Joe Lacob has just done another major interview, this one with Tim Kawakami. What follows is my reaction to it, in the form of one last panegyric (here is the first) in favor of retaining Don Nelson as the coach of the Golden State Warriors.
First let me note that it was extremely smart of Lacob to do this interview with Kawakami. Going directly into the snake pit to draw the venom from the viper’s fangs. A strong move that indicates as much as anything else that the Chris Cohan era is well and truly dead.
Getting to the substance: One thing made clear from the interview is that Lacob has strong opinions on basketball and basketball talent, and believes like most fans that he has what it takes to be his own GM. He wants to put his own stamp on the basketball team, starting with the draft and ending with trading for superstars, with the occasional personal signing of an undrafted home-town hero thrown in. I can’t fault him for that. I would no doubt be exactly the same way if I had control of a franchise. But it can be a dangerous trait in an owner, as Mark Cuban has repeatedly proved. In a very short time, Cuban has become one of the very worst GMs in the history of the league — perhaps the only one to ever throw away a championship team out of hubris.
The interview also makes me fear for Don Nelson, and for the “architecture” of the team, as Lacob puts it. Lacob recognizes that this team is very special in its running ability, but states in almost the same breath that he doesn’t believe a running team can win in the playoffs. (He apparently doesn’t believe that untimely injuries or suspensions in the conference finals kept the 2003 Mavericks or the Nash/Stoudemire Suns from winning a title. And he may not have watched Cowen’s (and Nelson’s) Celtics run Jabbar’s Bucks off the court in the 1974 finals. [Want a hint as to my age? Watching Cowens battle Jabbar unto death was a formative experience for the young, undersized feltbot.]) Lacob wants low-post basketball. That’s how his championship Celtics were built, that’s the conventional wisdom since the dawn of basketball time, and that’s what he understands.
I would like to say this to Joe Lacob: Walk it up and throw it into the low post basketball is not the be-all and end-all of playoff basketball that conventional wisdom says it is. Don Nelson basketball wins in the playoffs, and I can prove it.
It wins with greatly inferior rosters, as when Nellie’s RunTMC Warriors knocked both the David Robinson Spurs and the Stockton and Malone Jazz out of the playoffs, and when Nellie’s We Believe Warriors knocked the #1 seeded Mavericks out of the playoffs.
It also wins with great rosters, as when Nellie won the World Championship with Team USA in 1994, and when he came within a heart-breaking Nowitzki knee injury in Game 3 of the 2003 Conference Finals of winning a title with the Dallas Mavericks. Mr. Lacob, please go back and watch the first two games of that series, in which the Mavs seized home-court advantage from the Spurs, and consider who would have won the title if Nowitzki doesn’t get injured. (The New Jersey Nets were a non-factor. They were swept out of the finals by the Spurs, and would have been crushed by the Mavericks as well had they advanced.)
And while you’re at it, please go back and watch those great Phoenix Suns runs in the playoffs, and consider whether the Suns might have won a title if Joe Johnson and Steve Nash didn’t get their faces re-arranged, or if Amare Stoudemire didn’t blow out his knee, or if David Stern didn’t make one of the most ridiculous suspensions in the history of organized sport.
If that doesn’t convince you – and apparently it hasn’t – then consider this: I predict that 4 out of the next 5 NBA titles will be won by a Don Nelson-styled running team. A team that in fact plays SMALL BALL for much of the game. That team is of course the Miami Heat, and the “architecture” that will win titles in crunch time is Chris Bosh at center and Lebron James at power forward. With Bosh out on the wings spacing the floor, and Lebron playing point-forward at the top of the key. That is the unit that is completely unstoppable, that is the unit that is going to run teams off the floor, that is the unit that is going to win championships in spectacular style. With nary a low-post player to be seen.
Nellieball is going to win titles, very soon, and for a long, long time to come.
I fervently hope you give it a chance here, Mr. Lacob, for we have the makings of a very special team this season, under the guidance of a very special coach. A chance to convince you that the most beautiful and entertaining basketball on earth can also be winning basketball.
One last glorious chance.