Nellie’s long walk on thin ice

OAKLAND — There is a good chance Don Nelson would have been fired as coach of the Warriors even without the natural opening of an ownership change, general manager Larry Riley said Monday in officially announcing the move from Nelson to Keith Smart as the team reconvened for the start of the season.

“Possibly so,” Riley said when asked if the same move would have been made if Chris Cohan would have still been the owner. “Quite likely.”

The difference, Riley said, is that any change would have been made earlier in the offseason instead of at the start of camp, an awkward timetable because the sale of the Warriors from Cohan to a group headed by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber is not expected to become official until next month. The comments by Riley, though, strongly indicate Cohan was ready to break ties with Nelson as well, even while eating the $6 million due for 2010-11.

Then there’s the other question: Did Nelson want to come back?

He clearly would have when the option was walking away from the money. But Riley, a longtime close friend and former Nellie assistant before moving to the Warriors’ front office, conceded Nelson’s heart may not have been into the job.

“I think part of him maybe did [want to come back] and I also think part of him did not,” Riley said. “I think he felt that with all the things that were happening, it was just the opportune time.”

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