The Golden State Warriors are in uncharted territory.
Darren Erman—the second high-level Dubs assistant coach to lose his job in the past two weeks—is gone, and the Warriors will soon head into the postseason unsure of the franchise's overall stability.
Well, most of the Warriors will be unsure; head coach Mark Jackson has never been one to doubt the resolve of his team, per Diamond Leung of the San Jose Mercury News:
To me, I think it's a great time for us as a team and an organization. To still be standing, this isn't new. It's new to you guys. It's not new to us. So to still be standing, still winning and still in our right minds says a lot about this culture.
A great pastor said, 'You cannot fix the foundation in the middle of a storm. It's too late then.' The foundation has been laid, and it's going to hold up.
Whatever you think about Jackson's blustery rhetoric, for the Warriors' sake, he'd better be right.
A second canned coach in as many weeks certainly doesn't mark the Warriors as a franchise with a firm foundation—even if the reason for Erman's removal isn't as outwardly indicative of more internal strife on Jackson's staff.
According to general manager Bob Myers, this one's not on the head coach:
Warriors GM Bob Myers said Darren Erman decision was made among the highest parts of the organization and is unrelated to Brian Scalabrine.— Rusty Simmons (@Rusty_SFChron) April 5, 2014
We can't know how fair or necessary the firing was until the details come out. For now, all we know is it sounds like the front office had no choice:
Told that if the Warriors didn't fire Erman, and later it came out what he did, it would look really bad on Warriors— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) April 5, 2014
If that's true, it's not fair to pin this latest distraction on Jackson.
Unfortunately, "fair" isn't an adjective that often applies to how NBA head coaches are treated by fans and the media. And no matter what the cause of Erman's ouster was, his removal gives more weight to the notion Jackson isn't presiding over a reliable bunch of assistants who are, as he so often puts it, pulling in the same direction.
Regardless of why Erman was let go, the chaos is a solid pretext for letting MJax go— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) April 5, 2014
Fair or not, this is going to hurt Jackson in the long run. But will it hurt the Warriors in the immediate future?
The actual reason behind Erman's firing must have some bearing on what it'll mean for the Warriors' playoff chemistry. But it's irresponsible to play guessing games at this juncture, so all we're left to wonder about is how Erman's absent voice will affect what the Warriors do over the next few weeks.
In his relatively brief NBA tenure, Erman, 37, earned a reputation as an extremely capable coach. Guys like him, who didn't play at a high level or spend decades studying under entrenched, iconic coaches don't just fall into jobs.
They earn them through 20-hour days and obvious basketball intellect.
By all accounts Erman's really good at his job. Won the Summer League title with a squad that had almost no offensive talent— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) April 5, 2014
But if Jackson is the one voice in Golden State's locker room, as he asserted he was when he demoted Brian Scalabrine, then whatever Erman was preaching would have effectively come from Jackson anyway. In that sense, maybe Erman's absence won't be a big deal.
Still, disrupting the status quo that got the Warriors this far (they're on pace for their first 50-win season in two decades) seems problematic. Losing two key assistants in short order has to affect how the Warriors operate on a day-to-day basis. And players are creatures of habit, so even if competent replacements step into vacated roles, there'll still be a disruption in the course of business.
We can't yet know if Erman's absence will negatively affect game-to-game preparation and strategy or, more importantly, morale. But it will have an impact.
If nothing else, Erman's firing and Scalabrine's demotion introduce uncertainty into the Warriors' mix. And for a team with plenty of preexisting wild cards—injuries to David Lee and Andrew Bogut, a puzzlingly substandard offense and Jackson's looming lame-duck status—the uncertainty quota was already full.
The Warriors are in no real danger of missing the postseason. With less than two weeks left in the year, they have a two-game cushion between themselves and the West's No. 9 seed. Critically, they'll face just one current playoff team, the Portland Trail Blazers, on their remaining schedule.
Amid this kind of turmoil, getting into the playoffs is still no small task. And if the Dubs avoid distraction, they might be capable of winning a first-round series.
The bigger picture is hazier, though.
Erman and Scalabrine were cut loose for different reasons which should, to some degree, lessen the appearance of a major organizational rift. Even if Erman's firing isn't an instance of Jackson weeding out dissenting voices (as the Scalabrine firing appears to have been), it puts the Warriors in an uncomfortable position at a bad time.
They'll have to answer questions about the controversy, deal with another distraction and could lose focus on the job at hand. They'll never hear the end of questions about their failing chemistry. And even if the team's morale is perfectly fine, repeated inquiries about a crumbling coaching staff could have a negative effect.
Imagine if everyone in your office kept approaching you to ask how you were handling what was obviously such a horrible day. Even if you weren't having a bad day at all, enough repetition from curious co-workers could make you feel like you were.
In a similar way, perception could become reality for the Dubs.
And although Erman's firing isn't related to Scalabrine's, we can't ignore the connections they share.
Erman broke into the NBA as a personal development coach for Scalabrine when he was a player with the New Jersey Nets. He followed Scalabrine to the Boston Celtics where he learned under Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau. The personal connection between Erman and Scalabrine is a strong one.
And Myers, the man forced to swing the axe on Erman, was Scalabrine's agent before transitioning to front office work.
Again, don't know the details, but 2 assistants getting dispatched in last month of reg-season is a sign of violent instability, which...— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) April 5, 2014
Which usually is connected to a major problem between management and the coach. And usually only gets worse.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) April 5, 2014
Erman, Scalabrine and Myers are clearly tied together, and even if Erman's conduct necessitated termination, we have to note the way Myers is losing "his guys" while Jackson is keeping his own. It's probably not fair to call what's happening in Golden State a power struggle, but there are obviously two factions here.
And Myers' isn't faring well.
Maybe that's not an issue right now, but it's hard to ignore the potential ramifications with Jackson's contract status on the table this offseason.
Maybe It's Not So Bad
Then again, perhaps the Warriors' recent chaos will lead to clarity.
That's the angle Marcus Thompson of Bay Area News Group is taking on the Warriors' internal strife:
The ability to thrive despite setbacks has marked the Jackson regime -- which has included a Monta Ellis sexting scandal, a secret Andrew Bogut microfracture surgery, Stephen Curry's ankle issues, Jackson's extortion scandal, and now drama with two assistant coaches.
When adversity shows up, Jackson hunkers down. And with the unwavering public support of his players, Golden State's head coach is in the perfect situation to play the tried and true "nobody believes in us" card. In this instance, Jackson's pitch will probably be more along the lines of "Everybody thinks we're falling apart," but the call to rally together will be largely the same.
Their best hope is playing inspired, relying on their chemistry and maxing out. And Jackson is equipped to play that against-the-odds card.
And if they pull of a playoff run, you had better believe he's going to announce how his team shocked the world.
If Warriors fans were honest with themselves, they'd have to admit their team's performance this season doesn't point to much more than a second-round playoff ouster.
Maybe the latest mess in Golden State will galvanize the roster. Maybe it'll force Jackson to dig deeper into his motivational bag of tricks.
Maybe it'll pull the Warriors together and push them further than they would have otherwise gone.
And if Jackson's wrong about his team's foundation, if this latest sign of strife actually does tear the team apart, a championship ring wasn't ever in the cards this season anyway.
In a bizarre win-win scenario, the Warriors will either prove Jackson's beliefs about their foundational strength correct, or fall apart in a way that brings about a necessary reconstruction.