By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
And so it turns out that hiring Mark Jackson to coach the Warriors wasn’t the risky move by owner Joe Lacob.
Firing him was.
Jackson’s future in Golden State had been in obvious peril for months, since Lacob made it a very public issue in an interview with Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area News Group, and so the announcement Tuesday that Jackson was gone was no surprise. When 51 wins in the regular season followed by a commendable playoff showing in a seven-game loss to the better team, the Clippers, with the complete backing of star player Stephen Curry doesn’t save a job, then Lacob was clearly heading in this direction for a long time.
Now all Lacob has to do is find someone better.
The emotional owner wanted a coach who would take the Warriors from the traditional fun bunch of an offensive threat to a group that would defend, and Jackson delivered. The owner wanted a team of passion that would offer something more than the signature Golden State pratfall of regular-season thrills replaced by zero playoffs or a few games as the sparring partner, and Jackson delivered. The owner wanted someone who could mesh veterans together while developing prospects, and Jackson delivered.
One of the best fan bases in the league, supportive in the drought years and all the right kinds of maniacal in the payback of the playoffs the last two seasons under Jackson, is going to want an explanation from Lacob and deserves one.
Jackson’s attitude of superiority created the distance from ownership and the front office that would become his undoing, but he had the locker room. The underdog Warriors went to Denver, nearly an impossible place for road teams to win in 2012-13, lost All-Star David Lee, didn’t flinch, had a hobbled Curry, beat the Nuggets and pressed the Spurs to six games in the second round. The underdog Warriors faced the Clippers this season without the important defensive and emotional presence of Andrew Bogut, didn’t flinch, and got to the final minute of the final game on the road before losing Saturday.
Amid all the positives of the roster in place combined with the aggressive and smart early history of Lacob and general manager Bob Myers joined with the support around the Bay Area, there will be no shortage of interested replacements. They will wonder about whether Lacob’s passion leads to unrealistic expectations, but people like Steve Kerr will also be able to rationalize it to themselves. This has become a destination franchise, and putting the Knicks and Warriors back to back is a no contest, with the added appeal that Kerr would be relatively close to his San Diego home base. New York has the singular advantage of the relationship with Phil Jackson.
The classic part is that if Jackson had this exact run with another team and he was available at the same time there was a vacancy in Oakland, he would be the epitome of what Lacob wanted. Instead, Kerr has emerged as the leading candidate as what Jackson was immediately before the Warriors hired him in 2011: a former veteran guard used to pressure situations but with no experience on the bench at any level and a post-playing career in broadcasting.
The absence of coaching experience made Jackson a daring move for Lacob then, before Jackson repaid the confidence. It just wasn’t the ultimate gut call that could blow up on the Warriors. Firing Jackson was.