Thursday, September 23, 2010
Updated: September 24, 11:22 AM ET
Sources: Keith Smart to coach Warriors
By Marc Stein
The Golden State Warriors, with just a few days to go before the start of training camp, are on the verge of making a coaching change.
Sources with knowledge of the Warriors' thinking told ESPN.com that the club's new owners, Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, have decided to part company with Don Nelson -- who late last season became the winningest coach in league history -- and replace him with assistant Keith Smart.
The move is scheduled to be finalized by the end of the week, sources said, with Smart taking charge of the team in time for media day Monday and the team's first practice of the season Tuesday.
CSNBayArea.com and the Contra Costa Times newspaper reported that Nelson will technically resign, but sources close to the situation said Nelson was hoping to be enthusiastically received this week after returning to Oakland from his offseason home in Maui.
Nelson, though, has always been a big Smart supporter and urged Lacob, according to sources, to give the job to Smart once it became apparent that there was sentiment within the organization for making a change.
Earlier Tuesday, when asked about Nelson's status by Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, Lacob said: "There'll be clarity on Monday. That's all I can say right now. ... Understand, I'm working on it. We know what we're doing."
The final season remaining on Nelson's contract is valued at $6 million. Sources said Nelson, as per the terms of his contract, will receive his full salary.
Although the sale of the Warriors from the much-maligned Chris Cohan to Lacob and Guber has not been formally ratified by the league, sources said that Cohan's successors have had their say on the bulk of the team's moves for much of the summer.
Sources said it was the new owners' preference to make the change before camp started and replace Nelson with Smart, who has previously served as a head coach in Cleveland before joining the Warriors as an assistant in 2003.
Lacob told the San Jose Mercury News that Smart will receive a multiyear contract.
The Warriors and Nelson did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Nelson has said for months that he intended this season to be his last in coaching if the Warriors' new regime did want him back. One source close to the situation told ESPN.com on Thursday that Nelson, after celebrating his 70th birthday in May, is unlikely to coach again now that the Warriors have informed him that they want Smart to take over in conjunction with the ownership change, which could be made official through league ratification as soon as next month.
"I respect Don a lot," Lacob told the Mercury News. "We just need to go in a different direction at this time."
In July, Nelson told ESPN.com that he hoped to coach newcomer David Lee alongside Stephen Curry and serve out the final season remaining on his contract, despite persistent speculation about his new bosses winning immediate favor with disgruntled Warriors fans by making a change.
But Nelson also said at the time that he would "understand" if Lacob and Guber decided to start over by hiring their own coach.
"I'd love to coach another year, but I understand that it's a possibility [I won't be retained]," Nelson said in the interview. "I want to do what's best for the organization. If I have to be a part of the change, I will understand."
After a messy end to his first stint as Warriors coach -- he landed in court with Cohan in a dispute over money -- Nelson was stunningly brought back to Golden State by Cohan and then-GM Chris Mullin for the 2006-07 season.
Fueled by a late-season surge after the acquisition of Stephen Jackson, Nelson guided the long-suffering Warriors to their first playoff appearance since 1993-94, which was Nelson's last full season with the club. The 42-40 Warriors then ousted the 67-win Dallas Mavericks -- another team Nelson left in acrimony -- in the first round of the playoffs to record the first triumph in league history by a No. 8 seed over a No. 1 seed in a seven-game series.
Golden State won 48 games in the following season, only to narrowly miss the playoffs in an ultracompetitive Western Conference.
The past two seasons, however, have been filled with turmoil and injuries, costing Mullin his job along the way and resulting in records of 29-53 and 26-56. One of the few bright spots in that span was Golden State's 5-3 record in April, when a collection of youngsters and D-Leaguers led by rookie of the year runner-up Curry ultimately enabled Nelson to surpass Lenny Wilkens for the most coaching wins in NBA history on April 7 at Minneapolis.
In stints with Milwaukee, New York, Dallas and two tours with Golden State, spanning 31 seasons, Nelson posted a record of 1,335-1,063, winning three NBA Coach of the Year awards with a reputation for innovation. Nelson, however, had his share of critics as well and fell shy of taking his oft-unconventional teams to the NBA Finals, settling for trips to the conference finals with the Bucks and Mavericks after winning five rings as a player with the Boston Celtics.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.