September 30, 2010

Whoa, Nellie.

While we Worriers were busy elsewhere, the biggest, gnarliest thorn in this blog's side was removed: Don Nelson jetted home to Maui, after tendering a "resignation" that had a distinct "you're fired, so save face if you like" flavor to it. The organization predictably named Keith Smart as Nellie's successor, with the big man's strong blessing... we'll address Mr. Smart soon enough.

The bones of this particular issue have long since been picked clean, but we'll chime in with a couple belated reactions to Nellie's departure.

* First off, thank the good lord. This team had no prayer of becoming relevant with a head coach on autopilot. The 2010-11 Warriors probably won't be relevant under Smart either, but having a motivated and detail-oriented man at the helm will make a big, big difference. The fact that Lacob, Guber et al realized this is an encouraging data point... it didn't take a rocket scientist to realize Nellie's useful days were done, but the previous regime never figured it out.

* Nellie was fired after a second straight 50+ loss season, after a season that produced several embarrassing NBA records, after alienating over $120 million worth of the roster, after a disgracefully unprofessional performance. He became the league's all-time winningest coach in April, and yet the new ownership regime couldn't even wait to assume ownership to get rid of him. Incredibly, this is the classiest and most amicable parting Nellie has ever had with an NBA franchise.

* Nellie presided over a tumultuous four seasons, with heavy roster turnover, front office conflict and sudden changes in team direction... he was complicit in all of these factors, of course, but they make an overall synopsis of his coaching performance difficult. However, you can pretty decently sum up his second Golden State tenure with a simple pair of statistics.
'06-'10 Warriors (with Baron Davis): 84-62, .575
'06-'10 Warriors (without Baron Davis): 61-121, .335

Nellie used more or less the same strategy throughout this run: go small, go fast, go for steals, and give tons of minutes and leeway to your best offensive player. With a maestro like Baron around, this strategy worked, and worked well. When the Dubs' best offensive player was anyone else -- Jack, Monta, Curry -- the strategy was more or less disastrous. Nellie never bothered to veer from it, and his failure to re-jigger led to an embarrassing two-year finish to his coaching career. The man was long lionized for his ability to adapt. When he stopped adapting, he quickly perished.

* Don Nelson finished his NBA coaching career with a record of 1,335-1063, going 418-445 in Oakland and 917-618 everywhere else. Given the length of his two tenures and the bland failures of the men who served in between them, many Warriors fans have trouble even remembering another coach, and yet when you look at Don Nelson's career, you realize his Golden State years amount to little more than padding. Whatever coaching and team-building greatness the man displayed took place in Milwaukee and Dallas; coaching the Warriors was what Nellie did when he wasn't doing anything important. It's one last painful reminder of this team's irrelevance over the past several decades.

Fare thee well, Nellie. You were often maddening, but rarely boring, and when a little more dust collects on the ugliness of the past two years, we will remember you fondly. Until then, lose our fucking number, you clown.

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