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MARK HEISLER / SUNDAY REPORT

A Golden State of disarray

The Warriors are like 'Hamlet, the Reality Show,' with the stage littered with the bodies of the principal characters. Coach Don Nelson is the Prince of Denmark.

November 22, 2009|Mark Heisler
  • Warriors Coach Don Nelson instructs his team during a game against Boston. The three-time coach of the year is an entertainment spectacle all by himself.
Warriors Coach Don Nelson instructs his team during a game against Boston.… (Elise Amendola / Associated…)

And now, a new entry in reality programming, even if no TV network has inked them yet . . .

The Golden State Warriors!

If those Krazy Kardashians can get a show doing what they'd do anyway -- going out and breaking up with guys and saying OH MY GOD!" a lot -- we're talking mega-blockbuster.

The Warriors are like "Hamlet, the Reality Show," with the stage littered with the bodies of the principal characters.

Of course, Coach Don Nelson is the Prince of Denmark, and the body count is climbing.

The Warriors' version begins with Nelson's return in 2006, at the invitation of general manager Chris Mullin, who once beat alcoholism with Nellie's help, forging a bond that went beyond player-coach.

Nelson's return was a near miracle, after he prevailed in a years-long duel of titans with owner Chris Cohan, who had sued him.

If Nelson bargained as keenly as a superstar free-agent center, Cohan, a cable TV guy who knew zip about the NBA, was a walking court docket.

The San Francisco Chronicle's Mark Fainaru-Wada wrote that, among others, Cohan sued "his stockbroker, life insurance representative and main attorney -- all three longtime friends, two of whom were in his wedding."

Nevertheless, with the Warriors in ruins for the 13 years Nelson was away, bringing him back was doable, after all.

The next spring, the team that hadn't made the playoffs since Nelson left shocked the world, ousting No. 1-seeded Dallas in the first round (in a triumph over Nelson's previous boss, Mark Cuban, whom he was facing in court, etc.).

He's Don Nelson; it's what he does.

With a young, exciting team, what could go wrong?

Actually, what couldn't?

They were 48-34 the next season but missed the playoffs. Then, in an all-too-typical, damn-the-torpedoes-let's-cut-costs move, they pushed Baron Davis.

Davis, their franchise player who had carried them in the Dallas series, actually agreed with Mullin on a four-year, $52-million deal.

Team President Robert Rowell then pulled it, and Davis went to the Clippers. Whether Nelson knew Davis wouldn't be back -- or made sure he wouldn't -- they split at the end, with Nellie benching Baron for his last game as a Warrior.

The plan was to go with young Monta Ellis, who signed a $66-million deal . . . then fell off his moped, putting him out until midseason.

Somewhere in here, Mullin fell out of favor, and Nelson, who was like Mully's NBA father, ascended.

Mullin was silently -- but not subtly -- cut out of the loop. Rowell, the former comptroller who yearned to rock 'n' roll on the basketball side, tipped it off, personally negotiating Stephen Jackson's three-year, $28-million deal.

After that, the pratfalls just kept getting bigger.

After trading unhappy Al Harrington for Jamal Crawford, Nelson discovered his new guy wasn't into passing -- gee, really? -- and asked him to opt out in the summer.

Crawford, owed $19 million over two years, knew better than that, obliging them to take two journeymen making almost as much when they donated him to Atlanta.

Next up was Jackson, whose career had been salvaged by Nelson, who went on to appoint him captain and got him his extension.

Humbled but still able to tell the tide was going out, not coming in, Jackson asked to be traded, resigned his captaincy and was donated to Charlotte last week.

Now in the on-deck circle . . . Ellis?

His problems go back to last season's 30-game suspension, when management dangled the possibility of voiding his new $66-million deal.

Unhappy ever since, Ellis had a flare-up last week with Nelson, who reportedly cut him off in mid-speech, telling him to "be quiet."

Nelson said he disciplined Ellis and that was that, adding in an interview with the Warriors' broadcast crew:

"If he's [upset] at me, he can be [upset] at me. All he's got to do is play for me. He doesn't have to like me."

Their next-most talented player, Anthony Randolph, hasn't sent his agent in to complain since last season, when Nelson locked him in the doghouse and threw away the key.

Nellie, who's in charge of a rebuilding project, is death on rookies who don't play like 10-year veterans, like No. 1 pick Stephen Curry.

Of course, those come along every two or three years, so maybe they can get more!

This isn't funny -- OK, it is -- but it's not right for Nelson.

One of the game's smartest, funniest and most charming people, he's a three-time coach of the year, a master of intrigue in the mold of his mentor, Red Auerbach, an entertainment spectacle all by himself.

Nelson's denials to the contrary, this is usually where he turns practice over to his assistants, or resigns and heads home to Maui.

Avery Johnson, his assistant in Dallas, got his job that way (Nelson is also sharp about who'll make a good coach), and Keith Smart is the heir apparent now.

Cohan and Rowell are like bosses' kids promoted six times too many. For Nelson, whether this was his idea, or he got sucked in, or both, this isn't an ending by Shakespeare, but by Mel Brooks.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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