Don Nelson has a unique perspective on the Warriors' recent run.
The Basketball Hall of Famer was the sixth man for the 1965-66 Boston Celtics, whose appearance in the NBA Finals that season was their 10th in a row. The Celtics were the last team to make (at least) five consecutive Finals, until the Warriors joined them by completing a Western Conference finals sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night. Nelson, of course, also coached the Warriors for two stints, successfully pushing for the team to draft eventual two-time MVP Stephen Curry towards the end of his second go-round in 2009.
So, how does he think these Warriors compare to those Celtics? He told Bay Area News Group's Mark Medina in an interview that he sees a couple of key differences.
For one, even though Curry is considered by many to be the straw that stirs the Warriors' drink, Nelson doesn't think the Warriors' leadership comes from just one person. The Celtics dynasty centered around legendary center Bill Russell, whose leadership exploits rivaled his on-court dominance. Instead, Nelson sees "strength in numbers" as more than just a marketing catchphrase.
"But all of the core guys are big leaders in their own way," Nelson told Medina. "They're all leaders, and nobody is the boss. That's really the way they do it. If you can have more than one guy as your leader and be as unselfish as those guys are, it makes it really easy."
There is also the nature in which the respective rosters were constructed. Nelson signed with the Celtics after he was cut by the rival Los Angeles Lakers, but unrestricted free agency did not exist at that point in the NBA. All but three of the 14 players to suit up for the Celtics in 1965-66 were drafted or acquired in a transaction with another team (one player was sold from the Warriors to the Celtics).
By contrast, nine of the 17 players to suit up for the Warriors this season signed as free agents.
“You have to remember one thing," Nelson told Medina. "We didn’t have free agency when Boston had their run. But these guys have done it with free agency there. In Boston, you couldn’t leave. You had to stay with the team forever. So it’s incredible. It’s a great story. I haven’t heard a story like that in forever.”
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Nelson won a title with that aforementioned Celtics team, and if the Warriors are going to follow in their footsteps, he thinks the biggest key is getting Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins healthy.
“Without Durant in the lineup and Cousins in the lineup, they’re going to have a hard time beating either team in the East," Nelson told Medina. "It’s not going to be easy. Let’s hope they’ll be back. They’ll need all the weapons they got.”