“Things had to change,” Mark Jackson said on The Dan Patrick Show just one day after being fired as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors. From the way he answered questions, it appeared obvious Jackson’s mind may have already been made up: he was going to leave regardless.
Jackson wasn’t “playing the game” the way owner Joe Lacob or GM Bob Myers wanted him to. For those unsure what “playing the game” means–the phrase gets dropped multiple times in their conversation–it’s a reference to the politics of Jackson doing things the way the Warriors front office wants things done. But although Jackson brought the team to 51 wins this season, in addition to pushing the Los Angeles Clippers (arguably the most talented roster in the NBA) to a seven-game series without center Andrew Bogut, clearly, he failed to play the game this season, leading to his dismissal.
Jackson fired two of his assistant coaches before the last month of the NBA season, and there were reports of him clashing with Hall of Famer Jerry West and banning him from practices.
If you can’t get along with your boss, front office members or your own coaching staff, did you really expect Jackson’s firing to come as a surprise? The players were probably playing through the dysfunction. They didn’t sound too shocked either by the firing of their head coach.
With the Warriors firing Jackson after their best season in over 20 years, criticism for the front office is as high as it’s ever been since owner Joe Lacob was booed for trading away fan favorite Monta Ellis.
What you should know about Lacob is he certainly isn’t afraid of the spotlight, nor is he afraid to make daring moves. I’ll be the first to tell you that I didn’t initially agree with the decision to trade Ellis, believing the Warriors took a step back from it. But with how Lacob proved me and all of these Warriors fans wrong, I’ll be the first to never doubt any move he ever makes with this franchise again.
With that said, I came up with five reasons why I believe firing Mark Jackson was actually a good thing for the Warriors.
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1. Xs and Os
From multiple reports, I’ve read Jackson often referred to his assistant coaches to do much of the work, particularly the Xs and Os of the game. He was known to be a good motivator, but didn’t really know enough strategically to win more at the end of the day. From watching Warriors games last season, I would often see former assistant coach Mike Malone, the current head coach of the Sacramento Kings, do much of the coaching in late-game situations, drawing up plays. Sure, you can be a preacher and a good motivator, but a head coach at the professional level must know how to do it all.
Take coach Gregg Popovich from the San Antonio Spurs as a prime example of a good Xs and Os coach. In Popovich’s system, he’s proven to put every player in the right place, getting the most out of every member on his team. The Spurs may not have the most talented roster on paper, but for some reason, Popovich knows how to win games without any player on his team stealing the spotlight. Perhaps, he’s the reason the Spurs have the best record in the NBA. Popovich is a coach Mark Jackson could learn from.
2. Isolation Basketball
Not understanding the Xs and Os of the game can be costly, which would often result in a lot of isolation basketball from the Warriors. If you followed the Warriors this season, there were a countless number of times that Mark Jackson would clear out for Stephen Curry whenever the Warriors needed a bucket. If he wasn’t shooting threes, you often see Klay Thompson post up a smaller defender and go one-on-one, or David Lee just post up and iso himself in the paint.
To make matters worse, Jordan Crawford would almost always come off the bench and play one-on-one against anyone. Isolation basketball kills movement–the entire team just stands around. There was too much of that from too many Warriors players with Jackson. Yes, talent will win you games in this league, but at the end of the day, team basketball and ball movement will always win you more.
3. Hockey Substitutions
Throughout the season, it became a little strange how Jackson subbed in his players off the bench. The only thing I can think of this year is how perhaps he just wasn’t used to seeing Harrison Barnes come off the bench when he was an everyday starter last season. Often, Jackson would play five reserves for at least five minutes at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters. There were a countless number of times that he would have a lineup of Steve Blake, Jordan Crawford, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Marreese Speights on the floor together at the start of the second and fourth quarters. This would kill scoring for the Warriors, as these guys often had a difficult time scoring points together as a reserve unit.
At the very least, I believe coaches should have one to two starters on the floor with the reserve unit at all times. There’s just too much liability of subbing in five players all at once, which could shift the momentum of the game in a heartbeat. Jackson would often keep the reserves on the floor until a 10-point lead dissipated, or a tie game turned into a 10-point hole. Hockey substitutions never fly in the NBA as it should only be acceptable in blowout games–definitely not in the playoffs.
4. Utilizing Every Player
Beyond Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and David Lee, Jackson failed to get the most out of every player on a very talented Warriors roster. Andre Iguodala played arguably the worst basketball of his career in his first season with the Dubs, playing in an isolation-based offense. Andrew Bogut wasn’t utilized enough, averaging just five field goal attempts per game since becoming a Warrior.
To name a few more, Steve Blake never played to his full potential with the reserve unit, and overall, Jordan Crawford was barely used, playing much less than what people may have expected since being acquired midseason. The only player that over-performed this season was probably Draymond Green, which truly showed in the playoffs once Bogut was injured, and Jermaine O’Neal, who decided to move himself to the bench.
5. “Playing The Game” and Dysfunction
Of course, “playing the game” had to make this list and be one of the reasons that it’s better off Jackson won’t be coming back. First and foremost, for any boss that you work for, you need to return the favor more often by doing things the way ownership and upper management want things done. If you can’t satisfy them with any of your decisions, at the end of the day, it’s probably not the right job for you. The dysfunction of the Warriors coaching staff was a problem this season. Perhaps, maybe Jackson didn’t know what to do without his main assistant Mike Malone around for the first time. Also, banning legend and Hall of Famer Jerry West from team practices can’t be a good thing, and refusing to claim residency in the Bay Area by commuting from Southern California will certainly not make management too happy, either.
Yet, I’m actually quite surprised with how well the Warriors played without letting Jackson’s dysfunctional relationships get in the way of anything. In the end, his controversial firing just makes the Warriors more interesting next season as expectations have continued to rise from Warriors fans. The pressure is now on ownership and management once again to prove critics wrong. As far as having higher expectations for a team, isn’t that what Bay Area basketball fans should want?
What do you think?
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