The Golden State Warriors are a weird franchise, always have been in times both good and bad; and even though the team is just one loss away from playoff elimination, this particular part of the NBA’s spring should most definitely count as a “good” time. Most observers had the Los Angeles Clippers making quick work of the Andrew Bogut-less Warriors in their first-round series, but Golden State has rallied behind a small lineup, and has a chance to extend the series to seven games with a home win on Thursday night.
That would set the stage for a chance at the team’s second straight second-round appearance, the first time that has happened since three consecutive conference semifinals berths during the 1975-77 postseasons. So all should be free of storm and stress in Warriors camp, right? What with the team’s players clearly smitten with coach Mark Jackson, and a first-round ouster excused by the fact that the team is playing without their defensive monster of a center, and working up against a championship contender in the Clippers?
Not so fast, apparently. The latest batch of rumors to come out of the Bay Area, detailing Jackson’s apparent lack of job security, has been penned by San Jose Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami, leading off with a bit about how Warriors owner Joe Lacob is apparently put off by the fact that Jackson commutes to his gig in northern California from all the way down in Los Angeles:
So… If the Warriors decide to move on from Jackson after the season is over, it will be due to far more serious reasons than his decision to commute from L.A.
Generally, Jackson is a polarizing figure in so many ways, and increasingly he’s polarizing within Warriors HQ.
He’s loved by most of his players and respected by the front office for getting the Warriors to play defense and play together; and yet he’s also a huge target for fans and sometimes for Warriors executives when things go awry, including in this series against the Clippers.
This is where Jackson has run into some indirect conflict with NBA legend and Warriors executive Jerry West, by the way.
Jackson has occasionally rolled his eyes whenever West interacts with Warriors players because Jackson believes all basketball instruction should come from the coaches.
West, meanwhile, has privately voiced concerns to other front office members about Jackson’s strategic ideas and the strength of the coaching staff after the departure of former assistant Michael Malone last summer.
Malone, who left the team to coach the Sacramento Kings last summer, was thought to be Jackson’s defensive guru of sorts, holding a team full of wispy perimeter shooters together with his bench machinations behind MJ. Golden State has rounded into a top four defensive team under Jackson this season, though, while Malone’s miserable Kings barely moved the needle on that end.
Of course, Golden State’s newfound defensive acumen can also be credited to a full year of a healthy Bogut, at least until recently, and the addition of swingman Andre Iguodala, perhaps the most versatile perimeter defender in the NBA. Both are signed to massive contracts, signaling that the Warriors front office understands that the time to win is now, and that the team can’t wait until Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson’s primes with Bogut’s bones and Iguodala’s advanced age (in comparison to his younger teammates) involved.
Then there are the incidents, the almost Phil-Jackson-without-the-rings banishments that would seem to spell doom for Mark Jackson should his team not go on an extended playoff run.
After a reported confrontation with fellow assistant Pete Myers, Jackson re-assigned rookie assistant coach Brian Scalabrine to the Warriors’ D-League affiliate in Santa Cruz. It was later reported that Jackson and Scalabrine had not spoken for five weeks, for whatever reason. Highly-regarded assistant Darren Erman then reportedly was caught recording private conversations between Jackson and his coaching staff – again, for whatever reason – and he was promptly fired, only to be hired soon after by the Boston Celtics.
This, coupled with the uneasy Malone divorce, with a rumor about Jackson’s iffy relationship with West (which Jackson has denied) thrown on top, leads to a swirling mess that management may decide that no amount of sound player-coach relations can overcome.
Although … isn’t that supposed to be the point? We applauded Phil Jackson for drawing blinds on his practices and asking that Jerry Krause not bother his players, why isn’t Mark Jackson allowed to do the same?
Probably because he’s fighting to get out of the first round, working with a team that is set to make over $71.3 million this year in terms of payroll. That’s less than a half million under the luxury tax ceiling, the sort of cash that teams spend on championship contenders, and yet you’d be hard-pressed to find an analyst expecting even a fully-healthy Warriors team make its way out of the playoff bracket.
With the sheer amount of viable coaches available, one can understand why the Warriors front office might be sniffing around. Steve Kerr may prefer a job near his home in California and a ready-made winner in Golden State over a capped-out and draft pick-less team in New York. Jeff Van Gundy would never step in to replace his former broadcast partner, but his brother Stan might not be deterred. The Warriors might think that Bogut and Iguodala’s presence is enough defensively to bring Mike D’Antoni in to run a gunnin’ system. Kevin Ollie and Fred Hoiberg are in-touch former players that could make the NCAA-to-NBA jump.
And those are just the chewier names, as the analytics-aware Warriors executive end might have its eyes on an assistant coach that we’ve heard little of.
It’s been rumored that Indiana’s Frank Vogel, Houston’s Kevin McHale, and to a lesser extent Scott Brooks, Randy Wittman and Dwane Casey were and are coaching for their jobs in these playoffs. Mark Jackson might not make this list not so much because his Warriors could advance to the second round with two well-timed wins, but because the decision on the much-loved Golden State coach may have already been made.
Like we said – weird team.
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