July 13, 2011
Last September, all-time wins leader Don Nelson resigned as Warriors coach. More accurately, though, the franchise's new ownership wanted no part of him, especially after two consecutive seasons in which the team appeared to have little forward momentum, or really any kind of greater organizing plan. Nellie, for all his past successes as the mad scientist of the NBA, had become a man whose experiments seemed to have no clear point. It was as if Dr. Frankenstein, in his old age, had taken to attaching paper wings to gerbils and wondered why they never soared through the air.
Still, Nelson left Golden State in such an odd situation that it stands to reason he'd like to move back to the mainland from his home on Maui and get another shot at coaching in the NBA. Oddly enough, he has interest in one of the league's few remaining vacancies. From Marc Stein for ESPN.com:
But a potential Wolves candidate with even more experience unexpectedly surfaced Tuesday when NBA coaching sources said that Don Nelson -- the winningest coach in league history -- is open to a return to the bench and intrigued by the talent on Minnesota's roster.
Wolves president of basketball operations David Kahn said at a Tuesday press conference to formally announce Kurt Rambis' dismissal that he wants an up-tempo coach to take over, particularly with Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio(notes) -- drafted with the fifth overall pick in 2009 -- scheduled to finally join the team when the lockout ends. Nelson is certainly well-acquainted with up-tempo basketball. [...]
But sources told ESPN.com in the aftermath of Rambis' dismissal that Nelson is undaunted by the widespread criticism Minnesota is receiving around the league for dragging out Rambis' dismissal for three months. Sources said Nelson is also known to be a long-time admirer of both Rubio and Wolves forward Kevin Love(notes), with Wolves forward Anthony Tolliver(notes) ranking as another Nelson favorite dating to their time together in Golden State.
Given Stein's history in Dallas with Nelson, it's safe to say that this report is accurate and not culled from the idle speculation of rumormongers. It also makes a lot of sense anyway because of the personnel already in Minnesota. In Ricky Rubio, Nelson would have a point guard who's at his best in the open court; Love gives him a versatile forward capable of playing center in an undersized lineup; Derrick Williams(notes) and Michael Beasley(notes) are quality scorers. A Nellie-run Wolves squad would score a lot of points, perhaps the most in the league. At the very least, they'd be a lot of fun to watch.
However, assuming Nelson is a good fit for Minnesota relies on the separate assumption that he's still capable of being the sort of coach that cares enough to be deeply involved with the organization, let alone one with enough patience to let a young team grow over the course of two or three years.
In his last two seasons with the Warriors, Nellie seemed to have little interest in anything other than playing as many shooters for as many minutes as possible. Players battled fatigue by early March, up-and-comers (like, um, the Wolves' Anthony Randolph(notes)) found themselves chained to the bench in favor of veterans with minor long-term appeal, and Nelson refused to acknowledge the collapse at hand. Do any of those things sound like good fits for the team with the worst record in the league?
The Wolves are bad, and their improvement will depend on more than just Nelson playing a lineup that can put the ball in the basket. He's a simple answer to a problem in need of a more nuanced solution.