Trigger-Happy Team Gets Back Trigger-Happy Coach

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The New York Sun

There aren’t many NBA teams that Knicks fans can look at and immediately feel superior, but the Golden State Warriors top that very short list. The Warriors haven’t been to the playoffs since 1949, er I mean 1994. They just completed their second straight 34–48 season, and their current run of mediocrity might feel like a glory era to Warrior nation as the team put up three straight 60 loss campaigns from 2000 to 2002.

In a move that had been rumored all summer, yesterday the Warriors bought out the remaining years on coach Mike Montgomery’s contract and replaced him with Don Nelson, the coach of the last Golden State playoff team.

Talk about grasping at straws. Chris Mullin, a starting guard on that last Golden State playoff team, has been Warriors GM for two seasons now, and this move illustrates that the seat underneath him may be getting hot. If it isn’t, it should be. Mullin’s tenure has been marked by bad trades, bad signings, and one very bad coaching decision — hiring Montgomery.

Monty was a local legend for his work at Stanford, where he built the Cardinal into a perennial national power, but the track record of college coaches in the NBA is abysmal and 96 losses in two seasons only provided more evidence of that trend.

It isn’t all Monty’s fault: The team he was given to coach was lacking in several areas. The Warriors just couldn’t shoot straight. Their team field goal percentage, 43.3%, ranks 28th out of 30 teams. What dragged their shooting down most was their propensity for gunning behind the arc. At 34.1%, the

Warriors ranked 22nd in the league in three-point shooting and what’s worse, they jacked up 22.3 attempts a game, second most in the league. For comparison, the only team more trey-happy than the Warriors were the Suns (not that that’s a surprise), but Phoenix made 39.9% of their attempts from downtown and led the league.

Poor shooting isn’t all that ails the Warriors. They are mediocre defenders, 17th in the league in defensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions). They are poor rebounders, ranking 22nd in defensive rebound rate (percentage of rebounds grabbed) and 14th on the offensive glass. And as you might expect from a team that takes a lot of ill-advised jump shots, they were near the bottom of league in percentage of free throws shot per 100 field goal attempts. It was as if the Warrior mentality was why attack the rim when you can hoist a contested 22-footer?

This is just about the last sort of team you’d want to bring Don Nelson in to coach. His style will just exacerbate all of Golden State’s worst tendencies. Nelson’s coaching career spans 27 seasons and 1,190 wins accumulated with four teams, Milwaukee, Golden State, a very brief run with the Knicks, and Dallas. Nelson’s Maverick teams and his Warriors were offense-oriented and usually played poor defense. In addition, Nellie’s offensive system was usually based on outside jump shooting. In other words, the more things change on the sidelines, the more they will stay the same on the floor. Nellie’s Warriors won’t look that much different than Monty’s, and they will probably meet with the same lack of success.

Whereas Nellie was able to reshape the Milwaukee and Dallas rosters to fit his philosophy, the roster he sees in Oakland today is the pretty much the roster he will have to work with for the next few years. Mullin has been overly generous to his players, rewarding them for desultory seasons with rich long-term contracts. Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy, Adonal Foyle were all re-signed by Mullin to deals so large that they will be very hard to trade. Mullin also acquired Baron Davis, the Warriors chief bricklayer, 38.0% shooting on 15.9 attempts a game, and he’s signed for three more seasons at an average of $16 million per campaign. Teams won’t be lining up to relieve Mullin of that obligation either.

Coaching in the NBA must be addictive. Or perhaps kicking back and smelling the roses is overrated. Or maybe even, Nellie owes Mullin a big favor. Short of one of those propositions, it’s hard to fathom why a well-respected, 66-year-old coach, would want to return to the sidelines to assume the job in Oakland.

What’s particularly unfortunate about this situation is that the Warriors are renowned for having some of the most passionate fans in the NBA. I live around the corner from a sports bar, and whenever there’s a Golden State game on, you can usually find a small group of Warrior faithful clustered around a TV. It’s hard not to admire that kind of loyalty.What Knicks fans have put up with for six years (I’m dating the start of the Knicks futility as the beginning of the Scott Layden era), Golden State fans have put up with for 12. And returning hero head coach notwithstanding, that run of mediocrity is about to get longer.

The New York Sun

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