OAKLAND, Calif. -- Don Nelson relaxed in Maui, opened a bar
in Dallas and just couldn't get comfortable in his cushy life after
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.
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
"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
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 6½
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
"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
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
"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."