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For decades, NBA owners have spoken at local banquets, charity functions or business-driven get-togethers and spoken freely about their teams behind a microphone. Rarely did their words get picked up by the press, though, because nobody really cared much about what Irv Levin said about the San Diego Clippers at some taffeta-rich function in 1981.
Times have changed, and, as a result, one rarely hears an owner going all out in candidly discussing various executive decisions made about their respective franchises in public and especially on record. The Golden State Warriors made one massive executive decision last summer, dumping a 50-win coach in Mark Jackson who was fully supported by his players in order to hire Steve Kerr with a five-year deal. Kerr had yet to coach at any level, and Jackson had enjoyed significant standings success with the Warriors on top of the sturdy relationships he had built with his players.
It should have been a baffling move. Instead, it was widely praised and understood by most. Kerr’s Warriors have roared out to a 16-2 start to the season, for various reasons, sustaining a strong defensive presence while cashing in on the team’s significant offensive gifts.
Beaming from the fast start, Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob recently decided to completely toss Jackson and his former assistant coaching staff under the veritable bus while talking at a luncheon in front of the Western Association of Venture Capitalists/National Venture Capital Association. Holy lord, do I not want to lunch at that luncheon.
"Right now, (Kerr) looks great," Lacob said at the Western Association of Venture Capitalists/National Venture Capital Association luncheon Wednesday. "I think he will be great. And he did the one big thing that I wanted more than anything else from Mark Jackson he just wouldn't do, in all honesty, which is hire the very best.
"Carte blanche. Take my wallet. Do whatever it is to get the best assistants there are in the world. Period. End of story. Don't want to hear it. And (Jackson's) answer . . . was, 'Well, I have the best staff.' No you don't. And so with Steve, very, very different."
"You can't have a staff underneath you that isn't that good," Lacob said. "And if you're going to get better, you've got to have really good assistants. You've got to have people that can be there to replace you. We all know this from all of our companies. It's . . . Management 101. A lot of people on the outside couldn't understand it when we (fired Jackson)."
"Part of it was that he couldn't get along with anybody else in the organization," Lacob said. "And look, he did a great job, and I'll always compliment him in many respects, but you can't have 200 people in the organization not like you."
Warriors players, to a man, will credit Jackson for doing good things to motivate them, and to shore up the team’s previously-terrible defense. You cannot knock the ascendency that was fostered under Jackson’s gauge.
You can knock just about everything else, though.
Since the beginning of the season, Warriors center Andrew Bogut has repeatedly praised the team’s new offensive sets without tossing so much as a qualifier in there to credit Jackson’s role in shaping this growing team. Stephen Curry has done as much, to a far lesser degree, and in a fantastic profile from Marcus Thompson released Friday, the once-beleaguered and now resurgent Harrison Barnes just about eviscerated Jackson in glorious passive/aggressive terms:
“It’s hard when you get the ball in an iso situation and you have a set defense in front of you,” Barnes said. “Very few players in the league can do that. You look at the best – Durant, Melo, those guys – look at what percentage they shoot. And that’s the best of the best, so you can imagine where I’m at. I’m like at 15, 20 percent on isos. To get me with the ball moving, getting me in different spots, playing off other people, that’s more of a strength for me right now. Going straight isos, that wasn’t a strength for me.”
They’re not really a strength for anyone. Even Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony, as Barnes mentioned, still need some form of misdirection and/or team play to remain potent in a five-man game. For the Golden State Warriors, more or less constructed as they currently are save for the production of David Lee, to finish 12th in offense last season was a basketball crime of the highest order. Kerr’s Warriors haven’t shot to the toppermost of the poppermost -- they’re still stuck at seventh overall -- but the emergence of Barnes as an all-around player says plenty.
Lacob’s comments about Mark Jackson taking whatever he needed out of ownership’s wallet say quite a bit. Reportedly, Jackson chafed at the credit former assistant coach Mike Malone (now a head man in Sacramento) received during 2012-13 for Golden State’s rebound year, and Jackson fired the incredibly well-regarded assistant Darren Erman and re-assigned assistant Brian Scalabrine last season. Former Jackson assistant Pete Myers has acted as a long-time bench guy and sometimes-interim coach, but by and large reports out of Golden State suggested Jackson and his preferred crew tended to slough off dogged X's and O's preparation in the face of a killer Western Conference slate of opponents.
If that falls into the unfortunate stereotype of the slick TV guy sliding over into the head coach’s seat, so be it. Steve Kerr went out to hire perhaps the two most respected assistant coaches he could – Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams – and appears fully ready to take on the sort of role that Larry Bird played in his near-championship turn as coach of the Indiana Pacers. Bird’s two top assistants were absolute world beaters, Rick Carlisle and Dick Harter, and Bird showed absolutely no hesitation prior to crediting them for more or less running the play-to-play show.
Jackson – again, reportedly – appeared to have an issue on that end. Which may have led to Lacob’s claim that 200 people in the Warriors organization couldn’t stand the guy. We don’t like piling on, but we also don’t like catchphrases interrupting our nationally televised broadcasts of NBA games. That’s a tradeoff that we’ll take, though, if it means a championship-level team in Golden State is playing to its potential.
The West is a killer, and there is a solid enough chance the Warriors could fall in the same first-round setting that ended their season in 2013 and last spring. Right now, though, the team is riding high, and the team’s owner is pointedly taking every chance he can to trash a former coach he clearly did not like.
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