Left Turn at Midnight
Buy stuff in our name. Now, watch me wrestle with a topic beyond all human comprehension.
I tried writing about Nellie's new plan in a quasi-mystical, mytho-technical style, but then my brain collapsed, I fell into a wormhole, and at the bottom of time I was confronted by Anthony Randolph and Monta Ellis folding in and out of one another, only deepening my belief that these two not only share a special bond, but might be guided by the same hive-brain. Then I threw my laptop aside in disgust, and proceeded to absolutely flip out over Cavs/Heat. It seems like Moon is a budget Marion, and I wish I lived in a world where this was going to be our ECF.
Now, I find myself calmer, though maybe worse for wear, and ready to discuss what one can only properly dub Nelson's "negative rotation." What's most striking about this project is how heavy-handed it is. It reminds me of Stalin, or some other form of social engineering where the logic is prized above the actual human toll. Yes, Nelson has insisted that the vets will be fresher (TK suggests that he's realized he's incapable of managing their minutes in games, so this is the only option). But it's so ruthless, so decisive in its lunacy, that there's little room for empirically-induced change. What if the vets get creakier, lack rhythm, or one—say, Maggette—proves himself absolutely indispensable? The way Nelson's talking, you get the sense that this isn't about people, but about a structure, an idea.
It reminds me on some level of what D'Antoni promised us with the Knicks: Euro-like, a bunch of interchangable dudes getting 20-25 minutes a night each, depending on match-ups and that night's hot hand. The Warriors might be ideally suited for this philosophy, provided the youngsters came along some; it's not like Jackson, Maggette, Crawford, or Biedrins have insufferable egos. But this would be the ultimate coach's team. What makes Nellie so enigmatic is that he wants to organize in such a way that players will be free to undermine any notion of sound coaching. The 2006-07 Warriors, demented as they were, were the most reactionary kind of revolution. Nellie was the ringmaster, but on some level was able to trust his team, let them travel down paths he'd get started in his imagination. You couldn't find a more unlikely combination of a coach's team and one so much in the players' hands that at times, you'd swear you were witness to a mutiny.
Instead, Nelson replaced the screechy line-up tinkering of the first half of 2008-09, a kind of micro-managing that sought to compensate for the loss of spontaneous detail that occurs when a PG like Baron, Nash, or Hardaway guides a fluid assemblage. Now, he's going all Rauschenberg on the game, leaving the most gaping holes he can and watching the rest of the team scramble to adjust. It's a dramatic form of meddling that leads to hands-off ingenuity, forcing a group to gnash their teeth and survive by depriving them of what little comfort they have. This team may depend on its vets, but none of them are the focal point of it; it remains stranded between D'Antoni's vision and the traditional model, and simply lacks both the control and the chaos to recreate 2006-07's Baron/Jackson axis. In fact, you might say that it's replaced controlled chaos with chaotic control, all centered, ironically in the person of Mr. Jackson.
But, to return to my terrifying vision, I have to think that this is ultimately all about Ellis, Randolph, or the indistinguishable future that is the two of them. Monta's an undisputable star in the making, but no one knows exactly how he will flourish. Randolph has so much it people get queasy, and since the break has showed an almost untoward level of commitment, intensity, creativity, emotion, and willingness to be everywhere at once. It's almost as if Nelson wants to see how many gaps these two omni-positional talents can fill. As everyone else on the team foams at the mouth and is forced to surprise themselves, working every day toward realizing one of Nellie's core values (Control or Chaos), Ellis and Randolph are a secret experiment unto themselves.
There's a team to develop here, but it's entirely likely that by season's end, all notion of well-distributed depth, and a roster full of possibilities, will give way to the belief that what's needed is lesser beings to hang in the background as Ellis and Randolph are given free rein going forward. If it works perfectly, you'd get a foundation that's achieved some measure of order and logic, like a point guard unto itself. And then on top of that, those two. And behind it all, Don Nelson, about to unleash his most diabolical team yet.
We'll probably never know, though, if he's doing this to prove something to the world, to himself, or simply because he sees no other way forward.