It was a mixed bag Monday for Don Nelson, the way it has been for much of NBA coaching career spanning four decades. One victory away from becoming the NBA’s all-time winningest coach, Nelson was once again turned aside by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
The fact that Nelson hasn’t won an NBA championship, and that he and the man he’s about to pass, Lenny Wilkens, are the only two coaches with 1,000 wins and 1,000 losses – that all plays a part. So does the fact that Nelson goes out with back-to-back 50-loss seasons, and with some of the same scorched-Earth coaching techniques that have always managed to sabotage his teams along the way.
It’s not even a given that Nelson is finished; he has one year and $6 million left on his contract, money that he will not walk away from. For all the credit he deserves for tying Wilkens with an injury-ravaged team that has used a record five D-League players this season, Nellie deserves equal servings of scorn for failing to recognize when the jig is up.
One of the more interesting developments over the past few days came when Nelson stated that he’d been trying to reach his former player and general manager, Chris Mullin, to find out if he’d been selected to the Hall. (Mullin, it turns out, wasn’t selected, either.) Nellie seemed perplexed as to why he hadn’t heard back from Mullin. Just curious: Why would Nelson expect Mullin to call back after Nelson stood by while Mullin was ostracized and eventually booted out of the Warriors’ front office? These are the kind of things only Nellie can comprehend.
Now, the Warriors are for sale, and Bay Area basketball fans may finally be rid of Nelson and equally loathed owner Chris Cohan in one fell swoop. Any sensible basketball person put in place by presumed new owner Larry Ellison would recognize that the time is now for Nelson to put his feet up in Maui and retire. No more pointless record-chasing, no more mercurial treatment of the players and executives around him. Everyone walks away rich and happy.
Ellison, the head of Oracle, was the nation’s highest-paid CEO in 2009 with $84.5 million in compensation – mostly in stock – according to the New York Times. As the new owner of the Warriors, he would be wise to set aside just enough to pay Nelson to do nothing next season, and to do it far away from his team.
As for whether the Warriors can win with Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry in the same backcourt, or with some of the other ill-fitting pieces that Nellie has assembled, that will be for someone else to decide.
Now that I have that off my chest, here are the rest of the Post-Ups from around the league:
• As team executives get their books in order for the free-agent period that begins July 1, there are indications that the 2010-11 salary cap may not fall as much as earlier projections indicated. Two execs who expect to have cap space for the 2010 free-agent chase told CBSSports.com that their latest projections show the cap being no worse than $53 million – and quite possibly better than that. Last July, the league office circulated a memo to all 30 teams warning of a possible drop in league-wide revenues ranging from 2.5 percent to 5 percent. The result would have been a cap ranging from $50.4 million to $53.6 million. If revenues have been more robust than previously feared, the higher cap could give teams more money to spend on free agents than they’ve been projecting. Several teams continue to work off less optimistic projections for a $52 million cap, with the clear understanding that they’re being overly cautious.
• Now that they’ve clinched a second straight 60-win season and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, the Cavaliers must now walk the dreaded line between staying sharp for the postseason and resting their key players. Over the final week of the regular season, look for Mike Brown to give LeBron James a strategic night off or two. There are two variables in that thought process: Shaquille O’Neal and Anderson Varejao. Ideally, Brown would like to play a couple of games with his full complement of players before the postseason begins, though it’s not absolutely critical since Cleveland has played so well without them. As of Sunday, Brown was still in the dark as to whether O’Neal will return before the end of the regular season or even for the first round. “I don’t know when he’s getting back,” Brown said. “I keep hearing it, and he keeps telling everybody that he’s coming back before the playoffs. He’s telling you guys, you guys are telling me, so you have more information than I do.”
• I give the Cavs credit for not downplaying the importance of the No. 1 overall playoff seed. The team with home-court advantage has won nine of the last 11 NBA Finals, and the Cavs (34-4) have the best home record in the NBA. “That’s a goal that is strived for,” said Ray Allen, whose Celtics won the 2008 title with home-court advantage throughout the postseason. “When you have a team that you know has great potential, that’s your goal, your benchmark that you’re setting out for when you put the team together. That’s what we talked about all year two years ago.”
• Speaking the perils of resting players or not resting them, Celtics coach Doc Rivers told an interesting tale of the final game of the 1992-93 regular season game when he played for Pat Riley’s Knicks. New York had already wrapped up the No. 1 playoff seed in the East heading into the nationally televised regular season finale at home against Michael Jordan’s Bulls. “The league basically said, ‘Everybody better play,’” Rivers recalled. Everybody did, and the Knicks suffered two injuries in the game – to Rivers and John Starks. “I remember Riley saying, ‘That will never happen again,’” Rivers said. Both players returned for the playoffs, where the Knicks lost in six games to the Bulls in the conference finals.
• It's a virtual lock -- or should be -- that Mike Woodson will be re-signed as coach of the Hawks after the season. But the fact that Woodson has been allowed to coach the entire season as a lame duck with no contract extension has naturally given way to speculation about his future. Let me explain: Hawks GM Rick Sund has had a longstanding policy of not discussing contract extensions for players or coaches during the season. That goes for Joe Johnson and Woodson. Sund had to be consistent, or risk the distraction of one person getting extended before somebody else.
• The Andrew Bogut injury has changed the dynamics of the Eastern Conference playoff race in a subtle but very significant way. As of Monday, the Hawks had a one-game lead on the Celtics for the No. 3 seed, which would pit them against the undermanned Bucks in the first round. Without Bogut, the Bucks clearly are the preferred matchup for either Atlanta or Boston, meaning those two teams have more incentive to avoid the No. 4 spot and a first-round matchup with Dwyane Wade and the Heat, who have won eight in a row and 11 of 13.
• The West is a jumbled mess, which will make for an interesting final push for playoff spots. After the Lakers, the Nuggets, Mavericks, Suns and Jazz are tied and teams 2-8 are separated by only three games. All contestants have five games left except the Spurs and Thunder, who have six. San Antonio, with impressive victories over the Cavs, Celtics, Magic and Lakers since the All-Star break, have the most road games remaining (four).