December 4, 2009

Franchise Fix #1: Fire A Legend

Don Nelson has had a brilliant, brilliant career. Don Nelson is a rightful member of any Hall of Fame that knows what it's doing. Don Nelson is an innovator, a genius, a charmer. Don Nelson has played a part in almost all of my cherished basketball memories. Don Nelson is my favorite coach of all time.

Don Nelson has to go away.

I mean away. Do not kick him upstairs, do not make him the GM or VP of basketball operations... do not give him any responsibilities or influence. If you want to give him some sort of farewell ceremonial title, Goodwill Ambassador or whatever, fine. But he can not have a real job. He can not have an office. He can not have a desk.

Since the beginning of last season, Don Nelson has
* employed a smallball strategy at great cost and to no discernible benefit
* inexplicably cast Stephen Jackson as a superstar
* lobbied to acquire Jamal Crawford, who is terrible
* played Jamal Crawford, who is terrible, for 39 minutes a game
* sat on Brandan Wright at a time when we needed a power forward
* given a completely washed-up Mikki Moore a starting job and significant minutes
* screwed up every end-game situation we've accidentally stumbled into
* changed lineups, rotations and positional assignments just about every night
* put defense -- i.e., half of his coaching responsibilities -- in the hands of an assistant
* definitely alienated Monta Ellis, Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington
* allegedly alienated Anthony Randolph and Stephen Curry
* allegedly played Frisbee with his dog while the team practiced

For over a year now, his performance has been embarrassingly, unprofessionally, fireably bad. His lazy coaching has hurt our present; his shabby treatment of our best young players has threatened our future. Enough is enough. Franchise Fix #1: we need to get rid of Don Nelson.

There are several common defenses of Nellie, none of which hold water.

"The guy has over 1300 wins -- I'm pretty sure he's a good coach." No, you aren't. You're pretty sure he was a good coach. And he was! He was a great coach for many years, and a good one as recently as '07-'08. But people, and performances, change... you can stop being good at something. The fact that Woody Allen used to make brilliant romantic comedies doesn't change the fact that he makes shitty romantic comedies now. The fact that Robin Williams used to be mildly amusing doesn't change the fact that watching him now is pure torture. The fact that Chris Webber was a great basketball player in 1994 didn't change the fact that he was barely capable of moving in 2008. And the fact that Don Nelson was a great coach in 1986, and 1992, and 2007, doesn't change the fact that he's a bad coach now. He has become a parody of himself. The great Don Nelson, the 1300-wins one, left us when Baron did.

"The team is not very good, and we've had lots of injuries -- what do you expect?" More than this. This team has had unusual depth, both last year and this year... the players that have been forced into action due to injuries have not been much worse than the players they replaced. And there is genuine talent on this team, at every position. A playoff appearance last year would've been too much to ask, but competent coaching, with full-sized lineups and some basic defensive teaching, would've netted us 36-38 wins and a lot less embarrassment last season and a couple more wins so far this year. I'm not looking for a 60-win season. I'm just looking for a pulse.

"It's not Nellie's fault that the defense stinks... young players can't play defense." Portland's roster is younger than ours, and their defense is top-ten. The Kings are comically young, and their defense is a good bit better than ours. Yes, young players do make some defensive mistakes, but that excuse only goes so far. We have a roster of quick, athletic, coachable players. There is no reason why this has to be one of the three worst defensive teams in basketball year in and year out.

"Nellie's done a good job of handling Anthony Randolph." I agree! His handling of Randolph and his willingness to give Morrow a shot are the two good things he's done in the last thirteen months. Having said that, Randolph-wrangling is not exactly rocket science: you sit the guy when he plays stupidly and give him more minutes when he plays more intelligently. That's not genius, that's just basic coaching. I'm pretty sure Keith Smart could do that.

"How do we know Keith Smart will be a good head coach?" We don't. He went 9-31 as the interim coach for a truly horrible, pre-LeBron Cavs team... it's hard to glean much from that either way. It's also hard to gauge his recent understudying performance, because he's had to cater to Nellie's wishes. We really don't know what kind of head coach Keith Smart would be. It's very possible that he would be a bad one. But he'd be a bad coach without baggage. And that makes him a lot better than Nellie.

Many things have to happen for this franchise to right itself, but getting rid of Nellie is job #1. Smart interims for the rest of the year... if he doesn't distinguish himself, we find someone else next summer. Larry Riley, same thing: he gets the rest of the year to demonstrate whether he's more than a puppet.

Nellie, we love you, we hope you feel better, and we want nothing but the best for you. But friend, you've got to go.

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