You don’t need to read Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” to know that organizations win competitions (although that ancient text may help).
It’s not an accident that the San Antonio Spurs have been near the very top of the NBA for a decade. It’s not a coincidence that the Los Angeles Lakers recovered from the Shaq trade and a few years later are title contenders again. It’s not an accident that Mark Cuban changed the culture for a hapless Dallas franchise and made them good.
In the NBA, winning on a consistent basis starts at the very top — an owner that hires smart people, sets a direction then lets the smart people do their thing. That happens with the Lakers and the Spurs, and the results show.
Then there are the Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors have been owned by Chris Cohan for 15 years and have had a winning record twice. Those are Clippers-like numbers. And for the past couple of years he allowed to fester a power struggle between general manager Chris Mullin and the tag-team of coach Don Nelson and team president Robert Rowell.
The fight was officially called in favor of Nelson/Rowell Monday, when it was announced Mullin’s contract would not be renewed. Larry Riley — a confidante of Nelson — is taking over as general manager.
Mullin brought in Baron Davis (the guy who led the playoff beat down of Dallas in the playoffs, the highlight for the team in the last two decades). He got rid of bloated contracts like Derek Fisher and Mike Dunleavy. Mullin drafted the future cornerstones for Golden State — Monta Ellis and Anthony Randolph. He made his share mistakes as well, but he’s made more smart moves than anyone running that franchise for a long time.
He also hired Nelson, a guy who knows how to win but one that nobody else in the NBA wanted to deal with anymore. Nelson thanked him for the new chance by starting to plot for Mullin’s ouster so he could consolidate power. Rowell played the bad cop whenever Mullin tried to play the good cop — overruling him after the Monta Ellis scooter accident, the Davis contract extension, just about anything else that actually mattered.
And Cohan fiddled while Rome burned.
Now Riley has the job, but he is Nelson’s puppet. Nelson, who had de facto power last year and led the Warriors to 29 wins. But don’t worry, loyal Warrior fans, having the coach and GM in one role has worked so well for teams doing it now, like the Clippers… oh yea, that was such a miserable failure they scrapped it.
The Warriors will win more than 29 games next year. But Don Nelson — who seriously considers retiring to Maui every summer — is where they have decided to put their trust. It’s a questionable long term decision. But maybe that is to be expected from the Warriors ownership.
Kurt Helin understands powerlessness, and he writes for the blog Forum Blue & Gold.