WHEN HE WAS INTRODUCED as the Warriors' new general manager last summer, Larry Riley was asked if he had the authority to fire the head coach. It was an impish question, given the presumption that the only authority Riley enjoys is that which Don Nelson has no interest in reserving for himself.
To his credit, Riley played it as straight as he knew how. "I haven't thought that far ahead," he said.
Too bad. Because if Riley was a prototypical GM, and if Nelson was a garden variety head coach, and if the Warriors were any other organization, the upcoming All-Star break would provide all the criteria you'd need to legitimately consider making a change.
Instead, none of the above is true. Riley you know about. Nelson is a coach of considerable stature who has bamboozled management into believing he is working wonders. That management? Even if owner Chris Cohan wasn't a ghost, he is hardly the type to sack a coach to whom he owes money for the rest of this season and all of next. And it's hard to imagine team president Robert Rowell turning on a perceived organizational ally.
Thus, it's not going to happen. But a survey of the 12 midseason firings over the past three NBA seasons is instructive, revealing coaches who were canned even though some had better records than Nelson does now, some had teams higher in the standings than Nelson does now, and some hadn't been afforded the extended opportunity that Nelson enjoys. It also revealed themes eerily familiar to those currently playing at an NBA arena near you. See if you don't agree:
Last week Los Angeles Clippers coach/GM Mike Dunleavy kicked himself upstairs and handed the team to assistant Kim Hughes. Dunleavy's Clippers were 71/2 games better than the Warriors at the time of his decision.
"It came down to the last two or three years, a lot of wear and tear as far as trying to juggle lineups," Dunleavy said. "I worried about my enthusiasm going forward." Describe anyone you know?
Shortly after Thanksgiving, the New Jersey Nets fired Lawrence Frank. They were 0-16, and their season has turned into an abomination, so no comparisons there. But during his time with the Nets, Frank outperformed Nelson during his second tour with the Warriors (.483-.446).
Though Frank was well regarded by the team, a source told ESPN.com, "The team hasn't lost interest in each other, which is a good sign, but I don't know how much interest they have in (Frank's message)." Hmmm.
New Orleans gave Byron Scott the boot nine games into this season. He did better there than Nelson has done here. And yet: "It goes back to our performance last year," team president Hugh Weber said. "We saw frustration throughout the organization."
Last season saw a chaotic run between Nov. 22 and Feb. 16 during which eight coaches were fired. Four (Terry Porter, Marc Iavaroni, Maurice Cheeks and Sam Mitchell) had their teams winning at a better clip than Nelson currently has the Warriors. Six (Porter, Iavaroni, Reggie Theus, Cheeks, Randy Wittman and Mitchell) had their teams higher in the conference standings. And four (Porter, Cheeks, Mitchell and Eddie Jordan) had better cumulative records with their teams.
A sampling of the exit interviews:
"Players cannot play when they're confused," Minnesota GM Kevin McHale said after firing Wittman. "You want to see a disaster, go see a bunch of confused players playing basketball."
"This is an unacceptable record, obviously," Washington team president Ernie Grunfeld said after sacking Jordan. "We had to do something."
"We don't have an identity," center Marc Gasol said after Iavaroni was fired by Memphis. "We run around like chickens with our heads cut off. Youth can be a good thing, but we use it as an excuse. We're always making excuses."
You mean like, "Wow, we sure have a lot of injuries this season?"
Only one coach, Chicago's Scott Skiles, was cashiered during the 2007-08 season. He was doing better with the Bulls (.360, 13th in the conference, .490 overall) than Nelson is currently doing with the Warriors. But there were parallels.
"(Skiles) helped this franchise get back to respectability," GM John Paxson said at the time. "(But) I'm disappointed in the way we're playing, the way we're competing."
Nelson, for all the good work he did once upon a time, has the formless Warriors going nowhere. At his age, he clearly isn't part of the long-term plan. With almost any other team you might hear the rumblings of imminent change.
Here it isn't even part of the conversation. And on we go.
Contact Gary Peterson at email@example.com.