|ESPN.com: NBA||[Print without images]|
But by next February . . .
Don't be surprised if he's at midseason with his new team.
Multiple Nellie associates inform ESPN.com that the 65-year-old has dropped hints about considering other jobs after sitting out the rest of this season. It's highly unlikely that Mavericks owner Mark Cuban would let Nelson go anywhere before next season anyway, and a couple of those same Nellie associates say a return to the bench won't happen unless someone out there offers him an annual salary of at least $5 million, but you can be pretty sure someone will in the off-season. Reason being: There isn't a better coach on the planet who isn't working. He's officially a Mavericks consultant these days, but Avery Johnson's Mavs don't consult Nelson for much. This is also the final season in which Nelson is earning $5 million, after which comes a drop to a more consultant-like $1 million (and change) but also more freedom to leave for a head-coaching spot, which is why a new gig would shock no one who knows him.
Media types in the Bay Area are already tossing out Nelson's name as an ideal successor to Mike Montgomery in Golden State, given that the Warriors haven't been to the playoffs since Nelson's last full season there in 1993-94. Nelson will also be mentioned as a candidate in Seattle -- barring the re-hiring of the recently promoted Bob Hill -- because of Nelson's longstanding friendship with Sonics general manager Rick Sund.
But I'm betting on Sacramento. Nelson remains undeniably close with Warriors vice president Chris Mullin, but that alone isn't enough to legitimize the link. Team sources, for starters, insist that reports of friction between Montgomery and star guard Baron Davis are a media creation. Yet even if the Warriors continue to fade and miss the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season, Nelson can't be considered a serious contender to take over in Oaktown unless his relationship with Warriors owner Chris Cohan is mended. Don't forget that Cohan's messy 1995 parting with Nelson was not wrapped up until 1999, when an NBA arbirtator ruled that Nelson could keep $1.6 million that Cohan expected him to repay after Nelson was hired to coach the Knicks. The Sonics? My suspicion -- endorsed by everyone I've presented it to -- is that Seattle won't be looking to hire a $5 million-a-year coach if Hill is not retained.
Which brings us to Sacramento, where Rick Adelman is in the final few months of his contract. If the Adelman era ends at season's end, as widely expected after a run of eight seasons, Nelson really is a natural successor there. For a few reasons.
1) As we said about the Lakers' Phil Jackson and Denver's George Karl, Nelson is sufficiently eccentric in his own right to have a shot at clicking with new Kings cornerstone Ron Artest.
2) Kings co-owner Joe and Gavin Maloof are undoubtedly willing to pay top dollar for coach, as evidenced by their not-so-secret attempt to hire Jackson before Phil returned to L.A. 3) Nelson is already working for the Maloofs. The madcap brothers own the production company that, with George Clooney as their producer, is putting together a basketball sitcom Donnie Nelson, president of basketball operations for the Mavericks and Nellie's son, doesn't doubt that his dad's name will come up for several jobs. Noting that the starting-over Toronto Raptors just created a front-office opening, Donnie said: "Anybody looking for a coach or GM should have Nellie on their list. He's already built three franchises from the ground up." The younger Nelson is quick to add, though, that he'll be lobbying his father to turn down any offer that comes, and not simply because he'd rather see Big Nellie -- who left Monday for a vacation in New Zealand -- stay with the Mavs as a Red Auerbach-style godfather. "I would just ask him, 'How many more mountains can you climb?'" Donnie said. "He's the second-winningest coach of all-time. He's achieved pretty much everything there is to achieve as a player, coach and executive. If he asks me, for health reasons and everything else, I'd tell him, 'You don't need it.'" If that speech doesn't work . . . Donnie can always throw out the ESPN.com NBA Coach Approval Ratings as another deterrent.
• Talk back to ... Marc Stein | The Daily Dime gang
• Dimes Past: January 26 | 27 | 28-29 | 30 | 31 | Feb. 1
Highest Rise: No. 7 Los Angeles Clippers
We actually saw three teams make a six-spot jump in the latest batch of rankings, but the Clippers claim this honor (over Chicago and Boston) because their rise resulted in a return to the top 10. Kobe Bryant's jaw-dropping January (43.4 ppg) pretty much guaranteed that the Lakers' co-tenants at Staples Center would get zero spotlight, but an 8-2 run before Monday's narrow loss at Miami enabled the Clips to take their hold on city bragging rights into the second half of the season.
Cleveland F LeBron James: You might not be pleased with his dunk-contest decision, but it's hard to quibble with LeBron's triple-double (26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists) against a Nets team that had just beaten Detroit.
Indiana's luck: What could spoil 26 points and 13 boards in Peja Stojakovic's home debut? The sight of yet another Pacer, this time Stephen Jackson, hitting the floor and hobbling off with hip and elbow injuries.
Quote of the Day
"It's like inviting an assassin to a gathering of living presidents."
So LBJ is fifth on my ballot at the season's midpoint behind Kobe at No. 4. Nash is No. 1 because he has the Suns on a better-than-50-win pace without Amare and has helped SIX teammates score at a career-best rate. No. 2 Nowitzki is the only every-night lock on a team that might tip San Antonio for the top seed in the West. No. 3 Billups is the spark and conscious for a team that will probably post one of the best records of all-time.
Kobe moves up IF the Lakers get close to 50 wins because the rest of his team is so weak. For LeBron to go higher than No. 5, Cavs probably have to win 55-ish games. That's the way it is on this ballot.
Readers respond to the latest edition of the ESPN.com NBA Power Rankings:
Brennan (San Diego): The Lakers might be ranked too high, but it seems that the mediocrity in East (aside from Detroit) is allowing the West's dominance to continue. If the Lakers end up a sixth seed or higher, and in your final top seven of the rankings, how is Kobe not the MVP? If a team of second-rate players ends up with a fifth or sixth seed, the man has to be given the trophy.Mike (Houston): Now that the Rockets have spent so much time near the bottom of the Power Rankings, could you please kindly start an Injury Power Rankings? We would have a decent chance to win those. Devin (Toledo, Ohio): Since Detroit ain't giving up the top slot for the rest of the season, maybe you could implement a system that goes 1, 1a, 1b to make the Dallas or San Antonio fans feel better. Ray (Memphis): You and ESPN.com mention the Grizzlies so infrequently that the only place I can find them on this site is in the standings. Why is that? Todd (Detroit): Why do you rank Miami so high? You said it yourself: They're sub-.500 against teams with winning records. That doesn't qualify them as a top-five team. (Ed's note: Miami is there somewhat by default, because none of the teams in the vicinity can make a stronger claim to No. 5. But it's also true that the Heat, with Shaq slowly finding some form, had the fourth-best record in the league in January at 10-5. Let's face it: As I've lamented all season, we simply don't have a deep elite class at the minute. Injuries have undeniably been a factor, but the Suns, Heat and Pacers -- all expected to be elitists -- just aren't there yet . . . and the Pacers obviously can't get there now after losing Jermaine O'Neal.)