Where, exactly, is Nelson taking the Warriors?
(12-03) 19:21 PST OAKLAND -- The Warriors are a strange basketball team.
The last two seasons, they were strange and wonderful. This season, they're just strange.
Strange is expected when Don Nelson is your coach. It's part of his charm. If you want conventional, you don't hire this man, then boost his contract twice in two years.
But strange is often confusing, and right now there are many burning and itching questions. Where are the Warriors going? How will they get there? Once they get there, how will they get out?
We know they're not going to the playoffs. Nelson made that clear in New York over the weekend, telling the media that this is not a playoff team.
That was an odd statement, just 16 games into the season. Nobody is disputing Nelson's logic, but why go to the trouble to make that point?
Two seasons ago, he made a similar statement and, perhaps coincidentally, it was the takeoff point for a glorious run to the playoffs. Surely his recent statements weren't meant to be motivational. Not that the Warriors are inspiration-proof. A good motivational ploy by Nelson, along with bringing back Baron Davis, truly might spark another playoff run.
Surely Nelson's not bailing on his team already.
"If it was any other coach I've played for, I'd say that" he's bailing on the team, Stephen Jackson said Wednesday. "But Coach would never bail out on his players."
Not as a team, maybe. Individually, Nelson is a serial bailer-outer. He seems to want the kids to succeed, but a young player makes a few mistakes and he's back on the bench, for the rest of the night, or week, or season.
For the Warriors to achieve relevance, they need help from the likes of Brandan Wright, Anthony Randolph and Anthony Morrow. Those players will emerge only if given playing time.
I asked Nelson on Wednesday if his we're-not-a-playoff-team statement signaled more playing time for the young players.
"I would say there's already been a commitment to the young players," Nelson said. "We've got five of them on the team, I think."
But what about letting them play through slumps? There are reports that some of the young players are unhappy with the inconsistency of playing time.
"Part of that is a teaching tool," Nelson said. "I couldn't tell you I'm going to let a guy screw up too many times and not take him out of the game, but I'll put him back in, correct him. Within reason (players should be allowed to make mistakes), yeah, but also, you want to make sure that the guy is developing, and you don't hurt his chances by giving him too many gifts, he's also got to earn it. So it's kind of a delicate line. I'd say yeah, within reason, I can accept some mistakes, as long as they're not repeated too often."
Morrow started five games, played like an All-Star for the first two, then cooled off, possibly because teammates stopped passing him the ball. In two of the last four games, he hasn't been off the bench. This is a guy who, on a team that often lives or dies by the three-pointer, might be the best three-ball shooter.
There are fans and others who wonder, seriously, if Nelson is doing all this to get himself fired, so he can take a huge buyout and move on down the road, to another team or back to Maui.
That's crazy conjecture, but with Nelson, almost no scenario is unthinkable.
One would guess that Nelson's bosses, Robert Rowell and Chris Mullin, know this team isn't going to the playoffs and therefore would like to see the young players play more, to build for the future and to keep fans enthused (see: San Francisco Giants). So is Nelson defying headquarters?
Part of the Nelson package is that he always leaves plenty of room for guesswork by fans, co-workers and other interested observers.
Will Nelson coach out the remaining two-plus seasons on his contract, working into his 70s? Will he even finish this season?
Or is he game-to-game?
In the Warriors' 13-point loss to the Knicks on Saturday, Nelson walked off the court with more than 10 seconds left in the game. Remember when Randy Moss staged a similar exit? He got roasted. Charged with desertion.
Nelson, asked about the early departure, shrugged it off, said jokingly to a writer, "If it bothers you, I won't do it again."
On the same trip, the Warriors held three practices, and at two of them, Nelson either didn't attend or he dashed out before the traditional end-of-practice gab-fest with the media.
The Warriors won't be going to the playoffs, but their mystery journey to somewhere will be interesting to watch. Interesting, and strange.