At first it was one of those situations where you worried and just hoped everything was OK -- Warriors coach Don Nelson mysteriously didn't appear on the sideline with the team in Warriors games this Friday and then Sunday, with no advance notice or explanation provided. Assistant coach Keith Smart coached both games in his place, and you wondered if Nelson was having a recurrence of helth issues. Heart problems caused Nelson to miss several months back in the 2004-05 season when he was coaching the Mavericks.
In the days since, it has come to light that there were no health issues -- Nelson simply decided to take the games off. It may have been for some vague "team development" rationale, or it may be that he preferred his duties with a fine bottle of imported scotch over his duties coaching the Golden State Warriors.
Is Nellie applying another of his unpredictable, button-pushing mad genius techniques? Or is he simply checking out, taking games off while collecting full pay? Some of us have always given the cantankerous, unconventional Nelson the benefit of the doubt -- that his oddball moves may be intended to head-fake players into taking greater leadership roles. Or maybe he's laying the foundation for the Warriors to be a better team when his tenure ends, perhaps through developing Keith Smart's head coaching skills. Or just blowing games to improve the Warriors' draft lottery position.
But some very perceptive individuals in the media smell a rat. Tim Kawakami lets Nelson have it in today's San Jose Mercury News, drawing parallels between this situation and the deterioration of Nelson's regime in Dallas. "Nelson wanted to act like he was retired but get paid like he was fired," Kawakami writes. The occasional games off Nelson takes now don't seem to indicate that level of acrimony, but this is how those situations start. Kawakami rightly observes that no other self-respecting, potential Hall of Fame coach would simply take a personal day in the crunchest of regular season crunch time, and this seems an abdication of Nelson's duties.
Meanwhile, Scott Ostler is piling on the San Francisco Chronicle, mocking this whole notion of well-paid professionals "taking games off" as perhaps a front to cover up team dysfunction. Warrior players are being assigned nights off when perfectly healthy, and Jamal Crawford's reasons are getting fishier and fishier. Lately, Crawford has been skipping games because he's rusty from skipping so may games. That strongly resembles a vicious circle, no?
We cut Nelson slack, because he's the first coach to get this team to the playoffs in twelve years. But there's more and more to these spontaneous absences that doesn't add up. When Nelson scotches himself from the line-up for a night, one starts to wonder if he hasn't just decided to enjoy a little scotch that evening.
Joe Kukura is a freelance writer who also prefers those duties involving a nice imported bottle of scotch.