Warriors exercise option for next season on Nelson's contract

Veteran coach Don Nelson, who has the Golden State Warriors on a 52-win pace in the cutthroat Western Conference, has been formally invited to return to the Warriors' bench next season.

The Warriors announced Tuesday afternoon that they have exercised their option for next season on Nelson's contract, well before the June deadline on that option and without knowing for certain that they'll be in the playoffs for a second successive season.

It's now up to Nelson, who turns 68 in May, to decide whether he wants to keep going at season's end or whether he'd rather walk away as the second-winningest coach in league history. Nelson's lifetime total of 1,271 regular-season wins trails only Lenny Wilkens (1,332) on the NBA's all-time list.

"It's very nice of the organization," Nelson told Bay Area reporters after Tuesday's practice. "It's always nice to be wanted, especially when you're 67. It's a very nice gesture on their part.

"[But] I'm going to have to think about that. I'm going to have time to reflect [after this season]. My wife and I will have to talk about it, we'll talk to the team about it, see how they're feeling. There is another part of life," Nelson added, "that I'd like to explore."

Nelson has an 81-63 record in his second stint in Golden State. That includes the more recent run of 55-28 which began with the Warriors' 16-5 push at the end of last season.

That late surge pitched Golden State into the playoffs for the first time since 1994, which was Nelson's last full season in his first stint in Oakland. After halting the club's 12-season playoff drought -- and guiding Golden State to a momentous first-round upset of the 67-win Dallas Mavericks -- Nelson agreed to new contract terms in the offseason after a long impasse.

The new deal announced in September bumped Nelson's annual base salary from the $3 million range to roughly $5 million but also made it Golden State's choice whether Nelson would be retained for the 2008-09 season.

It remains to be seen now if Nelson is prepared to coach out the final season. He could choose instead to retire to his home in Maui or attempt again to negotiate a longer contract.

The Warriors, having recovered from an 0-6 start that was complicated by the suspension of emotional leader Stephen Jackson, began the week 12 wins ahead of last season's pace after 62 games.

"We're extremely pleased with the job that Don has done this season," Warriors president Robert Rowell said in a statement.

"He's done a terrific job of building on last year's success and certainly has our team in position to challenge for another exciting postseason journey," Rowell said. "As we've acknowledged before, we think he is one of the top coaches in the NBA and we're happy that his unique style and expertise will continue to be an important part of our future success."

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.