OAKLAND — The Golden State Warriors have lured Don Nelson back from retirement to see if he can fix a franchise that’s been broken ever since he left 11½ years ago.
Coach Mike Montgomery was abruptly dismissed by the Warriors on Tuesday, and Nelson will be rehired for the job he kept for nearly seven seasons, an NBA source told The Associated Press.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal hadn’t been announced, said the 66-year-old Nelson settled his differences with Warriors owner Chris Cohan and agreed to return to a team that has been Golden in name only since the second-winningest coach in NBA history left in February 1995.
The Warriors have the league’s longest playoff drought, with eight failed coaches during 12 consecutive losing seasons despite a loyal fan base that still remembers the uptempo excitement of the club’s years under its beloved “Nellie,” a three-time NBA coach of the year.
Chris Mullin, who played for Nelson throughout the coach’s first tenure, will now be Nelson’s boss as the Warriors’ executive vice president of basketball operations.
With just five weeks left before training camp opens, Mullin made his move with awkward timing — but such inelegance is far from surprising with the Warriors, who have changed plans almost annually since Nelson’s departure.
Nelson went 277-260 from 1988-95 and led Golden State to its last playoff appearance in 1994, creating charisma and respectability that gradually vanished over the next decade.
Nelson has won 1,190 games in a career that also includes stops in Milwaukee, New York and Dallas, where he won 339 games and led the Mavericks’ revitalization from 1998 until March 2005.
He left Dallas amid health concerns and a general weariness with the league’s grind. Avery Johnson, his groomed successor, became the league’s coach of the year while leading the Mavs to their first NBA finals last season.
But while Nelson spent the season as a Mavericks consultant and a regular at Nellies Sports Bar in downtown Dallas, he was widely rumored to be eager to return to the sidelines.
The Warriors scheduled a news conference for Wednesday night but didn’t divulge the reason.
Montgomery had identical 34-48 records in his two seasons with the club, failing to make a dent in the culture of losing and distrust that has permeated the franchise. Mullin has been thought to be unhappy with Montgomery since shortly after he was hired, but the Warriors’ top executive repeatedly stated Montgomery would return for the upcoming season.
“Based on this agreement, we will now focus our efforts in a different direction and do what we think is in the best interest for this team,” Mullin said in a statement.
Mullin didn’t return a phone call, and Nelson didn’t answer his phone at his home in Maui.
Nelson’s arrival is a dramatic move that might drum up interest in the Warriors, who promised big offseason changes after missing the playoffs. Mullin couldn’t deliver any such theatrics, only swapping Derek Fisher to the Utah Jazz for three players.
But the key players left in Oakland — Baron Davis, Jason Richardson, Troy Murphy and youngsters Ike Diogu and Monta Ellis — could be a good fit for Nelson’s fast-paced style of offense.
Montgomery, who led Stanford to 393 wins over 18 seasons before jumping across the Bay to Golden State in 2004, was midway through a four-year, $10 million contract. The Warriors didn’t release any details about Montgomery’s severance package.
“This was a new challenge that I was eager to embrace and glad that I had the chance to pursue and experience,” Montgomery said in a statement.
Only Lenny Wilkens has more NBA victories (1,315) than Nelson, who took over the Bucks in 1976 after a stint as a playing assistant coach.
He was the coach of the year twice in Milwaukee before moving to Golden State, where he won the award again. He also installed the run-and-gun offense that made stars of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Mullin, still beloved to Warriors fans as the “Run T-M-C” trio.
But things went sour in Oakland during the 1993-94 season when he clashed with Chris Webber, the first overall pick in the draft. Webber was traded to Washington early in the following season, but Nelson stuck around only a few months longer.
The parting was acrimonious: Cohan sued Nelson when the coach took a job with the Knicks in 1995, and the dispute went on for more than three years — longer than Nelson’s unsuccessful tenure in New York.
Nelson’s tenure in Dallas started poorly but became quite successful with owner Mark Cuban’s money behind the coach’s unorthodox schemes. But the Mavericks didn’t win their first conference championship until Nelson — who has never led a team to the NBA finals — turned over the club to Johnson.