NEW YORK -- The fact that Don Nelson bears a striking resemblance to Boris Yeltsin is good for a few laughs, and humor is one way to cut through the bickering, hurt feelings, and distrust that have engulfed the once lovable Warriors. But when I strolled through the Internet on Friday night to confirm my look-alike suspicions, I stumbled across the following passage on Wikipedia that would've been funny if it weren't so apropos to what's happening with the Bay Area Republic of Dysfunction:
|Stephen Jackson and Don Nelson haven't seen eye to eye lately. (Getty Images)|
A coach like that would be welcomed as a conquering hero in the Warriors' locker room. And as it turns out, a coach with a much higher approval rating could be on his way to the top seat on the Warriors' bench.
After beating the Knicks 121-107 on Friday night, Nelson stands only 21 wins shy of becoming the NBA's all-time winningest coach. But his insistence on alienating and humiliating his best players -- which continued at Madison Square Garden even in victory -- could soon lead to a coaching change, a high-level coaching source told CBSSports.com.
With no realistic trade scenarios emerging for Stephen Jackson -- and with the team's other miserable star, Monta Ellis, wanting out, too -- Nelson's last option to keep the team from blowing up already is under consideration. Nelson, 69, would assume a consultant role, with top assistant Keith Smart taking over as head coach.
"It could happen by next week," the source said.
Nothing is ever 100 percent with the Warriors; not even the players know who's making the decisions or whom they can trust in the organization, a second person familiar with the team's problems said. A third source said the timing of Smart's ascension to head coach is difficult to predict simply because of the person who'd be making that decision.
"Nellie would," the person said.
When confronted about the possibility of stepping aside only eight games into a two-year, $12 million extension, Nelson crafted a bullet-proof answer. He insisted he has no intentions of going anywhere other than the Bradley Center, where the Warriors play the second half of a back-to-back Saturday night. Thanks to Nellie, they'll do so with their two stars, Jackson and Ellis, coming off inexplicable 47- and 45-minute performances, respectively, against the Knicks. "Oh, I have the patience, yes," Nelson said when I asked if he had the staying power to continue coaching/imploding this team. "The team wanted me to come back for two more years. I signed that contract and I will abide by that."
But nowhere does it say that Nelson has to fill out lineup cards or draw up plays to fulfill that contract. It was sad, pathetic really, that this brilliant basketball man's idea of coaching Friday night was leaving the disgruntled Jackson on the floor for all but 35 seconds of a blowout. For good measure, he also embarrassed No. 7 overall pick Curry in the very building where he'd hoped to spend his NBA career. If Curry thought he might face some dysfunction if the Knicks had picked him at No. 8, these few months with Nelson have been quite the education.
"I've just got to be ready when my time comes," Curry said.
Nelson had made a point of praising Curry during our conversation at the Warriors' morning shootaround. But even when he praises someone, he manages to insult someone else.
"He's going to be our future point guard for many, many years," Nelson said. "And I feel we'll build the team around him."
Funny, that's what the organization told Ellis, too. Oh, never mind. The Warriors' revised plan -- Curry's 2:35 run Friday night, notwithstanding -- explains why one source familiar with the situation said Nelson has been actively looking to trade Ellis, too.
"He wants Monta out," the source said.
After the game, all Nelson could come up with to explain Curry's cameo was a lame joke about how Curry doesn't have any tattoos. This is what it's come to in Golden State: lame lines about body art. Too bad Nelson wasn't aware that Curry does have a tattoo on his left wrist. It displays his No. 30 and the letters "TCC."
"Trust, commitment, character," Curry explained.
Three things that are long gone from this wayward franchise.
As for burning out his two stars on the front end of a back-to-back, Nelson said, "I'm a little reluctant, at least early in the season, to make substitutions. I don't think there's any fatigue factor. Everybody's still fresh enough, and they haven't been playing in the 40s anyway."
When I asked if fatigue might be an issue Saturday night in Milwaukee, Nelson said, with a straight face, "That could very well be. We'll probably need our bench a little bit more tomorrow."
If I can see through Nelson's childish games, just imagine what the players think. Jackson and Ellis, according to sources, aren't the only players already mentally exhausted by Nelson's act. What's worse, one of the people said, is that the players have to endure laughable team president Robert Rowell trying to be their pal -- the way he did when he usurped then-GM Chris Mullin's authority and signed Jackson to a three-year, $28 million extension last November. Yes, the very same extension that is preventing Golden State from being able to trade him.
"Rowell tries to be their friend, and they laugh at him," one of the sources said. "They don't respect that. ... All these problems and fights in the locker room come from the fact that there is no one the players feel they can communicate with. Nobody."
Appointing Smart to replace Nelson would be a good place to start. For one thing, it would spare the Warriors the embarrassment of continuing this charade with Jackson, whose only hope of getting traded appears to be a pennies-on-the-dollar deal with Cleveland. NBA front office sources say Golden State continues to field no worthwhile offers for Jackson, whose bad contract is exceeded only by his baggage.
"That's a lot of money, and a lot of years," an Eastern Conference GM said. "And if he's angry there after they just gave him a big contract, he's going to be angry someplace else."
Jackson said Friday he's not angry with Nelson, but rather with the fact that he was given the impression the Warriors would be "more of a veteran team" this season. Though Jackson didn't elaborate, a person familiar with the situation said his anger -- and Ellis' -- stems from a dinner meeting with Rowell at the end of last season in which the Warriors' president vowed to surround them with a playoff-caliber supporting cast. According to the source, Rowell told the players he was going to build around them and trade the No. 7 pick, because adding a rookie "isn't going to help us."
The supporting cast that Jackson and Ellis were promised could have included Amar'e Stoudemire. But a trade with Phoenix fell apart on draft night, when Nelson refused to part with the pick and instead selected Curry, who is the same player as Ellis, only younger. Ellis couldn't believe it. Jackson was furious. And here we are today.
Nelson's head-butting with Jackson has been going on since preseason, when the two had an ugly, profane shouting match during a game against the Lakers. Jackson was suspended two games without pay. But the equally damaged relationship between Nelson and Ellis finally boiled over publicly on this road trip to New York. On Friday, a day after he and Ellis had a verbal confrontation after practice, Nelson said, "I disciplined a player in practice. That's part of my job description. I've done it before and I'll do it again. That's all I've got to say about it."
Ellis tried to brush off the incident Friday night, saying, "It's nothing. We left that where it was."
Until the next blowup.
Here's an idea for the Warriors: Leave your coach in the Bay Area the next time you leave on a road trip. The approval rating for that decision would be off the charts.