W’s at a Crossroad: Team Building / Understanding Nelson & Riley

Some disclaimers – I am a long term die-hard W’s fan (even before the ’74-’75 championship), a periodic blog reader, and infrequent contributor.  I believe these perspectives are relatively unique … apologies in advance for the length, and if I miss referencing something that has been previously written …

Team Building

Basketball is still a team sport … something that the Max Mercy build-them-up-and-tear-them-down superstar-obsessed media forgets.  A "superstar" can get hot and win a few games on their own, but Chamberlain, Garnett, Jordan, Kobe, and now even LeBron / Wade / Bosh all learned that they could not sustain and win a championship on their own.  Championship teams have always been well balanced, with multiple threats which obviate opponents from focusing and shutting down any one threat.  Of course, the media always anoints the best player on a championship team as a "superstar" … misleading the bandwagon public into believing that a superstar "carried" the team.  But the team of players that won the most championships was led (not "carried") by a consummate team player who wasn’t flashy, didn’t score the most points, and who never claimed to be a "superstar" or have a "supporting cast" – Bill Russell.   Russell just did what his team needed as one facet of a multi-faceted dynastic championship team.  It is entirely appropriate that the NBA Finals MVP trophy is named after that ideal team player – Bill Russell.  As the W’s face yet another off-season rebuilding project, they do not need to acquire a flashy "superstar" to "carry" the team … rather they should focus on creating the multi-faceted team of consummate team players required to truly challenge for a championship.

Understanding Nelson

Nelson won 5 championships as a player with the dynastic Celtics … teams that included various combinations of among others, Russell, Havlicek, Cowens, Chaney, JoJoWhite, and Silas.  Nelson’s playing days heavily influence his coaching proclivities / biases.  None of Nelson’s championship teammates were ever accused to have possessed "superstar" physical athleticism … they were all reliable shooters and skilled capable athletes with very high b-ball IQ’s … and most important to Nelson (and like Nelson himself), they were gym rat overachievers, with a love / respect for the game.  While intrigued and tempted by "uber" athleticism, Nelson (the coach) doles out playing time only to skilled capable athletes with reliable shots, high b-ball IQ, and the love / respect for the game … he has little (no?) patience for any others.  And if the only players on the team with his requirements happen to be relatively small, then for Nelson, so be it … thus the media misleading simplification "Nellie / Small-ball".

Understanding Riley

Larry Riley has worked with Nelson for multiple years, and understands Nelson and his coaching proclivities / biases.  Riley has reacted this off-season with an apparent two-fold plan – [1] manage the team roster such that the players available to Nelson actually meet Nelson’s playing requirements (skilled capable athletes with reliable shots, high b-ball IQ, and a love / respect for the game), and [2] to introduce defense onto the team by limiting Nelson’s alternatives to capable defenders.  Riley’s off-season moves to date have all fit this two-fold plan:

  • Maggette trade for Gadzuric and C.Bell (salary dump aside):  Maggette fit Nelson’s playing requirements, but was defensively challenged, while Gadzuric and D.Bell are capable defense oriented back-ups.  If the new guys meet Nelson’s playing requirements [1], they might see some playing time.  Otherwise, Nelson’s alternatives have at least been limited to capable defenders [2].
  • 6th Draft Pick Epke Udoh was made as he appears to meet Nelson’s requirements [1], and is also a capable defender [2].  We’ll have to wait a while to see if these assessments are right.
  • A.Randolph / Turiaf / Azubuike trade for D.Lee:  Although Turiaf and Azubuike both met Nelson’s playing requirements, the still very young (21 years old) "uber" athletic A.Randolph did not (unreliable shot / immature / low b-ball IQ).  They were traded for D.Lee who definitely meets Nelson’s playing requirements [1].  While time and S.Curry’s influence may have brought A.Randolph around, D.Lee is a consummate Nelson type player right now.
  • D.Wright Free Agent Signing:  D.Wright (now 24 years old; previously a project) appears to have matured into a small forward fit in terms of both [1] Nelson’s playing requirement, and [2] being defense oriented.
  • Not matching A.Morrow:  Ammo fit Nelson’s playing requirement, but was defensively challenged, and was sacrificed off the roster to limit Nelson’s alternatives to capable defenders [2].  Without Ammo on the roster, Nelson will have to play D.Wright, R.Williams (who’s off-season focus is defense), or C.Bell.
  • Holding off so far on CJ.Watson and A.Tolliver:  While CJ and Tolliver both fit Nelson’s playing requirement, they can be defensively challenged.  Part of the delay in resolving the status of these two is salary related (see what the market is offering), but there also might be an element of [2] limiting Nelson’s alternatives to stronger defenders.
  • Holding off on V.Radmanovic:  Radmanovic has been injured, and at one time may have been an option to see if he could fit.  But his main value now is as a $6+MM expiring contract, which can be used with other pieces to perhaps get a more significant upgrade.

So far, there has been a method / logic to Riley’s off-season moves … it will be interesting to see how this roster performs. 

Current Roster Development

The focus of this discussion has been the creation of a multi-faceted team of consummate team players who can challenge for a championship.  I believe that the W’s this off-season have taken intriguing and productive strides in the process.  The current roster has been filled with Nelson-type young skilled athletes with reliable shots, high b-ball IQ, and a love / respect for the game.  I believe that S.Curry and D.Lee understand Nelson, and are especially solid foundational pieces that will help mold the on and off court team chemistry.  While the new Lacob / Guber ownership may be tempted to come in and make changes (the only immediate change really needed is to replace Rowell with someone they like), I hope they give the current roster and Nelson / Riley through December 2010 to see how things play out.  The W’s are at a crossroad, but as indicated, Nelson / Riley have taken productive initial steps in an intriguing direction …

This FanPost is a submission from a member of the mighty Golden State of Mind community. While we're all here to throw up that W, these words do not necessarily reflect the views of the GSoM Crew. Still, chances are the preceding post is Unstoppable Baby!

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