Column by Monte Poole
PAT RILEY has not said whether he will coach next season and neither has Don Nelson. But it's OK for one and all to breathe, for Riley's decision is irrelevant and there is every indication Nelson already knows his plan.
He'll be back, according to decisions made by the Warriors last week.
The selection of Marco Belinelli, a 6-foot-5 guard, another small player who fires up 3s and runs the court well, has Nellie's fingerprints all over it — no matter how sincere vice president Chris Mullin is when he insists he has watched the slender Italian in recent years.
While Nelson inherited and accepted Jason Richardson, the coach never really warmed to him. That's why he is in Charlotte. Though some folks, like me, thought J-Rich should go to the rack more often, others, like Nelson, were busy wincing at his hazardous ballhandling and defensive lapses.
The hands behind the trade of Richardson belong to none other than Nelson, even though Mullin did a fine job of explaining the logic behind it. It got them Brandan Wright, 6-foot-9 and destined to be a legitimate inside force.
But not until Nelson is retired.
"We need someone to rebound the ball and defend the basket," Mullin conceded the other night, ostensibly referring to Wright but undoubtedly fantasizing about Minnesota's Kevin Garnett.
In as much as the Warriors need that rebounder/defender immediately, Mullin and Nelson have to figure out a way to acquire Garnett, AKA The Solution.
It's a move the Warriors almost have to make, if they honestly consider their nucleus to be, as Mullin says, Baron Davis, Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson. All three are of prime age and certainly will have seen their best days by the time Andris Biedrins and Monta Ellis reach their potential, or Patrick O'Bryant finds his level.
Nelson will protect thenucleus while making everyone else available to the Timberwolves, including lottery pick Wright, so be it.
While Wright, Biedrins and Ellis someday could form a tremendous foundation — and it's too soon to write off O'Bryant — it's five years away ... when Nelson would turn 72, an age by which he will have taken his cranky rump to Maui as the NBA's most effective coach to own zero championships. The Warriors might not win with The Solution, but they surely won't win without him — or at least one productive interior presence.
So Nellie can't afford to wait for the likes of Biedrins and Wright. He has had an NBA head coaching gig for 28 years and 82-game seasons are becoming downright painful on the brain as well as the frame. His time is now. If Nelson doesn't win it all within the next year or two, he'll take his wife, his dog, his cigars, his scotch and his biting sarcasm to his favorite island.
Riley doesn't have that doughnut hanging over his gelled head. He has coached two different organizations, on opposite coasts, to a combined five world championships. His legacy is set.
Nelson, by contrast, has to coach. Needs to. He won't settle for making decisions behind a desk, coaching his coach. He wants to teach and direct players.
Committing to youngsters means committing to a long-term plan — and assuming those youngsters eventually will be good enough to compete for a championship. Biedrins and Ellis are talented, but that's asking too much.
Committing to the current nucleus means committing to Nelson 67, Davis 28, Harrington 27 and Jackson 29 . The Solution, by the way, turned 31 last month.
Adding KG to the nucleus would put the Warriors in the mix for a deep run in the playoffs. Deep enough for anything to happen.
It won't be easy making the numbers work, assembling a package resulting in KG coming to Oakland, but Mullin is showing an increasing capacity for creative arithmetic. If a straight-up deal can't be made, there is the possibility of involving a third or fourth team.
Urgency is the word because the Western Conference is approaching time for a dramatic change. With marquee stars like San Antonio's Tim Duncan (31) and Phoenix's Steve Nash (33) entering the autumn of their careers, the window is soon to close on the Spurs and Suns.
Portland, with Greg Oden, and Seattle, with Kevin Durant and Jeff Green, are building for tomorrow. Utah, with Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams, has a huge head-start on both.
Houston, with Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, has its nucleus for the next several years. So does Dallas, with Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard.
It would seem there is an opening for Team We Believe.
Warriors fans have to determine their preference. Wait until the kids develop, see what they can do? Sacrifice that opportunity in an attempt to build a championship contender now?
The Warriors have to ask themselves the same questions.
I think we know Nelson's preference. Given the shifting tides of the NBA, the bright futures of Portland and Seattle, I'm with the coach.
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