Things were supposed to be changin’, but instead something strange done happened in the Bay Area over the last three years. Before we move on to the Steve Kerr era, it seems necessary to take one last quick look at Mark Jackson’s tenure with the Warriors.
Like just about every Warriors fan, I was initially excited by Jackson’s hire in 2011, even without a second of coaching experience on his resume. Through his first one-and-a-half seasons most of us saw no reason why Jackson couldn’t become an excellent head coach. Early criticisms, like head assistant Mike Malone getting more accolades for the team’s success, seemed unfair and unsubstantiated.
Jackson received a mulligan for his first season. Steph Curry’s ankles became a major problem and he played just 26 games. Monta Ellis played less than half the season before being traded for Andrew Bogut, who didn’t suit up at all. In the end, fans cheered as each Warriors loss improved their draft positioning.
With lowered expectations, Jackson’s second season was a huge success. The Warriors started 22-10, went into a bit of a funk in mid-January, and then Curry began to show signs of super stardom.
Jackson’s coaching prospects were at an all-time high until late in the season. That’s when fans started noticing holes in the offense. Why was Jarrett Jack dribbling so much as players ran around but never got open? Why is the main offensive play Jack heaving jumpers late in the shot clock? Why does the team always have issues getting the ball in bounds? And what’s so special about the corner of a basketball court that causes the Warriors to always dribble into it?
Criticism of Jackson’s coaching slowly began seeping into the conversations of Warriors fans – through social media, the concourses of Oracle Arena and alongside Bay Area water coolers.
The concerns were put aside for the moment as the Warriors upset the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs and held their own against the Spurs before losing in round two.
But the concerns were not forgotten. Definitely not by management. Issues between Jackson and management started to boil up at the end of season two.
Jackson wanted a contract extension. Instead, the Warriors picked up his option. Not what Jackson wanted, but it still gave him two more years of security on his deal.
Who knows what happened between the two sides at this point. One thing we do know is Jackson did not acquiesce to management’s request to build a strong coaching staff, including a proven #1 assistant when Malone left for the Kings. Instead, Jackson was loyal to the unproven Pete Myers, promoting him, and bringing in Lindsey Hunter, fresh off a pink slip from his controversial coaching gig in Phoenix.
Did Joe Lacob and Bob Myers do something to cause Jackson to go against their coaching wishes? Did they do something disrespectful that caused Jackson to turn on them?
At this point, we don’t know. But instead of properly addressing the rift and ultimately fixing it, things went downhill, as I chronicled here per sources from within the team’s locker room.
The only conclusion for Jackson’s actions that I can come to is that he saw the writing on the wall. He knew he wasn’t Lacob or Myers’ long-term coaching solution. His only move was to get the players behind him, go as far as he could in the playoffs and force management to extend his contract. Going all William Wallace Braveheart on your bosses doesn’t seem logical, but why else would Jackson do the things he did?
As he began his third season, many fans saw flaws in Jackson’s coaching while many remained loyal. Both sides had good reason behind their feelings. Even with the flaws, I held out hope that he would learn and become better. His speeches during timeouts still left goose bumps. But without a strong staff, the offense faltered. With two of the games best shooters, an unselfish small forward and two great passing big men, the offense was stagnate. Boring. Isolated.
The team was behind Jackson, but they also played flat against subpar teams. However, they would usually bounce back and even showed signs of greatness against the likes of the Heat and Thunder.
On court inconsistency was met with off-court craziness. We’ve heard the Brian Scalabrine and Darren Erman stories. Let’s not forget the awkward religious videos Jackson made in his Warriors office, where he accidentally called coaching his “part-time job.” Or the strange Andrew Bogut sleeping accusation.
As the Warriors won 51 games and made the playoffs for the second straight season, sources I spoke with during the Clippers first round series said “nothing short of an NBA Finals run will save his job.”
What started with holes in his coaching – a problem that was fixable – turned into Jackson going against management’s wishes with the hiring of his assistants and then a full-blown rebellion from within his coaching staff. At the same time, there was an unhealthy office culture of management versus coaches. Lacob and Myers made up their minds before the Clippers series was over. Jackson was done.
Did Lacob and Myers do something wrong to cause Jackson to act this way? Maybe. I imagine Lacob’s ego might be on par with Christian Bale discussing scenes with the lighting technician. No doubt Jackson didn’t find him to be the easiest boss to get along with.
But we don’t yet know those details, if there are any. What we know is Jackson went rogue. It didn’t work out for Sarah Palin and it didn’t work out for Jackson.
A new era of Warriors basketball begins under Steve Kerr. But it will look very similar to the last era. Same management team. Same players. Just different guys wearing different suits on the bench. And, I’m guessing, no religious sermons filmed from the coach’s office.