Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Warriors made the 'Smart' move

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA - Just about everything around us has a shelf life. It seems like bananas and milk last about three days, while Twinkies are scheduled to spoil the day after Armageddon.

I'm not sure when Don Nelson's shelf life in Oakland actually expired, but the veteran coach was as stale as day-old bread.

To his credit, new Warriors owner Joseph Lacob was so intent on cleaning out his kitchen he gave Nelson the full $6 million that the 70-year-old mentor was scheduled to make this season just to walk away. Keith Smart, a veteran NBA assistant best known for sticking the jumper that gave Indiana a heart-stopping win over Syracuse in the NCAA national title game back in 1987, was officially promoted to head coach on Monday.

It may seem like a big investment to pay Nelson off but when you already have plunked down $450 million for a franchise that has tasted postseason play exactly once in the last 15 years, what's another $6 mil to change the culture?

The history books will likely be kind to Nellie. An old-school guy who learned the game under the legendary Red Auerbach, Nelson was an innovator and offensive genius, often credited with the concept of the point forward. He was once named as one of the top 10 coaches in NBA history but somewhere along the line forgot what garnered Auerbach all those NBA championships -- defense.

Nelson's last great coaching accomplishment came back in the 2006-07 season. In August of '06, the Warriors had decided to buy out Mike Montgomery's contract, and hired Nelson to take over the team for a second time. Under Nellie's tutelage Golden State won its final five regular season games and qualified for the playoffs and a date with the mighty Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs.

The Mavs had the NBA's best record that season and were the trendy pick to win an NBA crown but in one of the biggest upsets in league history, Nelson coached the eighth-seeded Warriors over the Mavericks in six games.

By '09-10, Nellie could barely be called a coach. As usual his Warriors ignored the defensive end while skilled players like Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry basically played pick-up basketball, an especially troublesome development for a rookie with a tremendous upside like Curry. Nelson often didn't even run the huddles during timeouts, allowing Smart to take the reins.

Nellie leaves the Bay Area as the NBA's all-time winningest coach after compiling over 1,300 wins in 31 seasons. But he never was able to capture the brass ring of an NBA championship and he eerily reminded many of another brilliant offensive strategist, Doug Moe, who burned out and gave up but decided to keep picking up paychecks anyway.

Smart has been considered the coach-in-waiting in Oakland for several years, and Warriors fans can only hope he lives up to his name and takes the best of Nelson's offensive prowess while wedding it to some kind of defensive concept that enables the franchise to turn the corner.

There is some talent on hand. Curry is one of the best pure shooters in basketball but is also capable of being a well-rounded player that can handle the ball and get his teammates involved. Both Andris Biedrins and David Lee are legitimate double-double threats on a nightly basis, while Ellis can fill it up like few others. Meanwhile, rookie power forward Ekpe Udoh may bring the defensive presence and toughness Nelson seemingly always ignored.

Simply put, it was time to turn the page in Oakland and the Warriors new ownership has made a very "Smart" move.

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