OAKLAND -- Don Nelson is back in the Bay Area this week inadvance of his induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame on Sept. 7. On Tuesday,Nelson met with a group of writers over lunch, and later in the day he taped anhour-long segment for Chronicle Live, which will air next Thursday the daybefore his induction.Nelson, 72, who had two stints coaching the Warriors, is theNBAs all-time winningest coach. He said a lot of good stuff in the course ofthe day. Here are some things that caught my ear:On never winning an NBA championship as acoach:Nelson: Part of that was my own doing. I had anopportunity when I was with the Milwaukee Bucks -- after we swept the Celtics(1983). After that last game, (Boston president Red) Auerbach we were walkingin the arena together and he said: Would you ever think about coaching theCeltics? As a career move, I should have jumped all over it.I was on a handshake, a year-to-year handshake, with (Warriorsco-owner) Jim Fitzgerald. I just said I couldnt do it because Jim Fitzgeraldwas just so good to me. They won how many championships after that?But I stayed and coached. But it was void of championships.So part of it was my own doing. The other part was I enjoyed taking over badteams and making good ones out of them. I enjoyed building something thatwasnt very attractive and making it attractive . You get a lot of losses doingthat, but I enjoyed it.On where the idea of small-ball camefrom:Nelson: It all happened in the Celtic practices.What Auerbach would do when it got to midseason and practices were drudgery,was he would play big guys against the small guys and the smalls would alwayswin. You put Bill Russell on the other team and everybody else big, and put thesmalls on the other and it wasnt a close game as long as it was a full-courtgame. Now half-court you couldnt do that. But full-court, the smalls alwayswon, so Im sure that was the start of it.I could never understand why small players could neverrebound and big players couldnt dribble. They can. They just dont do it. Butin practice big guys can dribble and do a lot of things. Guys like MagicJohnson proved that 6-8 point guard that it could happen if they believethey can do it. So I always asked my small guys to be rebounders and my bigguys to handle the ball and dribble and get into the open court and feelcomfortable there.I think it all started from those practices. Of course, itdidnt hurt that we had John Havlicek on our side in small ball. But the bigguys couldnt get the ball up the court. It was always like 10-2 small guysalways won.On changing his style of coaching in the1980s:Nelson: I was verbally abusive to my players onthe floor too much. You can do that in private and at halftime. You have to dothat as a coach, the discipline and stuff like that. But I was verbally tooabrasive on the floor, I thought. And I had to change that be more like LennyWilkens, a coach I really respected. And I thought I was. I thought that was agood move.More on that style change: Nelson: I thought a positive change in mycoaching career was when I was coaching (former Warrior) Sarunas (Marciulionis)and I was so hard on him because he kept making the same mistake over and overand over.I just didnt allow my players to make the same mistakeover and over and over, and he was so used to playing a certain way, and he wasso gifted physically that he could do all these things. But he couldnt do thatin the NBA.When he kept doing it, I kept getting on him harder andharder and I kind of saw myself watching film what I was turning into. I decidedit would be a good idea to stop doing that and have a different approach. And Istarted to not be as hard on my players. Even though they were fine with it Sarunas wasnt, of course, I was too hard on him. But as long as you werewinning and everything was that good way, they accepted it whatever the coachwas.Bobby Knights players loved him. They still do. But Ithought it was good I made a change at that point.
Captured as we are in the amber jar of Small Sample Size Theatre, there is something about the Warriors worth chewing on as they head for Philadelphia and a date with the precocious Philadelphia 76ers Saturday evening.
They now seem to disregard large leads as beneath them.
I’m not prepared to say what this means, but three of their losses this year (out of four, of course) have featured them hurling up a double-digit lead – 17 in the second quarter and 16 in the third quarter against Houston,
13 against Detroit and 17 in the second and third quarters against Boston Thursday night.
This is more games in which they have done so than all of last season, in which they blew a 14-point lead Christmas Day in Cleveland and a 17-point lead at home to Memphis 13 days later.
In other words, this could just be a phase they are going through as the team that knows it can produce at will and believes the other teams will cower in fear at the mere sight of their power and fold like 200-thread towels.
But three times in four weeks would be enough for head coach Steve Kerr to find a new way to put foot to hinder at future practices. It suggests that the Warriors, having outgrown their early weariness from a fun-filled summer (hey, they went to China and didn’t get busted for anything, so there’s that), maybe take themselves a bit for granted, and Kerr and team lecturers Draymond Green, David West and Andre Iguodala will now have something to help them all correct in Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Oklahoma City and then home again.
I mean, what’s the point of having a big lead if you can’t enjoy it by making it bigger and bigger? What’s the value of leading by 17 and calling it a night when you can lead by 29 and THEN put your feet up? I mean, Houston did it last night and took the whole second half off.
Anyway, that’s today’s Warriors Gristle – what to do when you think you’ve won enough hands and find out you haven’t. Tomorrow, we’ll touch on what they need to do about keeping those old Kevin-Durant-back-in-OKC story lines tired and repetitive.
OAKLAND — Klay Thompson danced unabashedly in China after winning another NBA championship, and it got shared all over social media. He smoked a stogie on the rooftop, letting loose to reveal another side of himself.
“I didn’t plan for that video to go viral,” Thompson said matter-of-factly. “I was just having fun. I’ve always been myself and having fun while doing it and learning to enjoy every day, because it goes by so fast.”
Coming to that mindset, however, has been a process for the seventh-year Golden State guard, who acknowledges for so long he put extreme pressure on himself to be the best.
The quiet, more under-the-radar Warriors All-Star of the bunch, Thompson has provided a steadying hand early on for the reigning NBA champions who are favored to capture a third title in four years.
“I used to stress a lot more at the beginning of my career about my performance,” Thompson recalled. “Now, it’s not like I don’t stress, but I play more carefree and I’m more able, if I play as hard as I can I’m satisfied with the results. ... I used to compare myself with all players and want to be the best so badly, but now it’s all about winning and having fun and realizing basketball is more of a team sport than anything.”
After a recent practice, Thompson dazzled right alongside a couple of visiting Harlem Globetrotters, spinning the ball on his finger, rolling it up and down his arms, off his knee and then a foot soccer-style before swishing a short jumper.
“I should’ve been a Globetrotter!” he yelled.
It’s a new look for this hang-loose, beach-loving Splash Brother.
The approach is working for the Warriors.
“He still carries the threat. You have to honor him,” Orlando coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s great at making the right play. Their whole team is. I think he’s trying to fit in with their whole buy-in that ball movement and passing is greater than any one man carrying the bulk of it.”
Still, his numbers are stellar. Thompson has had a fast start this season, which previously hasn’t been the case.
Thompson credits the familiarity with teammates and a comfort in coach Steve Kerr’s offense.
“He’s taken another step in his game. Just the experience that he’s had in his career, every year he’s gotten better and I think this year he’s shown how at the end of the season he carried it over to the beginning of this year,” backcourt mate Stephen Curry said. “Historically he hadn’t started seasons well but this year he’s locked in. He’s obviously shooting the ball well and playing great defense, but I think the biggest thing is his playmaking in situations where he’s drawing a crowd. He’s making great decisions setting guys up and just playing under control for the most part this entire season.”
Life off the court is great for Thompson, too, and that helps him be stress-free on it.
Look closely, and it’s easy to see he has come out of his shell.
On a day off last week, he golfed a popular public course close to Oracle Arena. Thompson signed someone’s toaster last spring, and it became a superstition.
In July, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at an Oakland Athletics game, then drove an IndyCar in September while serving as Grand Marshal of a series stop in Sonoma.
Thompson shares his training tricks on social media and posts photos with his bulldog, Rocco.
He recently donated $75,000 to relief efforts in the aftermath of the devastating Northern California wildfires, committing $1,000 per point for a three-game stretch during which he scored 69 points — but added to that total.
He is a spokesman for chocolate milk and an obscure — in the U.S. anyway — Chinese shoe company. He signed an $80 million, 10-year extension to wear the sneakers.
“Life’s good,” Thompson said. “I never thought I’d get paid millions of dollars to wear shoes and apparel. I’m very proud to be a part of Anta. ... It’s so cool that I’m big in China. I never thought I’d be on billboards and posters in China.”
Thompson has found a balance during the offseason to stay sharp, mixing up his workouts with outdoor activities he enjoys.
“It took years for me to figure out how to prepare the best I can for the season. I finally learned in my sixth year,” he said. “You’ve got to stay in shape almost year-round because as you get older it’s harder to get back into shape. It’s easier to get out of shape than it is to get back into shape. I do other things besides basketball to stay in shape in the offseason. I think that just keeps my mind fresh.”
He hopes to do a formal swim from Alcatraz, or even a triathlon. He swims in the ocean — “my favorite place in the world” — whenever he can. Freestyle is his strength, butterfly not so much. He plays hours of beach volleyball or just throws the football around and runs routes through the sand.
At work, he has been a model of consistency. Thompson is determined to be a better passer, creating for teammates whenever possible. He also usually guards the opponent’s top perimeter scorer.
Thompson is off to his best shooting season ever, with career highs of 49.4 percent shooting from the field and 45.6 percent on 3-pointers.
“I think his playmaking has been the best it’s been in his career,” Kerr said. “He’s really doing a good job of putting the ball on the floor and moving it on, drive and kick game, finding the centers in the pocket for little floaters. ... It’s been his best passing season so far.”
Thompson used to get teased for his lack of assists, and it remains a running joke.
“I got thick skin,” Thompson quipped, “honestly I don’t really care.”
That carefree approach has taken time, and the Warriors are better for it.