the best records of all-time.
Kobe moves up IF the Lakers get close to 50 wins because the rest of his team is so weak. For LeBron to go higher than No. 5, Cavs probably have to win 55-ish games. That's the way it is on this ballot.
Readers respond to the latest edition of the ESPN.com NBA Power Rankings:
Brennan (San Diego): The Lakers might be ranked too high, but it seems that the mediocrity in East (aside from Detroit) is allowing the West's dominance to continue. If the Lakers end up a sixth seed or higher, and in your final top seven of the rankings, how is Kobe not the MVP? If a team of second-rate players ends up with a fifth or sixth seed, the man has to be given the trophy.
Mike (Houston): Now that the Rockets have spent so much time near the bottom of the Power Rankings, could you please kindly start an Injury Power Rankings? We would have a decent chance to win those.
Devin (Toledo, Ohio): Since Detroit ain't giving up the top slot for the rest of the season, maybe you could implement a system that goes 1, 1a, 1b to make the Dallas or San Antonio fans feel better.
Ray (Memphis): You and ESPN.com mention the Grizzlies so infrequently that the only place I can find them on this site is in the standings. Why is that?
Todd (Detroit): Why do you rank Miami so high? You said it yourself: They're sub-.500 against teams with winning records. That doesn't qualify them as a top-five team.
(Ed's note: Miami is there somewhat by default, because none of the teams in the vicinity can make a stronger claim to No. 5. But it's also true that the Heat, with Shaq slowly finding some form, had the fourth-best record in the league in January at 10-5. Let's face it: As I've lamented all season, we simply don't have a deep elite class at the minute. Injuries have undeniably been a factor, but the Suns, Heat and Pacers -- all expected to be elitists -- just aren't there yet . . . and the Pacers obviously can't get there now after losing Jermaine O'Neal.)