Don Nelson, Papa Bear of the chaotic entity that is the Golden State Warriors, has a complex relationship with his players. So complex, in fact, that I get the distinct feeling that he enjoys throwing everything into the fire just to see if it’ll burn. He ordains Monta Ellis the point guard of the future for the Dubs, just before openly bashing Ellis’ game and drafting Steph Curry to take his job. He hands Stephen Jackson an oversized check and smiles for the photo op, and then can’t manage to appease his team’s most talented player when all goes to hell. He drafts Brandan Wright and Anthony Randolph, lauds their high ceilings and shiny chandeliers, and then digs them a hole under the bench. He’s not a simple man, that Nelson, and claiming to understand him is, in itself, an act of considerable arrogance.
So I won’t bother. I don’t know what caused Nelson to do all of those things, or what led him to believe Antoine Walker would work out as a point-center, or why he decided one morning to hand the team to Avery Johnson. But I do know that Nellie, for all of his glory as an unconventional offensive mastermind, has marred his time with the Warriors by making mistake after mistake after mistake. Any magic that the bay once had is long since gone, and the heroes of “We Believe” have been chased from the city limits by an angry Nellie and his torch. It’s not Nelson’s fault that the team’s design was flawed, or that Baron Davis or Stephen Jackson gave in to their lesser, more selfish instincts. But is is Nelson’s fault that Chris Mullin is now an outcast, and it’s on Nelson that this team disintegrated in a truly spectacular fashion. That’s item 1-A in Nellie’s playbook, and the only reason Dallas was spared was because of a strong team infrastructure, a stable talent base, and an owner with enough dislike for Nelson (by the end of his tenure, anyway) that he simply refused to let it happen.
But on occasion, even the deranged antics of a self-involved diva of a coach are at the mercy of basketball’s supernatural forces. Enough was enough, and though the people of Warrior Nation have yet to be relieved of Nelson entirely, they were granted one small token by destiny itself: Anthony Randolph.
In a way, Randolph was the ultimate tease. He redefined summer league dominance, carrying his momentum into the regular season with all the fanfare a depressed fan base could muster…and began the season with the resounding boom of just ten minutes of playing time. A team so desperate for big men that they employ Mikki Moore, and there were so few minutes to be had for perhaps the team’s brightest young star.
But over time, fate has forced Nelson’s hand. Foul trouble. Injuries. More Injuries. A few more injuries, just for kicks. And now the Warriors are essentially eight deep, and that’s if you’re willing to count the contributions of Moore and Chris Hunter. It’s the perfect opportunity for Randolph to break free of the stockades, and though his versatile game and bizarre gait don’t infuse the Warriors with a sense of order or purpose, sometimes it’s enough just to get one fan off the ledge. Nellie has tried his damnedest to keep this franchise in a box since 2007, and though Randolph is impressive enough to be notable without being earth-shattering, it’s a bit tricky to fit a 6’11” frame and that much game into such rigid confines.
It’s sad to see the once beloved Don Nelson of old become nothing more than the crabby old man next door. Especially so when you consider that Randolph, a lanky, unconventional, and talented big man, is the prime target of his tirades. How might things have turned out differently for the Mavs if Nellie took the same approach eleven years ago with a lanky, unconventional, and talented Maverick big man? Nellie was probably the best guy for the job of properly unshelling Dirk Nowitzki, and though his reputation isn’t quite what it used to be, that relationship was a bit of serendipity for the Mavs organization. Dirk simply isn’t Dirk without the opportunities and teachings that were afforded him by Nelson, and as an appreciator of fine talent and strange, versatile combo forwards, I can only hope that Randolph is given a bit of the same.