Don Nelson Same as Ever While Waiting on Coaching Future
Speaking by phone from his home in Maui, the coach whose future remains in doubt because of the team's impending ownership change said he remains in the dark as to whether he will be retained for the final year of his contract that is worth $6 million.
"(I'm here) until I get a call to come home," Nelson said with a laugh Thursday when asked when he might return to Oakland, Calif. "I know nothing."
As is always the case for Nelson this time of year, the league's all-time winningest coach refuses to stress -- he is three weeks into his annual Hawaiian getaway, unwinding with his family after watching over his Warriors at Las Vegas summer league in July.
Yet Nelson, who has made it clear he hopes new owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber allow him to finish his contract next season before a certain parting of the ways, mixed business with pleasure this week. He spent the day with Stephen Curry and his family, golfing during the day with the second-year Warriors guard and his father, Dell, then joining the families for dinner on the town and a visit to Nelson's waterfront home.
"It was wonderful," Nelson said. "(Stephen Curry) is a wonderful young man. His dad was with him (on the golf course), and then we came over to my house here and spent time together with the family. It was wonderful."
All except for the island weather, of course. Dell, a 16-year pro himself who is now a Charlotte Bobcats commentator, said the trade winds made matters tricky on the links.
"It was a tough day, very windy," Dell said by phone after just returning to Charlotte. "It was not a good day for us, but it was good to get out. It was the first time I'd played with Nellie. Steph (who has quite the addiction to golf) had played with him before. It was fun. We had a great time."
Bonding with the team's golden boy certainly can't hurt Nelson's chances of returning, as Curry has fast become the centerpiece of this new Warriors era. After struggling through his first summer league, preseason and the first month and a half of the regular season (in part because of Nelson's short leash), the former Davidson star, who was taken seventh overall last summer, endured his coach's early obstacles and played well enough to challenge Sacramento's Tyreke Evans in the Rookie of the Year race and finish second.
He finished the season as strong as any player in the league, averaging 24.3 points, 7.9 assists and 5.8 rebounds in his final 12 games as the Warriors went 7-5 down the stretch. His momentum has carried into the summer, as Curry, who is one of 15 players headed for New York next week for Team USA's final training session, has a realistic shot of making the team and competing in the world championships in Turkey later this summer.
Lacob made his admiration clear in a recent interview with KNBR-680 in San Francisco, when the team's future CEO shared his belief that it takes three great players to win a championship in the NBA and outlined the team's hierarchy of talent as he sees it.
"We, I think, have two really good players here to work with here as a young core, and of course I'm speaking of (David) Lee and Curry," said Lacob, a former minority owner of the Boston Celtics who is a partner at the Bay Area-based venture capitalist firm KPCB. "And I think we've got some other pretty good players, too. Monta (Ellis) is in fact a great talent, obviously, and (Andris) Biedrins is a great talent. But we've got to figure out a great core three. And I think with that, at some point the right move will happen (and) I think we can possibly build a tremendous team out of this that could last a long time."
It seems clear Nelson has helped his chances of returning by fostering a good relationship with Curry. Any substantial concerns about the chemistry between the two would have guaranteed a quick send-off, but the notion that they might be a productive pair after all -- coupled with the revived version of Nelson late last season after his seemingly-disinterested start -- gives him a shot at sticking around. Don't expect Curry to lobby for Nelson's return, though, even if his in-house profile has been raised enough for him to have a relevant voice.
"(Whether or not to bring Nelson back) is clearly up to ownership and (Curry) will play for whoever's there," Dell said. "He's going to let that play out. That's something he won't get involved in."
The timing and money factors appear to be in Nelson's favor. While it's believed the new owners were leaning strongly toward letting him go just after the purchase from former owner Chris Cohan was announced in mid-July, the more attractive option now may be to leave Nelson in place. Waiting a year to conduct a more comprehensive search would be cheaper, as they would pay one coach instead of two. What's more, Lacob and Gruber, who are hopeful the ownership change is formalized by late September, are surely hesitant to embark on a late-summer coaching search with so many quality candidates already hired by other teams.
Nelson's future isn't the only one that's unknown, of course. It's uncertain whether team president Robert Rowell and general manager Larry Riley will be back as well.
"It's just part of the business of basketball, really," Nelson said of the uncertainty. "I'm doing the same thing I've done every summer on my time off. Nothing has really changed."
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