Welcome back: Nellie vows to recapture 'the magic'

Updated: August 31, 2006, 1:48 AM ET
Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Don Nelson relaxed in Maui, opened a bar in Dallas and just couldn't get comfortable in his cushy life after basketball.

The NBA's second-winningest coach simply had to get on the sideline again -- and the Golden State Warriors were thrilled to welcome him back.

Nelson officially returned to the Warriors on Wednesday night, vowing to return excitement and respectability to the club he led to its best seasons in the past three decades.

AP Photo/Jeff ChiuDon Nelson, who met with the Oakland press Wednesday, hopes to lead the Warriors back to the playoffs for the first time since '94.
Many of the players on Nelson's previous Golden State teams -- Chris Mullin, Rod Higgins and Mitch Richmond -- are club executives now, and the 66-year-old Nelson said he jumped at a phone call from Mullin.

"The main reason I came back was I had some real good friends that asked me to come," said Nelson, who left the Dallas Mavericks' sideline 18 months ago. "They asked me if I would come back and get back some of the magic that used to be here, when this arena used to be rocking."

He formally accepted the job at the Arena in Oakland in front of several hundred fans who still remember the club's better days, when Nelson coached Tim Hardaway, Richmond and Mullin -- who is now Nelson's boss as the Warriors' executive vice president of basketball operations.

Nelson was the last coach to lead Golden State to the playoffs in 1994. The Warriors have endured 12 straight losing seasons since his departure, and they failed to make any significant personnel improvements to last season's 34-48 club under Mike Montgomery, who was abruptly dismissed Tuesday.

But Nelson saw an opportunity in Golden State big enough to lure him out of a comfortable routine at his home in Hawaii and his sports bar in downtown Dallas. With his unorthodox coaching methods -- and a vow to improve his team's defense, just as he promised every season with the high-scoring Mavericks -- he's ready to fix another moribund club.

"I still have the passion, and I think we have the talent here," Nelson said. "I like this team. ... There's nobody better at playing small-ball than me. I know how to do that. There's a lot of positives here, and many of them happen to be smaller players."

Jason Richardson and Mike Dunleavy attended the press conference along with Richmond and Higgins, who teamed with Tim Hardaway as the core of the "Run T-M-C" clubs that made three of the Warriors' four playoff appearances under Nelson.

"The change is great," said Richardson, who had minor knee surgery earlier in the month. "To have a coach of that caliber is going to help this team out a whole lot. Monty is a great guy, but Nellie has experience."

Nelson, a three-time NBA Coach of the Year, has 1,190 victories in a career that includes stops in Milwaukee, New York and Dallas, where he led the Mavs' revival. He went 277-260 in his first 6 seasons in Golden State.

"I am excited that Nellie is back coaching," said Avery Johnson, Nelson's groomed successor who won the NBA's coach of the year award while leading Dallas to the NBA Finals last season. "We knew he could not stay away very long. With him at the helm, it gives the Warriors a great chance to get back to the playoffs. I want to thank him for all the ways he has helped me."

The move represents a change in course for Mullin, who promised big offseason moves and repeatedly said Montgomery would be back this fall after his second straight 34-48 season in Golden State. Mullin, who hasn't made any significant personnel changes, even laughed at suggestions he was unhappy with the longtime Stanford coach.

"The major change was Nellie's availability and his desire," Mullin said. "Once those things changed, I thought there wasn't a better person for the job. I can't think of a person I'm more confident in, that would be better to lead this team, than Nellie."

Warriors owner Chris Cohan sat in the front row Wednesday night, smiling at the return of the coach he sued when Nelson accepted a job with the Knicks after leaving Golden State in February 1995.

"It was never bitter," Nelson said with a laugh. "I had some of Chris' money, and he wanted it. (The dispute) ended with that, and it's been a great relationship ever since."

Nelson agreed to a three-year deal, though he could see himself coaching the Warriors even longer. He's still working on his coaching staff, though it isn't expected to include his son, Mavericks executive Donn Nelson.

Nelson also was the Warriors' general manager during his first tenure, and he controlled the Mavericks' personnel decisions for much of his tenure in Dallas. But Mullin will stay in charge this time around.

"I'll coach, and I'll stay out of the personnel matters," Nelson said. "A healthy relationship has communication, but I'm not here to do anything other than coach."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press