The Warriors will be committing suicide if Don Nelson walks because of stalled contract negotiations, and team owner Chris Cohan will be the biggest loser.
Nelson was the single biggest reason for the Warriors’ surge last season, which resulted in their first playoff appearance since Nelson was here before. Are we sensing a pattern here?
Reaching the playoffs was also a financial bonanza for the team, as excited fans signed up for 2007-08 season tickets.
Moreover, Nelson and Chris Mullin, who played for him earlier, work perfectly together. Mullin made some mistakes early in his tenure as head of basketball operations, but he is erasing them, the latest being the negotiated release of Adonal Foyle. He has also made some big trades, such as the one that brought Baron Davis here and the midseason trade earlier this year that brought in Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington — and got rid of two liabilities, Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy.
Nelson is probably the only coach who could have blended the new players into the mix so smoothly, because he doesn’t prejudge players. Indiana was eager to get rid of Jackson, who has had off-court problems and a volatile temper on it, but Nelson was able to get some outstanding performances out of him while still warning him that he needed more self-control on the court.
Players like Nelson because he’s honest with them and he plays those who perform. Last season, he originally thought he could work both Dunleavy and Murphy into prominent positions, but neither responded, so their playing time was sharply reduced. Conversely, Matt Barnes, who had bounced around the league, played well coming off the bench, and he soon logged big minutes — and is returning this season.
Players also like Nelson’s up-tempo style, once they get in condition to run it. He lets them play and makes the most of their athletic ability, unlike coaches — such as his predecessor, Mike Montgomery — who try to control every facet of the game. Because he played in the league, for very good Boston Celtics teams, he knows that the NBA is a players league, not a coaches league.
Nelson is asking to be paid by league standards for top coaches, which does not seem unreasonable. Last season, his base salary was $3 million, in the bottom half for NBA coaches, though he got $1 million for getting them to the playoffs, and another $1 million for getting them to the second round.
He wants that money guaranteed this season, which would bring his contract in line with other top coaches.
The point man on the negotiations is club president Robert Rowell, a small-minded man who loves to play hardball with men who have much greater accomplishments on their résumés.
But the one who makes the final decision is Cohan. Before last season, Cohan was the most-hated owner in the Bay Area, a not inconsiderable accomplishment, because the Warriors had been a disaster since he took over the team. Not all of it was his fault because he didn’t make all the bad decisions, but he had hired those who had.
All that was wiped out by the Warriors’ success last season, but Cohan’s bad-guy image would return immediately if Nelson doesn’t return.
It should be a no-brainer, but with Cohan, you can never rule out an incredibly stupid decision that will cause Nelson to walk.
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