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Warriors should find respectability under Nelson

Posted: Tuesday August 29, 2006 4:53PM; Updated: Tuesday August 29, 2006 4:53PM
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After their first partnership resulted in four playoff trips in seven years, Chris Mullin and Don Nelson hope to recreate that success.
After their first partnership resulted in four playoff trips in seven years, Chris Mullin and Don Nelson hope to recreate that success.
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Don Nelson back with the Warriors? What's next? Latrell Sprewell and P.J. Carlesimo signing up as assistant coaches?

OK, so maybe Nellie's return to Golden State isn't really all that shocking. After all, last year saw the reunion of Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant with the Lakers. Like the Zen Master in L.A., Nelson (aka "The Mad Scientist"), was one of the most successful coaches the Warriors have ever had and has remained a popular figure in the Bay Area.

But considering Warriors owner Chris Cohan clashed with Nelson at the end of their previous stint together -- suing him after he took the Knicks coaching job in 1995 -- it's somewhat remarkable that they could put aside their differences and join forces again.

It's even more amazing when one considers that Nelson's price tag is probably in the $5 million per year range. For Cohan to shell out that kind of money -- and agree to eat the remaining $5 million on outgoing coach Mike Montgomery's deal -- shows he must really want to see the Warriors create a buzz. Either that, or team president Chris Mullin's powers of persuasion are even better than his old jump shot.

Clearly, Mullin's fingerprints are all over this move. The former Warriors star enjoyed his best NBA seasons in Golden State under Nelson. He and assistant GM Rod Higgins, another member of the Run TMC gang, have remained close to Nellie over the years. With their own jobs possibly soon to be in the balance, they no doubt figured he was the most trusted man to get the Warriors on the plus side of the win-loss ledger.

Nelson will bring instant credibility to the Warriors locker room. As a former college coach, Montgomery didn't always command the proper respect from his players. Too often they seemed to tune him out, much the same way other NBA teams stopped listening to Tim Floyd, Lon Kruger, Leonard Hamilton and all the other recent former "basketball professors" who tried to make the jump to the NBA.

Nelson, a three-time Coach of the Year, shouldn't have that problem. Even young players such as Monta Ellis and Ike Diogu will remember how he helped turn around the Mavs in Dallas. Veterans such as Baron Davis, Jason Richardson and Troy Murphy, meanwhile, will love his up-tempo style and the freedom he gives his players.

Nelson's experience also should help the Warriors learn to finish close games, a major weakness a year ago. Golden State lost 17 games by three points or less, or in overtime, during the 2005-06 season. Nellie, known for being a good tactician, should be able to improve that area significantly.

Nelson, famous for his creative use of matchups, has some pieces to work with on the Warriors roster. Davis, Richardson, Mike Dunleavy and Mickael Pietrus all can play more than one position. Even Murphy could be a tough cover for opposing centers, though he'd give up size at the other end. Nelson certainly will experiment and try different combinations until he finds something that works.

Can Nelson get the Warriors back into the playoffs?

Yes, but probably not right away. The West appears loaded again in '06-07, with the Mavs, Spurs, Suns, Clippers, Nuggets, Grizzlies, Lakers and Kings all expecting to return to the playoffs while the Rockets, Jazz and T'wolves look to crack the rotation. Even an improved Warriors squad isn't likely to make up that much ground in one season.

But whether or not the Warriors break their 12-year playoff drought this season or not, they should take a step forward under Nellie. Plus, they'll be a lot more fun to watch.