Mark Jackson Has One Last Chance to Save His Job with Golden State Warriors

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 30, 2014

Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson instructs his team against the Los Angeles Clippers during the first half in Game 4 of an opening-round NBA basketball playoff series on Sunday, April 27, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Adjustments have never been Mark Jackson's strong suit.

But with his Golden State Warriors facing a 3-2 deficit to the Los Angeles Clippers and potential elimination from the NBA playoffs in Thursday's Game 6, now might be a good time for the embattled head coach to make a few.

That term "embattled" gets tossed around a bit too loosely, but it very much applies to Jackson. He's been fighting all season long—for autonomy, for credibility and in defense of a faith-based approach to basketball that doesn't leave much room for logical pivots.

His desire to exert total control over his team cost him two assistants in the season's final six weeks, and the details coming more recently about his insecurity don't jibe with the picture he so often paints of a connected locker room.

Per Grantland's Zach Lowe:

Jackson made a show of firing Scalabrine in front of players and other coaches, but he had no real grounds, and the front office made Jackson find a compromise, per a source familiar with the matter: demoting Scalabrine to the D-League. In addition, Jackson has asked that Jerry West, a high-level adviser in Golden State, not attend most practices and team activities, sources say.

Jackson, as he does, aggressively refuted Lowe's report, calling that last part about West "a lie" and "disrespectful," per Sam Amick of USA Today.

But in that very report, Amick laid out the same stance that so many critics have adopted: There's something going on with these Warriors behind the scenes, and whatever it is, Jackson's job is on the line because of it:

Still, the sheer number of proverbial fires that Jackson finds himself trying to put out doesn't bode well for his coaching fate. While he was adamant that he had not made any such request regarding West, the wide and strong belief within the organization is that Jackson would prefer not to have the legendary figure overseeing his operation from a close distance.

Maybe a win in Game 6 and another improbable victory in Game 7 will save Jackson's job. Maybe advancing without Andrew Bogut against a No. 3 seed will stand as an impressive enough achievement to buy an extension from an obviously skeptical ownership group.

But getting another win in this series and, by extension, saving his job, will require Jackson to make some adjustments.

To reiterate a key point: Jackson doesn't really adjust.

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 27: Head coach Mark Jackson of the Golden State Warriors watches his team warm up before facing the Los Angeles Clippers in Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena on April 27, 201
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

The Warriors spent a year, an entire year, playing sporadic, uncreative offense and using bench units that routinely gave away leads. For 82 mind-numbing games, the same issues cropped up.

Golden State's regular starting five was absurdly effective this season. The five-man unit of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut posted a net rating of plus-15.4 points per 100 possessions, per That figure absolutely smashed anything posted by every other high-usage unit in the NBA.

Instead of staggering his substitutions in a way that would take advantage of those five players' obvious skills, Jackson spent huge chunks of every game with none of them on the floor.

He also relied far too heavily on isolation plays. In other words, far too many things haven't changed since the regular season, per Lowe:

But Jackson has continued to play five-man bench units, and the Dubs’ offense, mediocre all season, goes through stretches in which it is over-reliant on isolation. A full 52 percent of Golden State’s possessions this season ended after two or fewer passes, the highest such share in the league, per SportVU data provided to Grantland.

More broadly, Jackson simply hasn't gotten the kind of production he should have from such an offensively skillful lineup. With a handful of exceptions, Jackson's offensive philosophy basically involves rolling the ball out and letting talent do what it does.

That's not an opinion; it's his stated position. Here's what he told B/R's Matt Steinmetz, then with CSN Bay Area, before the 2012-13 season:

I think when you look on the floor, the weapons we have, you don't really have to be creative. Those guys can score. If you look at the great coaches or the great teams, there's nothing creative about throwing the ball to Michael Jordan on the foul line or Kobe on the wing. That's not creative. That's just some bad boys getting it done when it matters most.

When an offense that features "the best shooting backcourt in the history of the game," an insanely talented offensive forward in Lee and two brilliant glue guys in Bogut and Iguodala scores at a rate that ranks 12th in the league, it's a good sign that a little creativity might be in order.

This ties back to the key issue that could very well cost Jackson his job: There's a growing perception that the Dubs just aren't meeting their potential with him at the helm.

Is there somebody else out there who could do a better job? Maybe not.

Is it fair to bury a coach for a stagnant offense when his team's defense ranked third in the league? It's hard to say.

Nobody ever said being an NBA coach involved fair assessments of the big picture.

At any rate, Jackson never made the necessary tweaks during the year—not to his offense and certainly not to his locker room. At least in terms of the former, he's not making them in the playoffs, either.

The Clippers' trap continues to kill the Warriors, forcing the ball out of Curry's hands and creating turnovers. And Jackson hasn't yet figured out a way to get shots for a guy—Curry—who needs about a millimeter of space to fire them off.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 29: Mark Jackson of the Golden State Warriors directs Stephen Curry #30 during Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on April 29, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE
Noah Graham/Getty Images

And those bench units are still getting time, giving away leads and forcing the starters to work harder than they'd otherwise have to.

There are solutions to the issues plaguing the Warriors.

Move Curry off the ball more. Implement something, anything, on the weak side to keep the Clippers' defense from completely flooding the strong side when Curry has the ball. Use Lee as that ultra-dangerous release valve on the pick-and-roll until the Clippers have to honor him in the middle of the floor.

A little rational thought should produce changes and, maybe, a solution or two.

But Jackson is all about faith. He's a guy who stays true to what he believes regardless of the new information in front of him. That stubbornness explains his dealings with assistant coaches, and it's a direct cause of Golden State's predictable attack.

Jackson is out of time. He has to make adjustments now.

If he can't, the only tweak he'll be making will be to his resume. It'll read "former head coach of the Golden State Warriors."


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