WARRIORS COACH Don Nelson is sick.
Pneumonia, they say. Nothing funny about that. Nothing too surprising, either.
Nellie is 69, and his latest health scare will keep him from coaching the Warriors for at least the next two games. How about forever?
Retiring now would make for an understandable and graceful exit. No deceit needed. No lawsuits. No more sighs at a roster that gets younger while he gets ornerier.
Retiring would be for Nelson's own good — as well as the Warriors' — after experiencing lots of lows and occasional highs during his two tenures as coach.
One problem: Nelson likely does not to want to quit.
He is only 20 victories away from totaling 1,333 and becoming the NBA's all-time winningest coach. It's a respectable record, even if regular-season wins mean so little in the grand scheme of today's NBA.
Nelson also stands to pad his bank account by returning. He will draw $6 million salaries this season and next as the Warriors coach (not as a consultant). That's a lot of money to leave in Chris Cohan's pocket, and Nellie likes cold cash as much as a cold beer.
No vindictiveness or heartwarming sentiment is intended in this retirement proposal to Nelson. It's just that everyone knows he and the Warriors are destined to split soon.
Maybe he wants to keep coaching because he enjoys mentoring the young. (Pause here for rolling laughter.) But even if the Warriors brass wants him back through the 2010-11 season, so much has unraveled the past few years that a change is needed, for everyone's physical and mental health.
Earlier this month in New York, he called the Warriors a "very difficult team to coach" and said he was ready to retire after last season. Trading away Stephen Jackson couldn't have made things enormously better since then.
This isn't the same Nelson who was riding high in the 2007 playoffs, cracking Bud Lights at his postgame news conferences, drawing plays up in a boiler room atop his Lake Merritt penthouse and relishing the spotlight deserved of an NBA lifer.
Everyone wanted to play for him back then. Everyone has wanted out since then.
These days, Nelson looks sad and haggard. He'll trudge into news conferences to fulfill his duties and shrug his shoulders at the Warriors' plight.
He's looked as healthy as a bleary-eyed rock star after a world tour. And this is his 31st tour as an NBA head coach. It's not the healthiest lifestyle, with the traveling and whatever vices help him make it to his next tipoff.
During games, he'll still get up and holler at the officials or instruct his players, as you'd expect of a coach in his 31st season. But he's also delegated some coaching duties to assistant Keith Smart.
During timeouts, Nelson and Smart will sit side by side in front of the bench, and often Smart is doing much of the talking (quite possibly because the Warriors defense often struggles, and Nelson appointed Smart the NBA's first psuedo "defensive coordinator" last season).
The pneumonia diagnosis is a familiar one. He had a bout with it before ending his first Warriors tenure. Nelson stepped away in February 1995, agreeing to a $1 million buyout a few months after trading away Chris Webber.
In March 2005, Nelson stepped down from the Dallas Mavericks' coaching post and stayed on as a consultant before rejoining the Warriors in August 2006.
The return of Nellie-ball brought excitement. It also made the Warriors' coaching job respectable again. Remember this classic story: Nellie walks into the locker room his first day back and informs the players of The 66 Rule: "I'm 66 and I don't give a (hoot)."
Three years later, we're struggling to find how much Nelson cares about developing the Warriors' young nucleus. Does he want Monta Ellis as a point guard or a shooting guard? Does he really think Stephen Curry is the next Steve Nash? What's his beef with Anthony Randolph? On and on it goes.
So many players have fled since the 2007 "We Believe" postseason shirt party. Nellie may as well be next to go (and perhaps Ellis, unless you really are buying him as a reformed leader.)
The Warriors lost 30 of their last 37 games during Nelson's first regime as the team's coach. This era's unit has the capacity to follow suit, taking a 4-8 record into tonight's game at Dallas.
He will miss that game, Wednesday's at San Antonio and likely Saturday's home game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
If he returns, then what? A tremendous turnaround by the Warriors? A championship season, his long-awaited first as a coach?
No, just more of the same: a few exciting wins mixed in with a few entertaining defeats at the wire, along with more player discontent, misery on the road, front-office mystery and the debate of when will be the right time for him to leave.
Now is the time. May he get well soon, then get to Maui and enjoy the luxurious lifestyle he's earned through his long stay in the NBA.