DON NELSON has earned a reputation as a mad scientist during his 30 years on the NBA sidelines. But the coach who popularized such novelties as the point forward and small ball is spending more time in the classroom these days than in the laboratory.
"I'm doing a lot more teaching," says Nelson, 68, whose roster has a handful of promising players 23 or under—and is now without All-Star point guard Baron Davis, who signed as a free agent with the Clippers in July. "I liken it to my first year [in Dallas], when I took over that team and had to rebuild it from scratch."
Nelson's biggest challenge this season—in addition to developing those youngsters—is finding a playmaker to replace Davis. After signing a six-year, $66 million contract, 23-year-old heir apparent Monta Ellis tore up his left ankle in an August moped accident, lied about it to the team and was suspended for 30 games. (He was expected to be out until mid-December anyway.)
The good news is that Nelson still has most of the core of a club that won 48 games a year ago. And free-agent swingman Corey Maggette can replace Davis's point production while allowing the team to continue Nellie's preferred pedal-to-the-metal offensive style. Still, it's not how Nelson planned to coach this last year of his contract before he most likely retires. "[Davis's departure] was a bit of a kick in the teeth," he says, "but that's the way it goes. You pick up and do the best job you can."
Nellie will no doubt find a way to adapt. It won't be enough to get the Warriors into the playoffs, but it will be fun to watch.
A rival scout on the WARRIORS: One of the candidates to start at point guard is Marcus Williams, a guy who looks for his own shot. That is a problem: All of these guys really like to shoot the ball, but they need somebody to get it to them. Having a point guard who likes to shoot may not be the easiest way to pull this team together.... I hear the same thing about Stephen Jackson that coaches and players say about Rasheed Wallace—that he's a great teammate. But while Jackson may have some leadership qualities, I don't know if he sets the kind of example you want young players to emulate. He can shoot you out of a game as easily as he shoots you into it.... I didn't understand the Corey Maggette signing. He's a guy who comes to work every day to get paid. If he gets his numbers, that's what he's looking for; whether his team wins or not is less important.... One of the best free-agent pickups in the league was Ronny Turiaf, who fits the team perfectly. He can play both big positions, he's active as a rebounder, and he can score a bit.
Defense has not been the Warriors' strong suit for a while: In '07--08 they allowed the most points in the NBA for the second straight year. The last team to do that? Golden State, from 1999--2000 through '02--03.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2007--08 statistics
KEY BENCH PLAYERS: G Marcus Williams*, G Kelenna Azubuike, F Ronny Turiaf*, G C.J. Watson, F Brandan Wright
Record: 48--34 (9th in West)
Points scored: 111.0 (1st in NBA)
Points allowed: 108.8 (30th)
Coach: Don Nelson (third season with Warriors)
SAM FORENCICH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
MISSING INGREDIENTS Maggette will replace Davis's scoring, but the Warriors still need an able floor general.
ROCKY WIDNER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH