In Nelson’s first tour with the Warriors, he was both coach and general manager. In a preseason meeting, I asked him how it would work this time.
"Chris [Mullin] will make the [personnel] decisions," he said. "I’m just the coach."
But Mullin, the Warriors’ vice-president of basketball operations, is an unabashed admirer of Nelson’s. In a 2005 interview, Mully was uncharacteristically animated when he talked of how much fun it had been to play for Nelson. He and Nellie had talked often this season about how to fix a roster that was not suited to Nelson’s up-tempo game.
Nelson is a no-nonsense coach. He plays those who deserve the minutes, with no attention to their contracts. Adonal Foyle, for instance, hardly played early because Nelson didn’t think he was in condition to play in his offense.
Originally, Nelson thought Dunleavy could play a key role, but it didn’t work out. Dunleavy is a role player, not a pivotal one, just as Antawn Jamison was. Garry St. Jean, then the Warriors’ GM, expected first Jamison and then Dunleavy to be the type of player the Warriors could build around.
That’s the type of thinking that keeps bad teams bad.
Though he said good things about Murphy early, Nelson never had high hopes for him. Murphy is what I call a fantasy league player. On paper, he looks good, with a combination of points and rebounds. In actual play, though, he has virtually no impact. He’s too slow to stop quick players and too weak to contest strong ones. He prefers to sit outside and shoot. A 6-foot-11 forward who doesn’t want to mix it up inside? Give me a break.
This was one of those trades in which both teams got rid of players they didn’t want. Harrington didn’t fit with Jermaine O’Neal in the Indiana Pacers’ offense and Indiana team management had tired of the problems with Stephen Jackson, on and off the court.
But the Warriors benefitted most because Harrington gives them the inside scoring they haven’t had from a big man. Jackson? If he behaves himself, he’ll get considerable playing time. If he doesn’t, Nelson will keep him parked on the bench.
Reshaping the roster to fit Nelson’s requirements gives the Warriors — dare we say it? — a reasonable chance for the playoffs. It also positions them well for the future. They’ll now have cap room after losing the Dunleavy and Murphy contracts, so they can afford to extend the deals of Andris Biedrins, Mickael Pietrus and Monta Ellis.
Biedrins has shown vast improvement in all aspects, including his once dreadful free-throw shooting — and he won’t be 21 until April. Pietrus has finally learned to play under control and Ellis has the potential to be a great player. He has to learn to cut down his turnovers, but he’s already a brilliant defensive player, and he knows how to put the ball in the basket, whether by driving or shooting from outside.
Hiring Nelson was Mullin’s first great move. Now, he’s listened to him in his moves to change the roster. For the first time since, well, since Nelson was last in Oakland, the Warriors’ future looks bright.