Sources: Nelson, Warriors discussing possible contract extension
Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson has quietly inched toward a contract extension with the club after some serious negotiations in recent days, ESPN.com has learned.
NBA front-office sources told ESPN.com that Nelson, whose current contract expires at season's end, could conceivably have a new deal in place by next week to coincide with the start of the regular season.
Warriors swingman Stephen Jackson, sources said, is also likely to receive a contract extension in the same time frame, as Jackson has repeatedly indicated in interviews this month with various reporters.
The Warriors have publicly acknowledged this month's talks with Jackson but declined comment Friday when asked about a possible extension for Nelson.
New deals for Nelson and Jackson, however, only figure to increase the uncertainty surrounding Warriors vice president of basketball operations Chris Mullin, amid growing suspicion in front-office circles that Mullin won't be retained beyond this season. Mullin's contract, like Nelson's, expires at season's end.
What does seem clear is that Nelson and Jackson have emerged as the faces of the Warriors in the wake of Baron Davis' free-agent move to the Los Angeles Clippers, even though young swingman Monta Ellis became the Warrriors' highest-paid player in the offseason when he received a new $66 million contract.
Irrespective of the subsequent 30-game suspension that will cost Ellis nearly $3 million, after he suffered a serious ankle injury in an offseason moped accident, Nelson and Jackson were and continue to be regarded as the off- and on-court leaders for a team that posted back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1990-91 and 1991-92.
Before Nelson's return to the Warriors in the summer of 2006, they were carrying the league's longest playoff drought, spanning 12 seasons, dating back to Nelson's most recent full season in Oakland in 1993-94. The Warriors went 42-40 in 2006-07 under Nelson, upset the 67-win Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs and then became one of the most successful non-playoff teams in league history last season with a record of 48-34, better than all but three teams in the Eastern Conference.
Jackson, 30, has been an integral part of that success, which prompted Golden State to consent to open talks on an extension -- in spite of the player's considerable off-court troubles in Indiana -- after Jackson approached team president Robert Rowell. Over the past 1 ½ seasons, Golden State is 69-42 with Jackson in the lineup and 1-12 without him.
The late-season surge that moved the Warriors into playoff position in 2006-07 began after the midseason acquisition of Jackson from the Pacers, when he quickly clicked with Davis. Jackson's rebound continued last season to the point that he averaged a career-best 20.1 points per game and won an NBA Community Player of the Month award.
With two seasons left on his contract, at $7.1 million and $7.7 million, Jackson is eligible to receive a three-year extension at a maximum of just under $28 million.
"I'm comfortable it'll be done in the next few weeks," Jackson told ESPN.com's Henry Abbott on Oct. 17.
Asked why he was pushing for an extension now, after initially saying that contract matters seeped into the locker room and contributed to Golden State's failure to make the playoffs last season, one reason Jackson gave is that waiting to make a case in a so-called contract year hasn't worked out for him previously.
"I won a title in 2003 [with San Antonio] and still didn't get a deal," Jackson explained.
It is not known precisely how much longer Nelson wants to coach, with his 69th birthday looming in May, but sources close to the situation insist that he has shown no interest in leaving the profession.
Although Nelson acknowledged in a group interview session earlier this week that "an ass-kicking veteran team that would have a chance to win a title is what I deserve at 68," he has also spoken optimistically of a young core headlined by Ellis and Andris Biedrins. Sources say Nelson won't be discouraged if the Warriors struggle as expected this season without Davis and with Ellis expected to be sidelined well into December.
Among his motivations to coach on, Nelson has been unable to win a championship as a coach after winning five rings as a player with the Boston Celtics, but he sits just 53 regular-season victories shy of passing Lenny Wilkens as the winningest coach in NBA history. Nelson realistically won't have a shot at nudging past Wilkens until the 2009-10 season even if the Warriors exceed expectations.
Yet it remains to be seen how the Nelson-Mullin dynamic factors into the club's future. Opting to stay with the Warriors without Mullin could prove uncomfortable for Nelson, given the close relationship he's shared with his GM dating to Mullin's playing days as a Warrior under Nelson, but it's also not inconceivable that their bond leads to a scenario where Mullin stays on as well.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
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