Though he left the retirement option open in talking to the media before the meaningless final game of the season, Don Nelson will return as the Warriors’ coach next season. You — and Warriors management — need only wait for the July 1 deadline he has set for his announcement.
Everything Nelson said pointed to his return. He noted that, unlike his “retirement” when he left the Dallas Mavericks, this one would have to be final: “I’m not going to take a year off and come back at 70.”
He praised owner Chris Cowan, president Robert Rowell and Chris Mullin, the head of basketball operations and a former player with whom he has always been close.
Most significantly, he talked of how enjoyable it has been to coach this Warriors team for the last two years.
“I kind of lost my love for the game in Dallas,” he said, “but I got it back here.”
Money is not the issue. Nelson said that, even if he lost the June 26 arbitration hearing with the Mavericks over $6.5 million owed him and turned his back on the $5.1 million the Warriors would pay him next season, he’d be fine financially.
As demanding as it is to coach in the NBA, this is what Nelson wants to do. It’s exciting to coach an NBA team, especially so for Nelson, who is so good and so involved in the strategic matchups for each game. Playing golf on Maui doesn’t compare.
He’ll go back to Maui for a little R-and-R — and to work on losing the weight he always gains during an NBA season — but it won’t be total relaxation. He’ll take videos of college players and watch them for four hours a day so he can get up to speed on the draft.
Does that sound like a coach headed for retirement?
Nelson also has the satisfaction of knowing he did a great job this season. Although the Warriors missed the playoffs, their 48 wins would have put them in every other season this decade. Just two years ago, that record would have made them a No. 6 seed in the West.
Still, there’s work to be done. Asked if the Warriors could be champions with the current roster, Nelson said, “I think we’ve proven that we can’t.”
Their need is obvious: More size upfront, to help with defense, rebounding and scoring.
They aren’t likely to get that in a trade, because the only Warriors players who would bring substantial help in a trade are Stephen Jackson, Baron Davis and Monta Ellis — and that’s their core. Trading any of them would be suicidal. Possibly, they could draft Robin Lopez; they’d have to be extremely lucky when the balls drop to have a shot at Brook Lopez, who will probably be a top-five pick.
There could be help on the current roster. Nelson praised rookie Brandon Wright for his work in the gym and his improvement in games. By next year, I’d hope that Wright is in the starting lineup, because he has the size and athletic ability to fit well in Nelson’s system. Al Harrington could then be the sixth man, a better role for him.
But whatever comes in the next couple of months, it will be good to have Nelson back. The last two seasons have been a great ride.