<
>

Nelson's plan raises eyebrows

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Although Don Nelson has been a mastermind of innovation throughout his three decades as an NBA coach, his latest brainstorm has many Golden State Warriors fans puzzled.

With his Warriors out of the playoff race and burgeoning with untested young players, Nelson announced a plan last week to keep one healthy veteran out of uniform in several upcoming games. Nelson furloughed high-scoring guard Jamal Crawford for a game against the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday night, and he kept leading-scorer Stephen Jackson in street clothes during Sunday night's game against the Utah Jazz.

The Warriors lost both games in front of their famously savvy home crowd at Oracle Arena, which buzzed with unease when Jackson was shown on the scoreboard in a sharp suit. Resting veteran players to give more time to youngsters is hardly unusual in the NBA, but most teams don't do it this way -- and not with 25 games still left in the regular season.

"You're tempted to feel like people are giving up on us or whatever, but anything can happen in this league," third-year pro Kelenna Azubuike said last week. "Hopefully I'm one of those guys who he feels should play."

Nelson has been widely considered reluctant to use young players during much of his career, but his latest move definitely backs up his longtime objections to that perception.

While Jackson, Crawford, Corey Maggette, Monta Ellis and even 22-year-old center Andris Biedrins get days off, rookie Anthony Randolph, C.J. Watson, Anthony Morrow and Marco Belinelli will get more starts and extended minutes. It probably won't help the Warriors' record this spring, but Nelson insists it will pay off next season and beyond.

After Sunday's loss, Nelson said he'll stick to his scheme "somewhat, maybe on a couple of occasions."

He also sounded worried about losing a competitive advantage by talking about the plan, not by doing it: "I don't know if it's a good thing to announce it in advance. You'll see it when you watch our games."

Nelson said several days ago that Biedrins would miss Friday's game at Detroit. He also plans to rest Maggette, the Warriors' top reserve, for at least one game in the near future.

The Warriors are remaining loyal to their coach, but Crawford couldn't deny feeling a bit of frustration after Golden State fell apart against Utah in the fourth quarter, right when Jackson's scoring and veteran leadership might have made a difference.

"It's [tough], especially when you've beaten them before," Crawford said. "But we understand there's a bigger picture. This is about our growth and becoming better as a team in the future."

Crawford's agent, Aaron Goodwin, criticized Nelson's decision to sit his client for a game, but realizes there's little anybody can do to change it. Nelson, who has the backing and respect of Warriors owner Chris Cohan and president Robert Rowell, recently won his 1,300th game, the second-most in NBA history behind Lenny Wilkens.

The Warriors essentially have been out of the playoff race since January. They're 20-39 heading into a four-game Midwestern road trip, falling 16 games behind eighth-place Dallas in the Western Conference standings with four losses in their last five games.

Yet Golden State is hardly hopeless, with the NBA's second highest-scoring offense and plenty of talent that usually puts on an interesting show for its home fans. The Warriors were 15-13 at Oracle Arena before losing their last two.

Nelson gave more than 44 minutes of playing time last Friday to Watson, who appeared exhausted by the fourth quarter. Belinelli also has moved back into the starting lineup, hoping to build on the tremendous promise he showed earlier this season before spraining his ankle.

Randolph and Morrow seemed to be the biggest beneficiaries of Jackson's absence Sunday. Randolph scored a career-high 20 points while starting in Jackson's place, showing off the impressive athleticism that make him irresistible to Warriors fans.

Yet Golden State beat the Jazz by 20 points just three weeks ago with the help of 20 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists from Jackson. Utah coach Jerry Sloan, who's nominated for the Basketball Hall of Fame along with Nelson this year, didn't see anything odd about Nelson's tactics -- and he certainly didn't object to them after the Jazz finished off their win.

"I've always said other coaches have got to do what they've got to do and what they feel comfortable with," Sloan said. "Don's teams have always played hard and they've always been difficult to play against."