Golden State parted ways with coach Mike Montgomery this morning after back-to-back 34-48 seasons and will re-hire Nelson, who led the team for 6-1/2 seasons, including a pair of 50-win campaigns, from 1988 to 1995.
When the Warriors last made the playoffs, in the spring of 1994, Nelson was at the helm. So what better man, the team decided, to lead them back after 12 years of postseason drought?
Nelson, 66, has been out of coaching since handing over the reins of the Dallas Mavericks to Avery Johnson late in the 2004-05 season. This year, he served as a consultant to the team, which is run by his son, former Warriors assistant Donnie Nelson.
"I'm happy for Nellie," Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said in e-mail. "I think this means that the Warriors will finally make the playoffs. Nellie is that good a coach."
The Warriors would only confirm that they are holding "a major press conference" on Wednesday evening at the Arena. Messages left for Chris Mullin, the team's executive vice president of basketball operations, were not returned.
"This is a very difficult day for me," Mullin said in a statement released by the team. "Based on this agreement, we will now focus our efforts in a different direction and do what we think is best for this team."
Montgomery's departure had apparently been in the works for some time as the sides worked on a buyout. The former Stanford coach - who took the Cardinal to the postseason in 16 of 18 years, including an NCAA Final Four run in 1998 - was owed roughly $5 million from the four-year deal he signed in May 2004.
"I'm very appreciative of the opportunity that I was presented two years ago," Montgomery said in the statement. "This was a new challenge that I was eager to embrace and glad that I had a chance to pursue and experience."
Although Mullin stated unequivocally in mid-April that Montgomery would return - and reiterated that point when Larry Brown, a friend of Warriors owner Chris Cohan, became available after being fired by the Knicks in June - the team's change of heart was not wholly unexpected, as the VP and the coach often didn't seem to be on the same page last season with regards to what players could accomplish.
The rift between Montgomery and Mullin was perhaps best personified by the battle at point guard, where the coach favored veteran Derek Fisher over emerging young talent Monta Ellis. Fisher was dealt to Utah last month in a move that not only saved the team more than $20 million over the next three seasons, but also made clear that Mullin would not sit by and let one of his picks stagnate.
Nelson took over the Warriors in 1988 and posted a 277-260 record before stepping down midway through the 1994-95 season after suffering through a protracted war with star Chris Webber the previous season. The three-time NBA Coach of the Year also led the Bucks, Knicks and Mavericks while compiling the third-most wins in league history.
When Nelson joined the Knicks later in 1995, it sparked a legal battle with Cohan that lasted for years and grew so heated that some observers thought it would preclude Nelson's return to the Bay Area.
In addition to working out a deal with Nelson to coach the Warriors, they also will have to buy out the remainder of his consulting contract with Dallas, which reportedly has another four years to run.
"I haven't been in touch with the Warriors at all, but we can deal with that," Cuban said.