The Golden State Warriors are the best team in basketball. They sport the league’s top record at 16-2, have won 11 consecutive games, and rank top-five in both offensive and defensive efficiency – a feat unmatched by any NBA peer. And while awesome season-long player performance has obviously contributed to Golden State’s unparalleled success thus far, the influence of first-year coach Steve Kerr can’t be discounted, either. The Warriors made only modest adjustments to their roster this summer, after all; the biggest change was replacing Mark Jackson on the sidelines with Kerr.
Jackson’s departure from The Bay was contentious. He was fired despite leading Golden State to their first 50-win campaign in 20 years last season, and helped break the ‘Dubs five-year playoff drought by guiding them to a postseason birth one year earlier. The players, especially franchise cornerstone and current MVP frontrunner Stephen Curry, loved him.
But after the Warriors – playing without Andrew Bogut – lost a hard-fought Game 7 in the first-round to the Los Angeles Clippers last May, owner Joe Lacob made the almost unprecedented decision to let Jackson go. And while Golden State’s lack of major on-court progress in 2013-2014 was enough justification to some for The Preacher’s ouster, it was clear all season long that tension between Jackson and the Warriors front office would eventually boil over – Lacob’s choice to fire him had at least as much to do with the latter as the former.
Golden State’s majority owner clarified that notion during a speech in Menlo Park, CA at the National Venture Capital Association luncheon earlier this week. Helpfully transcribed by Diamond Leung of the Bay Area New Group:
“Right now, (Kerr) looks great,” Lacob said at the Western Association of Venture Capitalists/National Venture Capital Association luncheon Wednesday. “I think he will be great. And he did the one big thing that I wanted more than anything else from Mark Jackson he just wouldn’t do, in all honesty, which is hire the very best.
“Carte blanche. Take my wallet. Do whatever it is to get the best assistants there are in the world. Period. End of story. Don’t want to hear it. And (Jackson’s) answer . . . was, ‘Well, I have the best staff.’ No you don’t. And so with Steve, very, very different.”
“You can’t have a staff underneath you that isn’t that good,” Lacob said. “And if you’re going to get better, you’ve got to have really good assistants. You’ve got to have people that can be there to replace you. We all know this from all of our companies. It’s . . . Management 101. A lot of people on the outside couldn’t understand it when we (fired Jackson).”
Two of Jackson’s assistants – Brian Scalabrine and Darren Erman – left the team during the season last year. Scalabrine was re-assigned to the D-League’s Santa Cruz Warriors under suspicious circumstances in March. Erman, a Boston Celtics scout who is the only one of Jackson’s assistants that remains on league payroll, was reportedly fired for secretly recording coach and player meetings.
Kerr, on the other hand, has assembled arguably the best staff in basketball. He hired associate head coach Alvin Gentry away from the Los Angeles Clippers to help architect the Warriors’ vastly improved offense, and stole highly regarded assistant Ron Adams away from the Celtics to maintain Golden State’s defensive dominance. Kerr gave well-respected veterans Luke Walton and Jarron Collins their first professional coaching opportunities, too.
But Jackson’s refusal to assemble a cohesive and capable group of assistants wasn’t his only undoing. The broadcaster’s rifts with Scalabrine and Erman spoke to disharmony between he and the vast majority of members throughout the organization.
Lacob made no bones about that reality upon Jackson’s firing, and doubled-down on it in Menlo Park:
“Part of it was that he couldn’t get along with anybody else in the organization,” Lacob said. “And look, he did a great job, and I’ll always compliment him in many respects, but you can’t have 200 people in the organization not like you.”
While assessing Lacob’s controversial decision for Hardwood Paroxysm, we argued that the unrealized promise of Kerr easily outweighed the success Jackson had with the Warriors – especially considering the likelihood that his brash personality would lead to further disfunction.
That’s been proven right in the season’s early going, but was hardly inevitable at the time. Golden State had a good thing going despite Jackson’s volatility, and there was no guarantee the team would warm to Kerr the way it has or that his schematic prowess would be realized so early in his coaching career.
It was a gamble by Lacob, and it’s one that could pay off in a big, big way. The candor he expressed with regard to Jackson’s firing is similar. Most owners aren’t so forthright, and Lacob’s blunt honesty surely rubbed many in league circles the wrong way.
But the Warriors are riding higher than ever due to Lacob’s foresight. Why not gloat a bit? We wish more franchise higher-ups were this transparent.
What do you think?
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