It was only a year ago when the Golden State Warriors thrilled us in the 2013 NBA Playoffs by knocking off the third-seeded Denver Nuggets in the first round. Stephen Curry had his epic coming-out party in that series, Klay Thompson became more of a sniper than a basketball player, Harrison Barnes looked like a promising young stretch 4 and Andrew Bogut was a monster in the paint defensively. David Lee‘s injury allowed the Warriors to play small ball and exploit Denver’s defensive weaknesses, but you’d be a fool to forget that a major culprit behind Golden State’s fun and surprising success last year was head coach Mark Jackson.
Flash forward to 2014 and things have dramatically changed. According to Grantland’s Zach Lowe, unrest with Jackson in the Warriors organization could be reaching its peak. With one assistant coach demoted and another fired in the last six weeks, tensions are running high. Now the Warriors are one loss away from elimination against the Los Angeles Clippers, begging the question: Should MJax get the axe?
Consensus around league is it is very unlikely for Jackson to be back next season in GSW barring long playoff run.
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) April 29, 2014
It’s funny what can happen in one year. One season after taking the San Antonio Spurs, an NBA Finals team, to six games, the Warriors have the exact same seed in the Western Conference, only this time they’re a game away from being bounced from the first round. During the offseason leading up to the 2013-14 season, the Warriors acquired Andre Iguodala in a sign-and-trade that had many labeling them as a dark horse to come out of the loaded West. In December and January, the Dubs strung together a 10-game win streak that confirmed this team could play with anybody when fully healthy.
But then the Warriors never delivered on all that promise. They lost to teams they shouldn’t have and beat teams they shouldn’t have, making them a maddeningly inconsistent team en route to 51 wins and the sixth seed in the West for the second year in a row. Leading up to the playoffs, Golden State’s inconsistencies on the court became mirrored by locker room tension. Assistant Brian Scalabrine was demoted to coaching with Golden State’s D-League affiliate in Santa Cruz, Calif., due to a “difference in philosophies,” per Jackson. It was later reported that at one point, Scalabrine went five weeks without speaking to Jackson. Assistant coaches and head coaches usually talk to each other, in case you weren’t sure.
Not long after that, another beloved assistant coach, Darren Erman, was fired for a “violation of company policy.” ESPN’s Chris Broussard reported this week that the violation in question was secretly recording conversations within the organization between coaches, as well as between players and coaches, without their knowledge. This went on for three weeks until he was found out and subsequently fired. Jackson even reportedly asked Jerry West, a high-level adviser with the Dubs, to not attend practices and team activities (which Jackson refuted). Suffice it to say that Mark Jackson’s coaching nucleus hasn’t been the happiest place to be lately.
With tensions running high between Jackson and the Warriors front office and the perception that the Warriors have underachieved this season, it makes sense that Jackson’s seat is starting to warm up.
That being said, firing Mark Jackson would be a premature move by the Warriors, regardless of the outcome of Game 6 tonight (and possibly Game 7 this weekend). For one thing, his players, including star point guard Stephen Curry, absolutely love Jackson and after the assistant coaching controversies, they pretty much backed him 100 percent. With a team so young, Jackson’s preacher-style of motivational coaching is perfect for this group, even if it seems more fit for a Disney basketball movie to the rest of us. I can’t imagine Curry, Lee or Thompson would be too pleased if Jackson were let go.
But a universally loved coach can still get fired without success, so we can’t forget to mention the major hand Jackson’s had in changing the losing culture of Golden State. In his three seasons as the Warriors’ head coach, Jackson sports a 121-109 record (.526). If you exclude his first season in which Stephen Curry played only 26 games, Klay Thompson was only a rookie and Andrew Bogut still played for the Milwaukee Bucks, Jackson’s record is an impressive 98-66 (.598). His “us against the world” mentality seems like a bit much, but no one can deny this man is a winner.
Is he a master of rotations? Not particularly. Has he had problems managing his bench at times? Absolutely. Should Draymond Green have been starting sooner in Golden State’s current series with the Clippers? Sure. But to blame Jackson for being down 3-2 to a team many see as a championship contender is ludicrous, especially when you consider the Warriors are playing without their best interior defender and rebounder.
First it was Malone getting the praise for the W’s defense now its Erman being the “architect” of it, when does @MarkJackson13 get credit?
— warriorsworld (@warriorsworld) April 29, 2014
We should also point out that although the Warriors are the same seed they were last year, Golden State won four more games in 2013-14 and were a 50-plus win team in its first season with a new key player. Under his watch, the Warriors became a top 10 defense, Curry became a superstar and as the team improved, Oracle Arena turned into the most feared place to play in the NBA on the road. Is it Mark Jackson’s fault that the Dubs play in a historically brutal West? Is it his fault that almost every Western team from 2012-13 improved over the course of one season? Of course not.
Just look at teams one through nine in the West. The Spurs continued to do what they do; the Oklahoma City Thunder got a healthy Russell Westbrook back; the Los Angeles Clippers bolstered their bench and watched Blake Griffin make “the leap”; the Houston Rockets added Dwight Howard; the Portland Trail Blazers saw Damian Lillard blossom with more experience alongside LaMarcus Aldridge; the Memphis Grizzlies added perimeter shooter Mike Miller to their already tough lineup; the Dallas Mavericks had a healthy Dirk Nowitzki all year and a resurgent Monta Ellis; even the Phoenix Suns shocked the world behind Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, becoming the fourth team in NBA history to win 48 games and NOT make the playoffs.
Think about that. In 2012-13, this 2013-14 Suns team would have won more games than the Golden State Warriors did last year, yet it’s Mark Jackson’s fault the Dubs didn’t get a better seed despite winning more games? Not to mention the fact that Iguodala missed 19 games, Bogut missed 15 and Lee missed 13? If you want to blame anyone for the Warriors not living up to lofty preseason expectations, blame injuries for preventing this team from ever truly jelling. Blame the weak bench that couldn’t score until the Dubs brought in Steve Blake to facilitate, or the Western Conference for being so damn tough to get out of alive. But no matter what happens in this series, don’t blame Mark Jackson. And certainly don’t fire him.