Don Nelson is the 14th Best Coach in NBA History

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 30: Head coach Don Nelson of the Golden State Warriors yells against the Memphis Grizzlies during an NBA game on March 30, 2009 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Throughout the offseason, Pick and Popovich will rank the top 15 coaches in NBA History

Total Seasons: 30

Total Championships: 0

Regular Season Record: 1335-1063

Regular Season Winning Percentage: .557

Playoff Record: 75-91

Playoff Winning Percentage: .452

 

Why he’s great: Arguably the greatest offensive coach of all time, Nelson coached parts of 31 NBA seasons and his offense finished among the top-5 in points per possession 13 times. He did it with players in Milwaukee you’ve never heard of and he did it with superstars in Dallas and Golden State, but the one thing those teams had in common was pace.

Along with Rick Adelman, Nelson was among the first coaches to embrace pace-and-space offenses. His Warrior teams finished in the top-10 for three point attempts every season he was there and often ended up much further, and he was largely responsible for developing an offense around the greatest shooting big man of all time, Dirk Nowitzki.

Though he never won a championship as a head coach, Nelson did orchestrate one of the greatest upsets in playoff history when his 2007 Warriors beat the 67-win Mavericks in the first round. Though his offense took center stage, Nelson’s strategy to use smaller defenders on Dirk Nowitzki unnerved Dallas, proving his versatility as a coach.

Timing proved to be Nelson’s greatest enemy, as his Mavericks managed to make the Finals the year after he left but did it largely by beating an Amar’e Stoudemire-less Phoenix team in the Western Conference Finals. Had he stuck around, he may have pushed Dallas over the top against Miami. In any case, he laid the groundwork for that finals team and even the 2011 version that won the championship.

 

Why he’s not higher: Nellie’s stubbornness proved to be his undoing on multiple occasions. Had he been willing to play Chris Webber at power forward instead of center he might have been able to keep him and build the sort of contender Webber eventually found in Sacramento. It’s also fair to wonder why Steve Nash improved so significantly after leaving Nelson for Phoenix. For whatever reason, many players who seemed logical fits in his system ended up thriving without him.

His lineup choices were also often rigid and too focused on star power and offense. Veteran Antoine Walker started all 82 games of the 2003-04 season for Nelson due to his reputation as a scorer, but he posted miserable .428/.269/.554 shooting splits and was among the worst defensive players in basketball. Had he been willing to play youngsters Marquis Daniels and Josh Howard more instead, the Mavericks may have finished higher than 26th in defensive efficiency.

That was Nellie’s fatal flaw. Though he wasn’t necessarily a bad defensive coach, he was so fixated on offense that he made decisions that ultimately caused more harm than good. Had he been more willing to try to coax scoring out of defensive players, his teams might have had more playoff success and he could have a championship ring.

What if Ralph Sampson Entered the 1980 NBA Draft?

Ralph Sampson Celtics

Every Wednesday, Pick and Popovich will dive down the rabbit hole and explore a different NBA “What if.” The only rule is that the scenario must come from a place that is somewhat realistic and grounded in at least somewhat believable rumor or hearsay. Otherwise, anything goes.

Red Auerbach can do anything. He’s built champions, he’s coached champions, and this time, he convinces a college freshman to forego his final three years of college to join a future champion. After plenty of cajoling, Virginia’s Ralph Sampson finally agrees that he can’t pass up a chance to play for the best organization in basketball. So he enters the 1980 NBA Draft and gets selected by the Celtics first overall.

The move pays immediate dividends. Boston wins the 1981 championship behind Larry Bird and Cedric Maxwell and Sampson helps them do it again by 1983. They take the title in 1985 as well while losing the Finals in 1984 and 1986 to the Lakers. Each team enters the 1987 season with three titles among their core group and an assumption that they’d meet in the Finals to see who’d get ring number four. But Sampson never plays another full season.

His injuries begin in 1987 and simply pile on from there, but Auerbach can’t bring himself to trade such a Celtics legends. So he holds him for too long and Larry Bird wastes the end of his prime playing with subpar talent. He retires out of frustration in 1990.

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Things don’t work out quite as quickly for the Golden State Warriors, but behind their front court pairing of Kevin McHale (the No. 3 overall pick in that same 1980 draft) and Robert Parish they turn themselves into a real contender.

Their major mistake was trading perimeter scorer Bernard King for Micheal Ray Richardson, thinking that a star guard would help lift their front court into the Finals. He didn’t, but the principal wasn’t wrong on its face. They steal Terry Porter at the end of the first round in 1985 and have the core of a championship team.

All they need is the opportunity. The Warriors spend most of the 80’s stuck behind the Lakers, but finally got their chance in 1990 when the Lakers are unexpectedly knocked out by the Suns in the second round. Golden State breezes past the Suns into the Finals. They lose the series to Detroit, but just making it that far puts something of a cap on the careers of McHale and Parish. For a brief moment, they had a chance to win basketball’s ultimate prize. Those Golden State teams are remember fondly in the Bay Area, championship or not.

Fake NBA Trade of the Day 7/5/16: Vucevic to Golden State

Vucevic Warriors

*Trade was written before Kevin Durant chose Golden State, pretend that he didn’t for this to work. 

Every day, Pick and Popovich will post one fake trade and explain why it makes sense for every team involved to make it. There are no parameters beyond fitting within the salary cap. Sometimes the trades will involve stars, others role players. They are not grounded in actual rumors, they just make sense on paper. 

 

Warriors Logo

Golden State Warriors Receive: 

Nikola Vucevic

 

 

 

Bucks Logo

Milwaukee Bucks Receive:

Andrew Bogut

 

 

 

Magic Logo

Orlando Magic Receive:

Milwaukee’s 2018 1st Round Pick (Top-10 Protected)

 

 

Why Orlando would make this trade: Because picks are valuable. You can never have enough and Vucevic needs to be moved anyway.

Why Golden State would make this trade: Because Bogut is aging, and if they want to retain Festus Ezeli it makes sense to pair him with a center that has a different skill set in the name of diversity. They’ve never really had an offensive-center, and they really could’ve used one against Cleveland.

Why Milwaukee would make this trade: It’s time for Andrew Bogut to come home! They could use another rim-protector and if the price is a first-round pick when they should be peaking as a team, that seems reasonable.

What if Minnesota Drafted Stephen Curry?

Stephen Curry Wolves

Every Wednesday, Pick and Popovich will dive down the rabbit hole and explore a different NBA “What if.” The only rule is that the scenario must come from a place that is somewhat realistic and grounded in at least somewhat believable rumor or hearsay. Otherwise, anything goes. 

Minnesota general manager David Kahn likes to think outside of the box. Why is it, he wonders, that most NBA teams use only one point guard? Surely you could benefit from having two floor generals on the court together? So he enacts his master plan on draft night, take Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio with the No. 5 pick, and then pair him with another point guard at No. 6. Initially, he plans on Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn, but when he tells Rubio’s agent at the last minute he is informed that Rubio will stay in Spain if Minnesota takes Flynn. The pair settle on a compromise: Kahn will take Davidson’s Stephen Curry and turn him into an off-ball shooting guard.

The plan pays immediate dividends. Curry and Rubio pair together brilliantly, as Rubio’s passing and defense allow Curry to focus on his shooting. The point guard duo along with Kevin Love makes Minnesota the envy of coaching staffs around the league. They pass so willingly, work so well as teammates, that it’s surprising when they don’t create a good shot.

Golden State, meanwhile, settles for Flynn and regrets the pick almost immediately. The Syracuse point guard is a disaster from the get-go, and the Warriors finish with one of the worst records in the league. The one benefit is that it puts them in position to draft promising young center DeMarcus Cousins in 2010. Of course, without a point guard to get him the ball, his rookie season is nothing to write home about.

They decide to cut bait with Flynn only two years after drafting him and go into the 2011 draft eager to replace him. They end up with UConn hero Kemba Walker. This devastates the Charlotte Bobcats, who wanted Walker badly. They settle on San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard. The surprise of the night, though, is when San Antonio trades up to No. 15 to snag Washington State’s Klay Thompson. Rival executives groan. Of course the Spurs grabbed the one player who fell without a good reason. What else is new?

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Those two drafts prove equally fruitful for Minnesota. In 2010 their pass-happy offense adds yet another selfless stud in Butler’s Gordon Hayward, and a year later they snag Kansas’ Marcus Morris at the bottom of the lottery.

Their defense is laughable, but by the 2012-13 season Minnesota sports the NBA’s best offense. Teams simply can’t stop that combination of shooting, ball movement and Kevin Love’s low-post dominance. Rick Adelman wins NBA Coach of the Year, and Minnesota loses a tough series to San Antonio in the second round en route to their best season since the Kevin Garnett era.

Adelman doesn’t take Minnesota any further. He retires after a first round loss in 2014. Luckily for them, Golden State fires head coach Mark Jackson after his failure to connect with Cousins for two years. Kahn signs him in the hopes that his defense-first attitude will rub off on the team. The Warriors miss out on first choice Steve Kerr, who goes to the Knicks, and are forced to settle for retread George Karl. Sooner or later, they have to find someone who can coach DeMarcus Cousins.

The Jackson hire carries Minnesota over the top. Kahn urges him not to mess with their league-best offense, so he leaves it in the hands of Rubio and Curry so that he can focus solely on defense. Nobody confuses them for stoppers, but they’ll gladly settle for average with the offense they boast. They avoid the Spurs thanks to a Round 1 upset at the hands of the Clippers, and LeBron James’ aging Heat are just too slow to keep up with Minnesota in the Finals.

When Curry stands on the podium to accept his Finals MVP award, coaches from the lowest youth leagues on up smile. Minnesota plays basketball the right way. They can help children do the same. The Timberwolves make passing cool again, and that is their greatest contribution to the game of basketball.

Alright, It’s Finally Time to Have the Stephen Curry to Charlotte Conversation

Stephen Curry Hornets

I don’t think Stephen Curry is going to sign with the Hornets next summer. Stars just don’t leave champions without extenuating circumstances. But the Warriors just lost one of the most gut-wrenching playoff series of all time. The chemistry of the team is in serious jeopardy as emotion leader Draymond Green may well have cost them a championship and the greatest team of all time title because he couldn’t stop himself from kicking someone in the nuts. And the Golden State roster is very much in flux.

The Warriors are going to be aggressive this summer. Kevin Durant is in play and so is Dirk Nowitzki, but neither seems likely to come. Al Horford probably would if they asked, but their interest in him is unknown. Nic Batum will get a look on the high end of the potential Harrison Barnes replacements; Marvin Williams, Luol Deng, Evan Turner and Solomon Hill make up the rest of the spectrum. Barnes and Festus Ezeli could both be gone and in order for the Dubs to create max cap space, both will have to be along with some combination of Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.

Next year’s Golden State roster is going to look different, and for the first time in the Steve Kerr era, the front office is going to be in attack mode. This is the first time it really feels like the Warriors need something, that they can’t just waltz into the season with the same group and expect to win a championship. And that raises all sorts of questions about both their past and future.

Now that LeBron has topped the 73-win Warriors, do we have to consider some sort of asterisk for the 2015 championship version? Did the Cavs provide some sort of blueprint for the rest of the league to beat this Golden State team? Has it now been definitively proven that you can’t win a championship without paying at least some lip service to two-pointers? Did Cleveland just win the championship because the road through the Eastern Conference was so much easier?

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 26: The Cleveland Cavaliers celebrate after defeating the Atlanta Hawks during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 26, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

We’ll again throw out the disclaimer that if the Warriors win the championship next season none of this matters. But if they don’t, everything in the above paragraph comes into play.

Would Curry wonder if his Golden State squad was even capable of winning a championship without help from the injury gods? Is there something they can realistically do to counter defenses that switch as relentlessly as they do knowing that nobody on their roster can take advantage of it close to the basket? Would Curry be better off on a team with a more diverse skill set? Would Curry have ever gotten hurt if he played in the East?

Tomes could be filled with answers to even one of those questions. But for the first time since the Warriors became the Warriors, they don’t feel like… well… the Warriors. They feel like just another team.

To Curry, the Hornets probably don’t feel like just another team. He was on the court when LeBron won a championship for his hometown. He has to know how special that would feel, and as he already has a ring, he wouldn’t exactly be risking his legacy to join a weaker team in making the jump.

How many players get the chance to wear their dad’s jersey? Same number, same city, same team? How many players get the chance to have their dad announce their games? How many players get a chance to do that while playing with their brother (and make no mistake, the Hornets will aggressively try to add Seth at some point before July of 2017 to try to entice Steph further)?

Golden State doesn’t have the same sentimental attachment, and as Ethan Sherwood Strauss noted on his appearance on The Lowe Post, Curry’s relationship with Joe Lacob is far from infallible. When the owner on the other line is Michael Jordan, well, that presents quite a problem. If Lacob no longer has sentiment and his team’s basketball prospects are in doubt, well, what is there to sell Curry on committing to the Warriors for the rest of his career?

This is an ongoing conversation we’ll spend the next year having. There are too many variables for any answer to present itself yet. But after what just happened in the NBA Finals coupled with his team’s uncertain future this is finally in play. Stephen Curry might actually decide to leave the Warriors for the Hornets.

The Mavericks Should Let Dirk Nowitzki Sign With the Warriors

Dirk Warriors

Bay Area maven Tim Kawakami says that the Warriors plan on pursuing Dirk Nowitzki this summer, and holy crap, would that move be great for everyone.

The fit is obvious for Golden State. Dirk would be an excellent short-term sixth man they could sign without sacrificing any flexibility in reconfiguring their roster long-term. If paired in lineups with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green he’d create likely the greatest offensive in NBA history even if the fifth player was Marcia Brady.

There’s quite a precedent for older Hall of Fame big men spending their twilights collecting a final ring or two on a newer contender. Bill Walton had easily his third best season as a Celtic in 1986, and Bob McAdoo spent his final years during that same era as a Laker. Hell, Shaq spent his last few years as a hired gun. There’s major precedent for this.

Dirk has to be sick of playing with different players every season, but nobody wants to commit to Dallas. Mark Cuban is going to keep trying and failing to sign a superstar, and while Rick Carlisle could drag the muppets into the playoffs, getting knocked out in Round 1 can’t be how Nowitzki imagined spending his golden years. The Warriors offer him a chance to finish his career with some dignity. Nobody would blame him for not spending his entire career with one team. We’d all understand. He’d still be a Maverick forever.

And Dallas needs to goddamn tank. Mark Cuban has openly discussed how horrible it is to be stuck in the middle, but as long as Dirk is around that’s where they’ll be. They have too much respect for him as a player not to put veterans around him, but he’s too old for those veterans to be good enough to take them very far. They can’t tank with him but they can’t build a true contender either.

If the Mavericks are ever going to rebuild, now’s the time to do it. The 2017 NBA Draft is loaded and there are very few teams actively trying to tank. If that’s the approach Dallas decides to take, it would be enormously easy for them to wind up in the top-three next year simply due to the lack of competition. And hey, here’s the bonus: starting next season, the Mavericks are pick neutral for the first time in over a decade. They finally have all of their first round picks at their disposal. They could tank like a normal team, no harm, no foul.

The only thing holding any of this back would be loyalty. Dirk has insisted that he wants to finish his career in Dallas and Mark Cuban has been happy to let him do so. But for the first time there’s a better alternative for all sides involved. So please Mark Cuban, tell Dirk to go win another ring. Tell him that it would best for himself and for the Mavericks to just cut the cord and move on. He could still come back and retire as a Maverick afterwards, but heading to the Warriors next season makes too much sense to pass up.

Here’s the Story We Would Have Posted if Golden State Had Won

Warriors Champs

Because I’m dumb, I had a Golden State championship story prepared to post after both Games 5 and 6. Obviously, Golden State did not win. However, I don’t want to waste the content, so here’s what I would’ve had to say had the Warriors won Game 7 and the NBA Finals. One last note: the original Cavs post-mortem was titled: LeBron isn’t Special Anymore. Shows how much I know. 

Here’s how special the Golden State Warriors are: before them, the last team to win a championship with three leading scorers aged 27 or younger was Michael Jordan’s 1990-91 Chicago Bulls. Only four other teams have ever done that in league history: the 1950 Minneapolis Lakers, the 1956 Syracuse Nationals, the 1977 Portland Trailblazers and the 1979 Seattle Supersonics. To be good enough to win a championship and young enough to win several more is extremely rare. Not only have the Warriors done it, they’ve done it twice.

Yes, they are the only team that has ever done so. They’re the only team to do quite a few things. They’re the only team ever to win 73 games, or make 13 three-pointers per game (or 12, for that matter). They just won the championship with the league’s highest offensive rating a year after doing so with the league’s highest defensive rating. No one else has done that either. This one isn’t official but we can safely assume they hold the record for making the most opponents look like a hungover frat playing ultimate frisbee as well.

This is all to say that the Warriors are very, very good and that this whole thing is going to continue for quite some time. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out how long.

Barring something unforeseen like LeBron actively engaging in free agency, the Warriors are going to enter next season as the title favorites. Their six highest paid players are all under contract, and Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli can be retained through match rights on any restricted free agent offer sheet they sign.

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In all likelihood, that means those eight will be back. Mo Speights should be gone, but that’s a manageable loss. If they want to play with cap space this summer, that would mean dumping three out of the Barnes/Iguodala/Bogut/Ezeli/Livingston group which they probably won’t do unless Kevin Durant says he’s coming. The most plausible scenario is that they don’t make any long-term moves this summer.

The one thing to watch out for is if they decide to don’t want to pay Barnes and/or Ezeli. They have assets like Kevin Looney, their 2016 first rounder and their 2019 pick to dangle for one-year replacements. Think players like P.J. Tucker on the wing or Tiago Splitter up front. This is a far more realistic eventuality than anyone’s giving it credit for. Barnes is going to get overpaid, and aside from having to actually pay him that money, the Warriors probably don’t want to invite the chemistry problems that would arise from him making more than Curry, Green or Thompson. There’s a real chance that he’s gone. Even if he is though, we can assume that next year’s roster is very similar and that barring injuries, this same Warriors group is competing for their third straight championship.

The first true inflection point comes in 2017. That’s when Iguodala, Bogut, Livingston and yes, even Stephen Curry, all expire. If the Warriors plan to remake their team as the mid-90’s Bulls did after Jordan’s retirement, that’s when it’s coming, and doing so would actually be relatively easy. Thanks to his well-below market value contract, Curry’s cap hold will be only around $20 million next summer. The only two other players guaranteed for the 2017-18 season are Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, and together the three would cost around $55 million.

That’s only half of the projected $108 million cap. All the Warriors have to do to get there is let Barnes and Ezeli walk this summer, or trade them next summer. Even if they kept both at $20 million per season, which is absolutely overkill, they’d have eight figures to throw around. In the likelier scenario that one is gone either this summer or next, they’d have the space to add a max free agent.

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Could you imagine Blake Griffin running the fast break with Curry and Thompson? That’s in play. So is Serge Ibaka as the long-term center, giving them an unheard of combination of shooting and defense. If Durant’s back on the market they’ll have a chance. They could go the safer route and add several younger players around their big three, or they could use their space to absorb contracts from other teams. They could probably give Stan Musial’s ghost the max and still field a contender. In any case, next summer is when the Warriors remake their roster for the next few years of their run.

The one risk here is Curry’s own free agency. Sure, stars rarely leave three-time defending champions, but the Charlotte whispers won’t go away and it’s entirely possible that he could get bored enough with being on such a great team that he wants a new challenge.

I wouldn’t bet on it, so as long as the Warriors can keep Curry, they’d be a three-time defending champion with one All Star at 28-years-old and two more at 26. They’d have the resources to put whatever players they want around them. They’re ahead of Jordan’s Bulls in both regards. They wouldn’t have to worry about retaining one of their own again until 2019, when Thompson’s contract expires. Draymond follows in 2020, and though it’s way too far out to predict, there doesn’t seem to be a pressing reason for either to leave.

There are going to be other contenders. Oklahoma City and Cleveland aren’t going away. The Spurs will always loom. Minnesota is going to grow up sooner or later and so are the Sixers.

But the Warriors just won a championship with their best player injured for most of the playoffs. They came back from a 3-1 deficit against a team with two All-NBA players. They’ve beaten LeBron James in the Finals twice and he’s only getting older, not to mention it’s highly unlikely Draymond gets suspended for another Finals game. If there were ever a year for this Warriors group not to win the championship, this was it. But they did it. So until a compelling reason is offered otherwise, I see no reason why they’d lose next year, and assuming they take advantage of their 2017 free agency, they’ll have a chance to lock up even more championships after that.

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There’s really no end in sight here. Would it be the eventual free agencies of Green or Thompson, hoping to get out of Steph’s shadow? Or could Steve Kerr’s back injuries force him into an early retirement?

Those are all stretches. Realistically, this team is going to contend in perpetuity. Hell, shooters age so well that Curry and Thompson could be All Stars for another decade. Draymond has played fewer NBA minutes in his entire career than LeBron has in the past three seasons alone so it’s not as if he has a ton of mileage on him either.

Way too much can happen to make long-term predictions with any sort of conviction, but on paper the Warriors are positioned better than any team in NBA history to win a whole lot of championships. They’re younger than the Bulls were at this stage. They have more roster flexibility too, and to be blunt they’re probably just better. Six championships isn’t a pipe dream. It’s an expectation. Seven is just as reasonable.

So yea, Stephen Curry might get hurt. Steve Kerr might retire. Draymond might wind up in some Siberian gulag for offending the Czar. But for the first time since their reign ended, the Bulls have real reason to worry that their status as the best post-merger team in NBA history is in jeopardy. If things stay as they are, the Warriors are going to snatch that title for themselves.