Nelson's recent struggles look like a recurring nightmare

Being taken down memory lane is usually a pleasant experience, but not when the road leads back to the meltdown of the Golden State Warriors franchise I witnessed firsthand 15 years ago.

It was gut-wrenching then, as a beat writer, to cover a team full of such hope and promise and a year later watch it all come apart in such spectacular fashion that the franchise remained radioactive for years afterward. Now that they're one of 30 teams I'm responsible for keeping tabs on, it's no less dispiriting. Especially since the script, and the main characters, are nearly the same.

Two seasons ago, the Warriors were one of the most captivating teams in the league. Led by Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson -- and a masterful coaching job by Don Nelson -- they made it to the second round of the playoffs, upsetting the top-seeded Mavericks before bowing to the relentless execution and physical pounding of the Utah Jazz.

Davis is gone. Jackson, according to several sources, recently told teammates he'd happily accept being sent elsewhere. Al Harrington already got his wish to be dealt. Sources also say rookie phenom Anthony Randolph, who some believe has the talent to one day be among the league's top 10 players, has been told he's not fitting in and could be dealt. Point guard Marcus Williams is seeking a buyout. Corey Maggette, signed last summer after the loss of Davis, is back in Los Angeles rehabbing a hamstring and one opposing GM said Maggette's agent is quietly exploring his trade options.

However bad it looks at 8-22, it's way worse behind the scenes. According to sources, Jackson, Nelson's staunchest ally in the lockerroom, was called into Nelson's car when he showed up for the team's shootaround before facing Orlando. Nelson apparently told Jackson he was playing poorly and Jackson, who had been fighting through injuries to stay on the court, was so upset he skipped the shootaround. Jackson denied any lingering conflict, but he has since decided not to play until his injuries heal.

The common thread between now and 15 years ago is a major dispute between Don Nelson and others, with owner Chris Cohan supporting Nelson. Cohan's support, in light of what happened last time, is akin to investing with the same stockbroker who already bilked you.

Cohan did it then as a neophyte owner, choosing Nelson over Chris Webber when the latter asked that the former not be allowed to play the same mind games he appears to be trying now with Randolph. Instead, Cohan approved a deal to send Webber to Washington. The team, coming off an electric regular-season finish and playoff appearance, crumbled and Nelson was forced to resign at the All-Star break.

Amazingly enough, Cohan has done it again. This time, the battle pitted the Warriors' top executive, vice president Chris Mullin, against Nelson, both of whom entered the summer looking at their final year under contract. Mullin wanted assurances, sources say, that Nelson would not have a voice in personnel decisions. Cohan responded by approving a five-year extension for team president Bobby Rowell, according to a source, and a two-year extension for Nelson. Cohan has never said a word to Mullin about an extension, according to multiple sources.

This is right about where George Santayana's well-worn observation seems particularly apt: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Nelson insisted 15 years ago that he had no problems with Webber, just as he insists now that no problems exist between him and Mullin. Or with Randolph. Or with Jackson. He also insists he has no interest in running the franchise, that he is content being the coach.

Whether that last statement is true or not, one source says that over the summer there was discussion, however brief, about Nelson taking over as GM and promoting Sidney Moncrief to head coach. This, in any case, is indisputable: Davis would still be in a Warriors' uniform, according to other sources, if Mullin still had been in control. Mullin did not fire his right-hand man, Pete D'Alessandro, a quiet, hard-working capologist respected league-wide, and replace him with Larry Riley, Nelson's right-hand man and closest confidant. Nor did Mullin replace Riley on Nelson's coaching staff with Larry Harris, son of one of Nelson's other long-time confidants, Del Harris, according to a source.

Nelson expressed disappointment that Davis opted out and signed with the Clippers after the Warriors refused to give him an extension. One source, though, insists Nelson advised Rowell to stiff-arm Davis' request. In any case, it's hard to believe Rowell would defy his VP and his head coach if they both wanted Davis back.

Then again, hearing a multitude of sources paint one picture and hearing Nelson publicly paint another one is also reminiscent of 15 years ago.

Watching from afar, one GM said, "It makes you sick to your stomach seeing how they've treated Mullin."

Even if Rowell is responsible for everything, every move only bolsters Nelson's authority and extends his influence within the organization. Even those within the team who support Nelson will tell you he works best when someone, or something, can keep him focused on coaching up his team, rather than fiddling around with his roster.

In that, he is not so different from Larry Brown or George Karl or any number of accomplished coaches. Brown was at his best under Pat Croce in Philadelphia and in Detroit under Joe Dumars. Karl made his only NBA Finals appearance squirming under the authority of Wally Walker.

Where does all this end? Nelson's supporters are hoping that the realization that this is his last stop and his desire to surpass Lenny Wilkens in all-time victories (Nelson has 1,288, Wilkens has 1,332) will keep him motivated for the length of his contract, unlike when he became disenchanted in Dallas and essentially handed over the reins to Avery Johnson long before he was officially fired. The theory is that the Hall of Fame, which so far has denied entry to the former NBA player, couldn't do so if he's the all-time winningest coach.

There are two problems with such hopes. One, is it really in the best interest of a team this young to constantly change lineups and rotations for the sake of eking out a few more wins? Especially when all that manipulation isn't producing wins? It's one thing to bury Williams, the point guard acquired from New Jersey whom Nelson publicly criticized almost from the minute he arrived. Randolph is a far too valuable asset. There has been innuendo that he doesn't practice hard; all I can tell you, from what I've seen, is that no one plays harder in games. In any case, his agent is B.J. Armstrong, a former Warrior who played on championship teams with the Bulls. If anyone knows how a young player needs to conduct himself and would be happy to work with a team to make that happen, it's Armstrong. No need to make idle threats.

Yes, Randolph is 19 and plays with crazy rambunctiousness that results in silly fouls and ugly turnovers. But he also routinely makes plays -- blocked shots, crushing putback dunks and acrobatic drives -- that are beyond any other Warrior's capability. People within the organization talk about him the way they did Webber, as a singular talent capable of someday making the team a title contender. According to a half-dozen scouts and GMs, he has the potential to nudge out Derrick Rose as the best player in his draft class.

This is the kind of player who "may not fit?"

Two, Nelson already has left at least one game and one shootaround before it was over and, according to sources, is not nearly as hands-on in practice as he was two years ago. He announced last week that he is relinquishing responsibility for the team's defense, turning it over to assistants Keith Smart and Moncrief. But even defensive-minded head coaches have an assistant dedicated to that end of the floor. Nelson's announcement sounds less like delegation and more like hand-washing.

I was in full support of the Warriors' bringing back Nelson two years ago because he was the only coach available who could take the existing talent and immediately end the team's 12-year playoff drought. Besides, Mullin knew with whom he was dealing. Nelson questioned after his first year of success whether he had the energy to keep going, hoping to extract a raise and an extension, but Mullin resisted. When Nelson began pushing to have players traded -- Monta Ellis is one example -- Mullin didn't respond, nor let it poison the player or the team.

Whether that's where Mullin and Nelson fell out of step is not clear. But rest assured, their relationship has soured and the power structure has changed. Even if Nelson's extension can be rescinded should he start mailing it in, as one source indicated it can, the damage is already being done. Rumors have floated for months that the minority owners, who are pro-Mullin and anti-Nelson, are attempting to buy out Cohan. If that's true, it can't happen quickly enough.

Not if the Warriors want to avoid another 12-year recovery.

Ric Bucher covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine.