New owners, take note: Nelson's time has expired in Golden State
Joe Lacob, Peter Guber recently bought the Warriors for a record $450 million
Don Nelson's future hangs in the air, as the league has yet to approve the sale
Though he set a record last season, Nelson has left the Warriors a complete mess
This is what it's come to for the NBA's all-time winningest coach.
Everyone can't wait to get rid of him.
A sad state of affairs, but a completely predictable one. Every time Don Nelson leaves a team it's on bad terms. And his departure from the Golden State Warriors -- whenever that exit might actually occur -- will be no exception.
The Warriors are a team in limbo, which is only slightly better than where they spent most of the past 16 years, which is basketball hell. After his long, failed reign as the Warriors' owner, Chris Cohan reached an agreement last month to sell the team for a record $450 million to Joe Lacob, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist and minority owner of the Boston Celtics, and Peter Guber, the CEO of Mandalay Entertainment Group.
But the sale isn't expected to be approved until the end of September at the earliest, shortly before training camp is scheduled to begin. As Lacob said recently, the timing is "a real problem." The NBA-starved Bay Area is clamoring for a total house cleaning, getting rid of all the guilty parties.
Including -- no, particularly -- Nelson.
But Nelson has one more year and $6 million left on his contract. He has said, from his home in Maui, that he wants to fulfill it. Lacob can't make any changes until he officially owns the team, but by then, the season will be just days away.
If Lacob wants to win over fans, sell tickets and make a good first impression, he can't possibly bring Nelson back. The drumbeat for Nelson's departure keeps getting louder, the impatience with his style more pronounced.
It's an abrupt fall for Nelson, who had fans enthralled with his unconventional ways back in 2007. The Warriors made the playoffs that year, for the first and only time under Cohan's ownership. They upset top-seeded Dallas. Nellie had everyone laughing, applauding. Nellieball was wild fun.
But Nellieball hasn't been much fun since. Players have left unhappily or are alienated -- center Andres Biedrins is the latest to complain about how he was treated. General manager and team legend Chris Mullin, the architect of the lone playoff success, was forced out with Nelson acting as a complicit party. The team, aside from exciting rookie Stephen Curry, is hard to watch. There have been no more trips to the playoffs. Nelson, 70, seems disinterested most of the time.
He perked up at the end of last season when he squeaked past Lenny Wilkens on the list of all-time wins, in the 78th game of the season. All that did was give the distinct impression that Nelson was more concerned with his own legacy than with the future of the team.
This is the way it usually goes for Nelson and may be one of the reasons that, despite all those wins, he hasn't been elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. He left the Warriors in a mess the first time around, fired back in 1995 and subsequently became embroiled in a lengthy lawsuit with Cohan. He had a short, disastrous stint with the Knicks, who also fired him. The details of his nasty departure from Dallas and dealings with Mark Cuban have kept lawyers busy for years. And now the Warriors' redux is likely going to have a messy conclusion.
Lacob, an avid poker player, has said he's still evaluating the situation. But in a lengthy interview with the San Jose Mercury News this month, Lacob gave enough hints of dissatisfaction to give the Warriors' fan base hope. He lamented the fact that there has been no plan that can get the team into the playoffs and lobbied for a low-post game -- something Nelson has long eschewed. Lacob indicated that paying Nelson a $6 million farewell gift is not an issue. The looming lockout shouldn't change things either.
For 16 years, the Bay Area has waited to have a real NBA team, with functioning ownership, a team constructed to make the playoffs and a coach who is fully engaged. The fans have been lauded for being so enthusiastic, despite the failings of their own wretched team. Now they're eager to be enthusiastic with reason.
"I want to hear what the fans say," Lacob said.
If he's really listening, he knows that they're saying: "Goodbye, Nellie. Can we please move on?"
That's the way it always seems to end for Don Nelson.