How Mark Jackson's Success Could Cost Him His Job As Warriors Coach

(originally written 4/22/14)

By now, most Golden State Warrior fans are aware of assistant coach Brian Scalabrine’s mysterious “reassignment” to the D-League by head coach Mark Jackson back in late March. 

 

As one would expect, ESPN.com featured the breaking story front-and-center on its main page (despite typically neglecting to feature any actual Warrior game results there.) In the accompanying comment box, dozens of hoop fans nationwide contributed their thoughts on the matter, and on the state of the Dubs in general.

 

Most, amazingly, felt that Jackson should no longer coach the Warriors.

 

Why? For starters, wrote some: he’s not much of a strategist. It seems the fans aren’t satisfied because the Warriors aren’t creative enough when they score the 10th-most points in the NBA, nor when they allow the eighth-fewest points in the NBA.

 

Yes, yes. We all know Andre Iguodala likely should have been ordered to foul LeBron James in the closing seconds of the February 12 loss to Miami. Denver’s Nate Robinson should have never been allowed to almost single-handedly upend GS in the 4th quarter on January 14. 

And if Steph Curry hadn’t buried that J over Kris Humphries January 10 vs. Boston, Jackson would have had to answer for not fouling Gerald Wallace—a 33 percent foul shooter at the time who held the ball on the block for three full seconds—on the Celts’ final possession.

 

But what cannot be ignored are the two items which used to be the barometer for which coaches were measured: Golden State’s effort, and Golden State’s victory total. 

 

Having witnessed 70 of the Warriors’ 81 contests this season from tip to horn, what cannot be questioned is this club’s effort and heart. Are they flawed? Of course they are. But these young (and old) millionaires play hard for Jackson. They play hurt for him. By and large they play well for him.

But to some, it’s just not enough.

 

Nevermind that during this season’s first half, the Warriors bench consisted of maybe two players who Jackson could count on to adequately spell his starters. Nevermind that the frontline has battled nagging injuries throughout the season, costing them a combined 47 starts.

Nevermind a grossly imbalanced NBA where just about all the teams in Golden State’s conference are quality, even the teams that weren’t supposed to be (Phoenix, Portland).

 

One would assume a fan base subjected to losing teams in 15 of 17 years before Jackson’s arrival might appreciate the Warriors’ success under Jackson, rather than call for his head because the team isn’t 82-0. Or that a front office reaping the benefits of 80 consecutive sellouts would have his back and lock him up long-term.

 

Instead, he's in a position of shooting down rumors of him pursuing other coaching gigs—rumors which would have never sprouted were it not for Jackson's lack of job security.

 

Whether Jackson has or hasn't inquired about potential openings around the league, one can't blame any man in any profession for looking out for himself when he has legitimate reason to believe unemployment is imminent.

Jackson has the public support of his players, ranging from emerging superstar Steph Curry to grizzled vet Jermaine O'Neal. The latter, in fact, told reporters in March that the only way he returns for a 19th season is to play for the Warriors—and Jackson.

 

It’s a situation not unlike that of the 49ers, whose top brass came close to trading away coach Jim Harbaugh to the Browns back in February. You know, the man who’s guided them to three consecutive NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl. Harbaugh, and to a lesser degree Jackson, should be worshipped by their superiors and fanatics.

 

But clearly that isn't the case. It wasn’t enough to take two of their league’s worst franchises and not only return them to respectability, but mold them into contenders almost instantly (Don't forget: Jackson's first year in Oakland was impacted by lockout, controversial trade and flagrant tanking.) Bay Area fans want it all and they want it all yesterday. 

 

No one is advocating accepting mediocrity, but the mindset of many Warriors fans can be compared to that of a homeless man who, with the help of a counselor, finally lands an apartment after years on the street—then sues said counselor because he wanted a house.

 

The most troubling aspect of the Jackson situation: Golden State went through this before, not long ago. Remember 1994, the last time GS won 50 games before this year? Coach Don Nelson didn't even make it through the following season before being let go. That move (and others) set the Warriors back 12 years until...ahem...Nelson himself was re-hired.

 

If Jackson finds himself axed, rest assured the exact same voices who called for his head will call for management's head for listening to them should the Warriors slump in 2014-15. It is possible Bob Myers and co. could stumble upon the next Dave Joerger and the Dubs, like the post-Lionel Hollis Grizzlies, stay upright. To count on such good fortune, however? Beyond foolish.

 

Certainly, if Jackson's first name were Phil rather than Mark, he wouldn't be fending off questions regarding job security. The Warriors shook off a lack of depth and growing health issues to land a sixth seed in a very deep Western Conference. In just about any region, credit and praise for that achievement would go to the head coach.  

 

In the Bay Area, all it gets him is vitriol.