Don Nelson is ascending to the pinnacle of his profession, within walking distance of history, soon to be king of the NBA coaching jungle.
Where is the roar?
The Warriors coach is seven wins away from surpassing Lenny Wilkens to become the league's all-time leader in wins by a coach. Yet he approaches the finish line not to the sound of cheers, or even a visible or audible countdown. Any sign of anticipation for consummating this lifetime achievement is muffled, if not utterly muted.
"I'm OK with that," Nelson said after practice Wednesday. "I really think I prefer it that way.''
His bosses don't have a choice. They're caught in the middle, between their loyalty to Nelson and their distaste for what the team has become on their watch. It would be grossly transparent to exploit the record pursuit, yet its magnitude can't be dismissed.
So Warriors ownership holds its breath with sheer anxiety. The biggest fear is Nelson won't get the record over the final five weeks. Then what? How can there be a fresh start next season? The Warriors merely want this record shattered, soon, so they may have a cleaner, simpler lens through which to evaluate the coach.
Though we in the Bay Area probably thought we were done with joyless pursuits of all-time records in August 2007, when Barry Bonds went deep for the 756th time, we're back in familiar territory, hip-deep in mixed emotions. Fans are engaged to wildly varying degrees as a polarizing figure marches toward statistical superiority.
Make that INDIVIDUAL statistical superiority.
"Just means I've been coaching a long time, 30-something years," Nelson said. "Coach that many games, you're bound to win a good number of them."
Nelson, after all, is largely responsible for the only thrills the Warriors have provided since the early 1990s, coaching them into the 2007 playoffs and to an epic first-round upset of top-seeded Dallas. The two-month run that began three years ago this week — when a win at Detroit set off a 16-5 finish to reach the playoffs — was the peak of Chris Cohan's 15-year ownership and it awakened a fan base anesthetized by years of coaching turnover, unstable rosters and serial losing.
Since '07, though, the Warriors have been in steady decline. This season, Nelson's run for the record, will be the worst since he took over in 2006.
With bad trades and injuries, and the bad trades for injured players, the Warriors are on a pace to lose 60 games. To win seven of their final 19 and give the coach the record would require their best month since they went 6-8 in November.
Nelson might be a candidate for dismissal had he not ingratiated himself with team president Robert Rowell and tactically insulated himself with the promotion of Larry Riley from subordinate (assistant coach) to supervisor (general manager).
There is, too, one other undeniable factor: Nelson's proximity to the record.
The history of the Warriors under Cohan and Rowell suggests they are no more likely to make a dramatic move with Nelson any time soon than the Giants would have if Bonds had been batting .204 while stalking Hank Aaron's home run record. They certainly won't make a move now, nor should they. What would be the purpose?
But it would take considerable courage, as well as suppression of their promotional instincts, for Cohan and Rowell to dismiss Nelson in the offseason when he needs only another win or three for the record.
Nelson's bosses are aware of the generational clashes between the 69-year-old coach and his young roster. They know about the tiffs with Monta Ellis, the barbs directed toward Andris Biedrins, the unveiled contempt for Anthony Randolph. They also know Nelson is under contract and won't go away without a multimillion-dollar handshake.
Like Giants ownership a few years ago, Warriors ownership is attached to assets and liabilities of a performer whose career is near the end. The Bonds factor drove the thought process of the Giants. The Nelson factor drives the direction of the Warriors.
He knows it. They know it. Is there anyone who doesn't see it?
Yet fans are more restless. They're not as impressed with Nelson as they were three months ago, much less three years ago. If he isn't feeling the love, it's because they're not giving it to him.
As Nelson closes in on the record, it feels less like a coronation than a burden, perhaps because it's not so stirring to watch a man do some of his least impressive work while skating toward such an impressive honor.
Contact Monte Poole at firstname.lastname@example.org.