September 24, 2010
One would have to assume there is a fair bit of jubilation and relief sweeping across Warrior nation. Golden State boasts a massive and long-suffering fan base, and with the news that Don Nelson is stepping aside as Warriors coach ringing in their ears, it's right to assume this is about as great a feeling as they've had in years, save for that engaging playoff run in 2007.
Because Nellie kept this team from the ranks of the mediocre with his coaching decisions. He destroyed that team from the inside out. It wasn't just the unorthodoxy, because he's won before by going against the typical. It was the way Nelson quit on the Warriors while still show up for work every day. The awful rotations. The laissez-faire attitude. The inattention to detail. The giant cash grab during his final three years coaching this team.
It's not as if Nellie held much back. Phil Jackson's churning gestalt wagon or Larry Brown's incessant fundamentals exercise couldn't have pushed the Warrior roster -- especially with the ridiculous amount of injuries they dealt with last season -- into the playoffs over the last two years. But Nelson's way had the Warriors out of their opponents' way before the game even tipped off. He hamstrung that team from achieving relevance. Destroyed any chance at a proper rebuilding. Just about every promising answer to a question about the Warriors over the last few years was topped off with the caveat, "but as long as Nellie's in charge, it might not even matter."
Now, with new coach Keith Smart comes orthodoxy. Which isn't always the answer, but because the slate is relatively clean (Smart has been around this team as an assistant), you have to like Golden State moving forward.
For one, it's almost as if they just traded for a starting center. Andris Biedrins(notes) wasn't going to play a lick with Nellie around, but now he'll return and possibly start, moving undersized free-agent grab David Lee(notes) down to the power forward slot.
Secondly, though no coach is immune to bias or letting his anger get the best of his rotations, you get the feeling that Smart won't be developing his rotation around those who he dislikes the least. That it might be about winning, more than anything else, and not about cashing checks and soothing your insecurities.
Most importantly? The Warriors -- both the team and the fan base -- won't feel as if they've lost the game before it even starts. The Warriors will be the underdog going against most teams this season, but they'll at least feel like the bench is angling them toward a victory and not some petty, arbitrary personal goal.
This might not put the Warriors in the playoffs, but it does put them on the right track. Don Nelson had held this team hostage for too, too long. And though an incompetent owner and full-of-itself front office were also to blame for the team's continued irrelevance, Nelson topped it all off by undermining Golden State's chances at winning every time out.
This was a move that needed to be made years ago. It's just a shame it took three bum years and a new owner to give Don Nelson his dream job -- that of a guy who doesn't work, yet still allowed to make millions of dollars a year.