Brian Scalabrine Says Mark Jackson Didn’t Challenge His Players Enough

Last season, Michael Jordan clone Brian Scalabrine famously spent the second half of the season coaching Golden State’s D-League team, the Santa Cruz Warriors, after being demoted from a lead assistant by then-coach Mark Jackson. Last week, Scals went on Doug Gottlieb‘s radio show for CBS Sports and talked about his difference of opinion when it came to the coaching philosophy of Jackson, who was terminated after leading the Dubs to the playoffs in two consecutive seasons including a No. 6 seed last year.

Jackson fired assistant Darren Erman last year for privately taping conversations between the coach, players and staff. Erman claimed later he was only doing so under orders from the Warriors’ front office. This came after Sacalabrine had been demoted to the D-League, so it painted a chaotic picture behind the scenes even as the Warriors continued to play admirably on their way to a No. 6 seed in a stacked Western Conference.

According to Scalabrine, Jackson never gave Stephen Curry enough responsibility — particularly on the defensive end — to become the championship-level player Scalabrine thinks he can become.

The Scalabrine interview, as transcribed by the Bay Area News Group’s Diammond Leung, partially addresses what went wrong in Oakland last season. The White Mamba directly answers questions about his tenure as an assistant under Jackson, and their differences in coaching style. Before his talk with Gottlieb, Scalabrine had only alluded to his allegedly fractious relationship with Jackson in a comic manner during his LeBron parody.

It seems Jackson failed in his efforts to to improve the team and appeared comfortable treading water, which Scalabrine doesn’t think is the proper way to motivate a team grasping to reach the summit of the NBA Mountain:

“Generally, as a staff we really didn’t prepare our team to be championship-caliber nor did we prepare our team to eventually be championship-caliber.

“I respected him [Jackson] as a head coach going into that, but after a while, it was just like us not doing what I would feel like our job is. It was just kind of frustrating.”

He lists Curry’s defense as one example. It seems Jackson would put Curry on an opponent’s weaker guard, even though Curry wanted to match up against the best the West had to offer. This fell in line with Jackson’s somewhat laissez-affaire approach to his role as head coach. Scalabrine didn’t feel he challenged the team enough to become more consistent and expand their skills beyond what they’d already achieved the year before:

“Taking the easy way out, right?” Scalabrine said. “Like putting (Curry) on not the best player, and that wasn’t his decision. That’s not Steph Curry’s responsibility. Steph wanted to guard Chris Paul. He wanted to guard Tony Parker. I can guarantee you. Everyone that knows Steph Curry knows that he’s like an elite competitor.

“But as a staff, Coach Jackson made that decision in saying, ‘Hey, I’m not going to challenge this guy. I’m not going to push this guy to be better on both ends of the floor. I want to save him for the offensive end.’ Look, I think Steph Curry if he was challenged day in and day out to defend, if you want to win a championship, you have to be able to defend your position.”

“I think that with the right scheme and having the right coach and putting him in the right position, Steph Curry is going to be a point guard that wins an NBA championship,” Scalabrine said. “He has that kind of ability, and it’s not just on one the side of the floor.”

Whether or not Jackson’s approach was a disservice to Steph is open to interpretation, but a lot of coaches will attempt to conserve the energy of their primary offensive player on the other end by matching them up against an inferior player.

Scalabrine also said the Dubs should have included Klay Thompson in a deal to acquire Kevin Love. Though careful to say he likes Klay as a player, Scalabrine thinks Love could have been a deciding factor in Golden State taking that next step to real championship contention — especially when paired with Curry and Andrew Bogut as a rim protector.

The Dubs famously held back on including Thompson in a move that would have also included David Lee and Harrison Barnes, which is why Cleveland and Minnesota have a tacit agreement to complete their trade sending Love to the Cavs later this month.

Scalabrine also adroitly points out Love has never played with a shot-blocking center, which, coincidentally, the Warriors have in Bogut. He thinks a Love/Steph/Bogut triumvirate would have worked nicely in the Bay:

“My only knock on Kevin Love is I just think he’s never played with a great shot-blocking center, and Andrew Bogut is a great shot-blocking center,” Scalabrine said. “I’m not saying I’m right. Everyone has their own opinion. I personally would have made the move and then tried to convince a Mike Miller or a Ray Allen or some kind of shooting guard, try to trade for Kyle Korver, try to replace that shooting from Klay Thompson.

“Put Kevin Love with a shot-blocking center, a lot of his defensive errors are just based on size and athletic ability. Personally, I would have done it because I think Kevin Love really is a game-changer when he has a guy like Steph Curry with him or a guy that can create shots for him.”

The 36-year-old former bench savant is widely regarded as one of the smarter players around the Association. He became a cult hero during his 10-year career, but that masks his basketball IQ, so what he’s saying shouldn’t be whisked from memory simply because he’s got a goofy nickname and sports an impressive mop of red hair.

Despite lacking the athleticism one normally associates with an NBA player, Scalabrine was a part of Boston’s 2008 title-winning team, and played under Coach Tom Thibodeau while the latter was an assistant with the Celtics during their title run, and later in Chicago, soaking up some of his defensive philosophy, and his ability to get his players to improve and buy into his game plan.

Perhaps that’s the disconnect Scalabrine alludes to in his interview while talking about Jackson. Thibodeau, and before him, Doc Rivers, demanded their players take the toughest challenges and always compete so they could improve with the ultimate objective to mold them into champions. Jackson, however, wanted to preserve his players for what they did best, failing to assign them the difficult tasks that might have turned them into champions.

Do you agree with Scalabrine’s assessment of Jackson as a coach?

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