By Scott Howard-Cooper
Published: Friday, Jan. 23, 2009
OAKLAND – Willie Nelson and Woody Harrelson are coming by for late-night/early-morning visiting, and his team beat the Atlanta Hawks about 90 minutes earlier across town before another energetic crowd at Oracle Arena. So Don Nelson, either the catalyst of the Golden State Warriors' speed machine or the cause of all that has gone wrong, is in a good mood.
His wife, Joy, his cigar, his Scotch and his two dogs are nearby, thus: good mood. The coach says the interview will cease after the second glass of Scotch, because after that, he can't be sure whether it'll be him talking or the Dewar's. That's fine.
They're tall glasses.
Besides, Don Nelson seems like a man who wants to talk. He doesn't do many of these sit-downs anymore, and there are things that need to be said – basketball things, relationship things, state-of-journalism things – and he doesn't trust most of the media around him on a regular basis to accurately portray his words and actions. That's the pressing problem, Nellie has concluded: bloggers pushing rumors and writers he has little regard for, not the losses.
He has a plan. A radio talk show. A weekly segment, 30 minutes or so, where he'll take questions from callers. A direct link to the public to dispel the image of a power-hoarding bad excuse of a friend plotting an exit strategy three months after getting a two-year, $12 million contract extension. Look into the radio thing, Nelson tells Raymond Ridder, the team's executive director of public relations.
This all takes place as midnight approaches, and then passes, at Nelson's penthouse condominium about eight miles from Oracle Arena. Woody and Willie haven't arrived yet. The coach is in the Smoking Room, so named because it's where he goes to wear down a cigar or, rather, where he's allowed to go, knowing there'd be nothing left but a chalk outline if Joy ever caught him inside with a lit stogie.
Nelson is asked about his biggest disappointment in a calamitous season.
"I don't know that I've had a big disappointment," he says.
He is asked if he is surprised at the depths of 2008-09, with the Warriors 13-30 and rolling around in the mud with the Kings and Clippers at the bottom of the Pacific Division after winning 48 games last season.
"No," Nelson says. "I anticipated more difficulty than this. It's actually way better than I thought it was going to be. That may sound strange to you, but it's way better because we've got really good guys and they keep a good attitude and they know where we are and what we're about. I don't lie to them, we move on and we do the best we can, and that's the way it is this year."
The topics move around: He's enjoying the season more than most people would think; he enjoys being tested like this; he hasn't learned much about himself because he has gone through losing before.
After a few minutes: "You said, 'What's been disappointing?' " Nelson interjects.
"I tell you what's been disappointing. That I can't be myself anymore. That I have to be careful what I say because everybody reads so much into whatever it is I try to be honest about that I can't even talk about things that I used to. I used to be very free with the media. Very open, free and honest, and I'm not allowed to do that anymore. That's probably the worst thing that's happened."
In the very Bay Area market he twice has conquered, as coach from 1988 to 1995 in the days of the panting scoreboard with Run TMC and then returning in 2006 to marshal the We Believe Warriors to the stunning '07 playoff win over the Mavericks, Nelson is taking a public-relations beating. He is sure the cause is inaccurate reporting from two beat writers and the bloggers, particularly San Jose Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami. Accurate, inaccurate, somewhere in between, Nellie has been getting hit hard.
• He is pushing out Chris Mullin as executive vice president of basketball operations to claim the power of personnel boss, if not the title, as his own. That's the darkest of the story lines in circulation. It's also the most cutting because Mullin played for Nelson with great results, Mullin pushed to bring back Nelson the second time and the two have been very close.
"That really hurts him, because it's not true at all," Joy Nelson said. "It's not like if somebody has an opinion on something. There's no basis in fact there."
Mullin is in the final season of his contract, gives no indication he expects to return, and has been stripped of much of his front-office juice by president Robert Rowell, which may have happened anyway whether Nelson was the coach about to get a massive extension or headed to retirement in his permanent home in Maui. But then Rowell fired Mullin's top assistant and moved Nelson confidant Larry Riley from assistant coach into the management position, and Riley has become "the man" in basketball ops while Mullin has made himself scarce. On perception alone, it looks bad.
• Nelson is looking to get out and maybe even losing games on purpose to get fired, a move that would allow him to get the $12 million. That's another story line. He installed assistant Keith Smart as defensive coordinator Dec. 19 and told the Contra Costa Times that "I've decided to identify one of my weaknesses at this point in my life, which is I'm not tough enough anymore. I'm a little soft as I get older, and I feel like I haven't done a very good job defensively this year."
Four nights later, the Warriors trail the Heat – at the time the second-worst team in the league at the line – by six points with 30 seconds remaining, but Nelson does not send orders to foul.
On perception alone …
"There's probably been 20 of 'em this year that I've been disappointed with," Nelson said. "I've been accused of not being at practice, and that was just a total falsehood. Not caring. Trying to lose games on purpose 20 games into the season, if you can imagine. I mean, it's been just crazy. That's the only thing that bothers me.
"That bothered me, and it bothered me more what they were writing about me and Mully. That was a very negative thing: I'm trying to get his job, that we're not close anymore, you know. Whatever has been written. That bothered me a lot early, and it was all untrue. It's something you gotta deal with, but the more you defend yourself, the more you look like you're guilty. I made my speech and I don't talk about it much anymore."
So how are you and Mullin? "Well, I don't see him much anymore," Nelson said. "But he was at practice and at a shootaround the other day. I think everything's fine. I don't know. It was great to see him, but I never see him much anymore."
But you feel like things are still good with him? "I hope so. They are as far as I'm concerned. You really need to talk to Mully about how he feels."
Mullin did not respond to interview requests.
And the speculation that a 68-year-old coach delegating more to his assistants is looking for the escape hatch?
"I'm going to finish my contract," Nelson said without hesitation. "I just don't read about it. I'm venting with you here, but just let it happen. Whatever happens happens. It is what it is, and that's a Mully quote. It'll be what it'll be and don't worry about it. Let it happen. But, no, I'm going to finish my contract."
It's well past midnight when Nellie finishes answering questions/venting. He still seems upbeat, never even bothering to track the glasses of Scotch, and leaves the cubbyhole of the Smoking Room to see if his poker buddies have arrived from Willie Nelson's concert across the Bay at the Fillmore.
"Woodrow!" he bellows to Harrelson.
Woody and Willie have finally arrived. There is some small talk in the living room before the coach and his guests walk outside and back to the Smoking Room to continue the night there. Don Nelson is definitely in a good mood.
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Joined: Fri Jul 16, 2004 9:05 am
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The Broe Knows Dont Hate....
Hanging with Woody Harrelson and Willie Nelson???
In that company, you know Nelson was enjoying more than just good scotch!
You might even say our team has gone to pot....
Last edited by Money on Fri Jan 23, 2009 8:28 pm, edited 2 times in total.
I'm getting a Warren Beatty in Bullworth vision of this.. lol
Nelson showing up in a tweaked out Caddy blastin some DMX and smokin a blunt....
We "bloggers" are so mean... lol
Nelly can't hold his smoke...
10 posts • Page 1 of 1
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