When Mark Jackson became the head coach of the Golden State Warriors coach last June, he had to have known that he faced a serious challenge. Faced with an unbalanced roster and needing to change an entire culture to succeed, Jackson had a long-term project on his hands. And yet, as if that weren't an issue at all, Jackson guaranteed a spot in the playoffs and then doubled down on that prediction after the team started this season 5-10.
With the Warriors now playing for a draft pick after overhauling their roster at the trade deadline, the playoffs are no longer even a remote hope. So it stands to reason that Jackson would regret some aspect of his postseason promise, right? Well, not quite, although his reasoning does make some sense. From Rusty Simmons for the San Francisco Chronicle (via SLAM):
"If I had to do it all over again, I'd come in talking the same mess," Jackson said before the Warriors' 112-103 loss to Dallas at Oracle Arena. "I wouldn't have said it if I didn't believe it, but it also raised the bar for our expectations across the board. It'd be easy to come in and talk about a long process and needing a long time to get it right, but that's not what I signed up for."
"I'll take the criticism and the heat that comes with it, but I came in with a mind-set to change the culture," Jackson said. "When you're changing the culture, there are going to be some tough spots. Obviously, it hasn't been the season that we wanted it to be, but we're excited about what the future holds."
Jackson's comments are a little self-contradictory — he claims both that he wasn't interested in a long process and that he had the mindset to change the culture over time — but the general idea that teams can't succeed unless they set lofty goals for themselves is basically true. Professional athletes thrive on confidence, and if the coach doesn't believe in their abilities then they're not likely to, either. No one can blame Jackson for trying to instill that confidence in his players.
What we can criticize is making those efforts public, because then they become matters for the fans and media to assess. That's particularly problematic for a franchise like the Warriors, which has such a history of not fulfilling expectations that fans might turn on their new owners after a little more than a year. Negative public opinion isn't necessarily a barrier to success, but Jackson's job can only get tougher if fans feel like he's selling them on a set of unrealistic expectations. By promising so much, he didn't exactly put himself in a position to succeed this season.
The good news is that Jackson seems to realize that he needs to adjust his approach. When asked about his expectations for next season, he avoided any promises and simply said the goal was "growing and maturing." That's vague, and not tied to any concrete benchmarks. But in a league where fortunes can change quickly and injuries derail plans, it's also the realistic way of looking at things.